LSU president says TOPS uncertainty drives students to out-of-state schools; lawmakers disagree

LSU President F. King Alexander (Source: WAFB)
LSU President F. King Alexander (Source: WAFB)
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - LSU President F. King Alexander had some harsh words for lawmakers as he spoke before the Baton Rouge Rotary Wednesday. He made a case for fully funding TOPS, while slamming lawmakers for what he believes to be a constant cloud of uncertainty.

"Tell us what you're going to do with it sooner," said Alexander.

The president pointed the finger at delayed decisions at the capital on the scholarship program for driving Louisiana's best and brightest out of state for school. "They're getting scholarship offers from other universities and they're finding out in January and February what those offers are and our parents and students are held hostage until mid-June," he added.

Representative Pat Smith, who serves on the education committee in the legislature, says balancing the state budget is a huge undertaking. She believes speeding up the process is all but impossible, saying the governor issues a budget in February, but lawmakers are not able to get a crack at it until they gavel in later for session.

"HB-1 is a process," said Smith. "None of that can be pulled out and dealt with earlier until we have all of the pieces and parts in place for that budget to be finalized."

Smith says it's the way TOPS has been handled since it was started 20 years ago, and she believes students' decision to go elsewhere for school is not based solely on the program. "If a student goes out of state, I think that's a personal decision that's been made by them and their families," said Smith.

Alexander though, says that's not enough and believes more can be done to make the process a priority. "Let's get TOPS settled and get it settled early so we know we're going to be fully funding TOPS," he added.

While the push sounds good, 9News asked political analyst, Jim Engster, to strike the balance between the back and forth. "I'm sure it's spicy rhetoric, but it also has some kernel of truth," Engster admitted.

With a possible fiscal cliff hovering over next year, there is concern that TOPS may again be on the chopping block. Engster says while the president makes a good point, changing the course of state government is a long shot. "Uncertainty doesn't help him a bit, but whether he can actually get something done to change what is already part of state government is unlikely," said Engster.

Engster says for now, the future of TOPS seems pretty stable, but as more students qualify each year, the price tag continues to rise. He believes unless it is tweaked, there will come a day when lawmakers will have to decide whether the state can continue to afford the program.

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