La. House committee road blocks series of TOPS scholarship bills

La. House committee road blocks series of TOPS scholarship bills

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The House Education Committee killed a variety of bills aimed at reforming the TOPS scholarship program Wednesday.

TOPS is currently facing drastic budget cuts for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, with potentially thousands of students at risk of losing their scholarships. Many of the reforms bills proposed were aimed at saving some money.

One of those bills was proposed by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Baton Rouge. It would raise the GPA requirement to stay on the scholarship from 2.30 to 2.50 after 24 credit hours and from 2.50 to 2.75 after 48 credit hours. Ivey deferred the proposal.

Another bill, which would make students pay back the TOPS money if they failed to meet scholarship requirements or dropped out, was deferred as well. It was proposed by Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

HB 279, sponsored by state Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, was involuntarily deferred after a vote of 4-9.

The bill looked to provide freshmen with 80 percent of their tuition, sophomores with 90 percent of their tuition and juniors and seniors with 100 percent of their tuition. The savings created would in part go toward GO Grants, which are needs-based scholarships.

"Now we are facing significant deficits, and my concern there is, what happens to the program when we can't fund it at the level we promised?" Broadwater said.

Those opposed to the bill expressed concern that, by making students cover part of the cost their freshman and sophomore year, it would hinder low-income individuals from pursuing an education.

"I think it creates barriers for the specific students it was ultimately created to provide access for: first-time college attendees who are fighting their way out of poverty through education," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans.

Under the bill, there would be an opportunity to have the full tuition costs covered freshman and sophomore year. However, it would require individuals to pay the full cost up front. They would then be reimbursed in full, but only if they get a GPA of 3.00.

State Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, said he worried such an option could encourage students to pursue less rigorous majors in order to get good grades and thereby receive the maximum scholarship.

One bill, Ivey's HB 438, received a vote of 7-6. The bill would create the TOPS Tech-Transfer award. Students would qualify for the award if they have a GPA of at least 2.50 and an ACT score of at least the state's average, but never lower than 20.

Students receiving the new scholarship would have to go to a community or technical school for the first two years in order to get the money. After two years, they could apply to transfer into a four-year institution.

That bill now heads to the House floor. It would then have to pass through Senate committee and the full Senate.

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