TOPS bill that would cut link to tuition wins final passage
BATON ROUGE - A bill that would put the value of TOPS awards in the deep freeze rather than allow them to rise with tuition was met with House approval Monday.
It’s the first reform to the popular tuition program of the legislative session so far to win final passage.
The governor has already said he’ll sign the bill to make it law.
Senate Bill 174, designed by Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, will rein in the cost of TOPS, which officials say has jumped to nearly $300 million this year.
Legislators say the program has become so expensive that Gov. Edwards has targeted it for a steep cut due to the $600 million budget deficit in the 2016-17 fiscal year budget. The shortfall will still be around when the fiscal year kicks off on July 1 unless the Legislature can come up with more tax hikes in the special session.
The new law would set the value of the TOPS award at 2016-17 tuition levels unless legislators decide otherwise in improved financial times. Currently, TOPS awards are tied to college tuition.
Donahue has said it is important to remember the bill won’t limit the number of students eligible to receive TOPS.
"It sets a baseline for the cost," Donahue said last week.
House Education Committee Chairman Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, took up the bill on the House floor where it passed 74-20.
"It doesn't permanently cap TOPS," Landry said. "It simply provides a baseline moving forward. This will stabilize the cost of TOPS and protect the future of the program.”
Donahue’s bill is strikingly similar to one passed by the Legislature last year but was vetoed by former Gov. Bobby Jindal. The similarity is a large part of why the bill is expected to garner widespread support.
With the state budget problems threatening the program as a whole, even former opponents of setting any TOPS limits have signed to on Donahue’s bill.
If current expected budget cuts stay in place, more than 30,000 students who qualify for TOPS won’t get funded next year.
A second bill, also picking up support, is one that would change the formula that determines how money available would be allocated to eligible recipients. This bill, brought by Sen. Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, would provide a pro-rated amount to all students who qualify. However, current law does not provide for partial awards, so only students with the highest ACT scores would actually receive the awards unless the bill passes.