Lawmakers say TOPS cuts not on the table
BATON ROUGE - Lawmakers said at a higher education conference in Baton Rouge Monday that cuts to the popular scholarship program TOPS are not on the table as the legislature prepares to grapple with a massive state budget deficit.
House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, Senate education chairman Conrad Appel and House education committee chair Steven Carter took part in a legislative panel at the 2015 Trusteeship Conference on Post-Secondary Education Monday.
The lawmakers told higher education leaders and administrators that despite a $1.6 billion deficit there just wasn't the political will necessary to touch the TOPS program, which provides scholarships to in-state colleges for Louisiana students who perform well enough on standardized tests.
The program's costs and standards have received scrutiny as universities try to swallow a possible $383 million cut to state funding in Governor Bobby Jindal's proposed budget. TOPS cost projections by the state Office of Student Financial Assistance have swung between $386 million and $291 million by 2020, largely due to questions over tuition increases at in-state colleges.
In April 2014 LOSFA projected colleges would increase tuition by 10 percent per year under the GRAD Act, which let schools increase tuition if they hit certain performance benchmarks. They said that increased tuition would increase the TOPS program's costs to $389 million by 2020. A second assessment released in November removed the GRAD Act, which is scheduled to expire this year, and assumed tuition stayed mostly flat. That scenario led to TOPS staying near its current costs, rising only a few million dollars to $291 million by 2020. LOSFA said it was impossible to project costs from a renewal of the GRAD Act or new agreements with colleges, which is why they did not include those costs in their November projection.
On Monday, Rep. Kleckley called on lawmakers to grant more authority to the state's higher education institutions to raise their own tuition and set fees. Sen. Appel also said the state should do away with some of their tax credits to help stem the tide of cuts to higher education, singling out the film industry tax credit and a credit for people who install solar panels on their homes.
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