Lawmakers propose tougher standards for TOPS

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Two state lawmakers are proposing bills this session making it tougher to qualify for TOPS.

Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, said the shortfall over the last year has been a real wake up call. For the first time, TOPS is only funded at 70 percent, meaning students are having to foot part of the bill for their tuition. He said his legislation is needed to ensure the scholarship's financial stability going forward.

"It will cut down on the number of students that are eligible, which will mean more money for kids who meet the standards," Foil said. "The purpose of TOPS as it is now is to keep the best and the brightest here, so hopefully when they graduate from college, they'll stay here in Louisiana."

Foil's bill, HB 117, would boost the GPA requirements for the award from 2.5 to 3.0, starting with the high school graduating class of 2020 - '21. The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance estimates that if the rule change were to go into effect, approximately 4,000 fewer students would be eligible for TOPS in the first year alone.

Democratic Rep. Gene Reynolds, Minden, is sponsoring a similar measure that would toughen the standards. In past years, changes to TOPS requirements have faced push back at the capitol, with some arguing that raising the standards would end up hurting low-income families and minorities who may struggle academically.

"I'm not raising the standardized test, and I believe everyone has the same opportunity to make better grades," said Foil.

TOPS recipients at LSU tended to agree.

"I think it should be that high because it's going to be a lot harder in college and if you can't get that in high school, then I don't know about getting into college," said sophomore, Krista Laborde.

"I think it would be a net positive. It would really motivate students to try harder in school," said freshman, Ryan Williams.

However, whether the tight financial straits will motivate lawmakers to go along with the change remains the big question.

Foil is also pushing a bill this session to add more funding to the TOPS program. It requires that a portion of riverboat gambling fees be set aside for the scholarship.

The session begins Monday, April 10.

Copyright 2017 WAFB. All rights reserved.