Gov. Edwards: Executive budget will not fully fund TOPS

Gov. Edwards: Executive budget will not fully fund TOPS

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - TOPS will not be fully funded in the updated executive budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, according to Gov. John Bel Edwards.

"It's going to be impossible to fashion a budget that adequately funds what the overwhelming majority of people in Louisiana believe to be critical priorities," Edwards said.

Every year, TOPS is guaranteed $60 million in funding from a tobacco settlement. That leaves more than $200 million that the legislature must come up with each year from the state's General Fund.

With the state short $750 million for the next fiscal year, at best only some of that $200 million would be funded. That means that thousands of students could be left losing their scholarship.

Under current policy, when there is insufficient money to fully fund TOPS, the students scoring lowest on the ACT would be the ones to lose their scholarships.

"The old scenario would leave some students whole, but a lot of students with nothing at all," said Sen. Dan Morrish, R-Jennings, who is propping a bill to change that policy.

Passing successfully through the Senate Education Committee Thursday, Morrish's bill would allow everyone who qualifies to keep their TOPS scholarship. However, they would share an across-the-board cut.

The governor said he preferred this approach over simply cutting thousands of people off altogether.

Another TOPS bill, also passed by the committee and endorsed by the governor, is aimed at saving money in the long run.

SB 174, sponsored by Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, would set a baseline for TOPS payments.

"When programs are really successful like this one, they can't continue to grow," Donahue told the Senate panel.

Currently, TOPS payments increase to match changes in tuition. The bill would unlock the two, keeping the TOPS amount at a sustained level and not growing to match tuition. As a result, if tuition rises, the students would be left to foot the difference.

Lawmakers could later adjust the baseline amount, increasing it.

A similar bill passed through the House and Senate last year, but Jindal objected to the measure.

"It doesn't help balance today's budget, doesn't help this year's budget or going forward, but in the future it certainly could. Now we know what the baseline number is going to be," Morrish said.

Both bills now head to the Senate floor for a vote.

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