White calls TOPS divide "tragic"
BATON ROUGE - Superintendent of Education John White called a recent report which showed a deep racial divide in who receives TOPS scholarship money in Louisiana "tragic," and said it demonstrated the need to fully adopt Common Core standards.
White was asked by reporters about the Board of Regents report, which was released Wednesday. The report showed that between 2003 and 2014, 79 percent of TOPS recipients were white and the average household income for recipients ranged from $70,000 to $99,000.
"I would say that this situation is tragic," White said. "It's tragic, it's a civil rights issue, and it's about the quality of education that those kids are receiving."
White made the comments Thursday after presenting a Department of Education report which showed only 44 percent of students in Louisiana fill out a FAFSA student aid application each year. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is required to receive federal education grants and some scholarships, such as TOPS. White said failing to fill out the FAFSA was leaving $54 million in possible student aid on the table each year.
The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students was created to provide assistance to students who attend Louisiana colleges. Lawmakers requested the information due to the rising cost of the program, which was $250 million this year.
White said the numbers showed a need for higher public school standards to bring up the performance of poor and minority students, and specifically cited the need to fully adopt Common Core.
"Our black kids, our poor kids are just as smart and capable as our white kids and our wealthier kids," White said. "That we have a situation where this achievement gap exists should call us to raise expectations for every child in this state and to compete with every other state in this country."
The superintendent and other state education officials have clashed with Governor Bobby Jindal over Common Core, which the governor was in favor of before joining national conservative opposition to the standards. Lawsuits for and against Common Core are still making their way through the courts in Louisiana.
Opponents of Common Core have called for a halt to the nearly four-year adoption process Louisiana has gone through to implement the standards, and for the state to develop its own program. White has said doing so would waste millions of dollars already spent to help develop the standards, which Louisiana volunteers assisted with.