TOPS cuts make a comeback

February 4, 2018


Louisiana is in the midst of one of the worst budget crises that this state has seen in a while. Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget proposal for the next fiscal year has to make several deep cuts to government programs unless current taxes that are set to expire in July are renewed or new taxes are raised. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported last week that one of those cuts is likely to be an 80 percent reduction in funding to the TOPS scholarship program.


The program currently costs the state around $300 million to run. If the current cuts go through, it would leave merely $58 million to run the program, meaning that students and schools will have to absorb the cuts to their budgets.


Colleges in Louisiana will face not only budgetary issues, but issues recruiting and retaining the pipeline of students that would invest in local economies and be assets to the workforce once they graduate. A cut in funding to TOPS would drive in-state students to look elsewhere when deciding where to attend college.


This would also wreak havoc on the bank accounts of lower-income students and force more to seek out loans to cover the costs of higher education. This could discourage many from going to college, as the cost could severely outweigh the potential opportunities.


There have been a few solutions proposed to save TOPS from a drastic cut. Gov. Edwards said he did not want to cut from the program and instead wants to balance the budget with new forms of revenue like new taxes. Leadership in the House of Representatives appears to be willing to back an extension of the higher sales tax rate as well.


Another proposal looks to reform the program by dropping the scholarship for wealthier students or changing the requirements to receive the scholarship. Statistics from the Louisiana House of Representatives fiscal office shows that the proportions of students getting TOPS from families with annual incomes of more than $100,000 have steadily grown since 2005.


At The Tech Talk, we believe the TOPS program should at least be preserved in its current state to prevent a fallout that would hurt students, universities and the state. TOPS is crucial for Louisiana students to achieve their dreams of higher education, and choosing to divest from those students will only hurt the state in the long run.


Politicians should not use the fates of thousands of Louisiana students as a bargaining chip in the budget deals. Although TOPS may be costly, it is a necessary and helpful expense in the state budget. The return value on the students of this state far exceeds that of the money poured in, and taking away a lifeline to many students will cause greater harm than good in the future.


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