TOPS bill moves forward
BATON ROUGE- Legislators want to make changes to the TOPS college scholarship program, but the governor's office won't stand for it. Sen. Jack Donahue (R-Mandeville) is sponsoring a bill that will put spending restrictions on the free-tuition program.
Two Senate bills moved through the House Education Committee Wednesday. Next, they're slated for debate on the House floor.
Lawmakers like Donahue fear the TOPS program has grown too expensive and could be scrapped by a future governor or legislature. Currently TOPS increases automatically with increases in college tuition. Donahue wants to stop the automatic increases after the 2015-16 school year. Going forward, it would be up to the legislature to further increase TOPS spending.
Donahue has coupled the plan with another bill that would give colleges the autonomy to raise tuition on their own. The two bills would keeps TOPS spending stable and help colleges that are struggling to find funding.
As it stands now, when one of the state's cash-strapped colleges raises tuition it doesn't receive more revenue because the money is absorbed into the TOPS program. Donahue's plan would allow colleges to raise tuition without the automatic increase in TOPS, allowing colleges to keep the extra revenue. However, this plan could force parents and students to pay some tuition.
The governor's office vehemently opposes the plan. It wants the the TOPS program to remain untouched because it views it as a type of voucher program for colleges. "TOPS is funding for higher education," says Deputy Chief of Staff Stafford Palmieri, "it's a powerful funding stream that allows students to choose a school that's best for them."
Donahue said even with the spending changes, the program would still be one of the most generous in the country. Palmieri said it's too soon for the Governor to consider vetoing the bill, but he is definitely opposed to it.