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LOSFA to resume partial TOPS scholarship payments

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BATON ROUGE - Louisiana students worried that budget cuts might result in increased tuition bills this semester can breathe a sigh of relief for now as LOSFA says the office will resume payments of TOPS, at least in part, next Thursday.

A Friday release from LOSFA marks a turnabout from Thursday's email announcement that the state financial aid office would immediately halt all TOPS scholarship payments in the face of possible budget cuts.

LOSFA says the individual campuses will be responsible for absorbing the remaining 20 percent of the costs that LOSFA doesn’t have in the agency's appropriation for the program. The office said they received clarification from the Governor's Office after last night's address by Gov. Edwards stating that the $28 million cut to the scholarship fund would be absorbed by each individual college or university.

Gov. John Bel Edwards attributed the cut in payments to a failure by the Jindal administration to properly budget for all of the students that would be using TOPS this year. He also stressed that while universities will absorb the TOPS shortfall this year, the budget problems do have the potential to hurt students directly.

"Next year, as it stands, TOPS is only funded 25 percent, unless the legislature acts to change that. This means fewer TOPS scholarships will be awarded next year. That is why it is so important for the legislature to work with me to balance this budget and prevent future cuts to the TOPS Scholarship Program," said Gov. Edwards.

Further implications for the future of TOPS will depend largely on what happens in upcoming special legislative sessions concerning the state budget crisis.

Friday, that left prospective students at LSU's campus worried.

"I already have a part-time job, so I'll have to continue doing that," High School Senior Leah Fontenot said. "I'll have to take loans from other places, qualify for scholarships and put things on hold for a while until I can pay it back."

"Worst case scenario, I'll have to take out a loan and pay it back," Senior Megan Duplenchain said.

On Thursday, the State Office of Student Financial Assistance alerted universities in the state that they'd be suspending TOPS scholarship payments immediately in the face of possible budget cuts.

LOSFA says other programs it administers will not be affected. The office says they have funds set aside to pay the full 100 percent of TOPS Tech Early Start awards, so high schools students who may be dependent upon those courses will be able to meet graduation requirements. 

The office said the only necessary action from students would be to continue to make sure they're meeting TOPS requirements and completing the FAFSA. Students with further questions about how budget cuts may impact their scholarships are urged to contact their respective college or university, LOSFA said.

Some called the actions nothing more than a political stunt.

"It's time for our politicians to stop playing football with the educational system," Science Teacher Tracey Jagneaux said. "It's a political tool, and we can't have our kids futures become political tools."

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