The Hawkeye

Louisiana Legislature funds TOPS program, finds solution in budget debate

photo+courtesy+of+University+of+Louisiana+System
photo courtesy of University of Louisiana System

photo courtesy of University of Louisiana System

photo courtesy of University of Louisiana System

Raven Adcox, [email protected]

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After three special sessions, the Louisiana Legislature has finally found a solution for its budget shortfall.

Tensions were high, but last Friday, lawmakers came to a compromise over how much of a five percent state sales tax to renew. The 74-24  vote was in favor of a 4.45 percent state sales tax. In doing this, an extra $500 million became available so that programs like TOPS, Medicaid, Nursing Homes, Food Assistance and State Parks could remain open. Specifically, the TOPS program was in danger of being cut. 

ULM President Nick Bruno said in an email to university employees, “Let us say a prayer that our legislators find civility and the strength to fund critical governmental services and keep the promise of TOPS.”

In 1989, the Louisiana College Tuition Plan (LCTP) was created as a merit-based scholarship program for students pursuing a higher education. The program was the first of its kind and opportunities were made available to all students across the state of Louisiana. In 2008, Governor Bobby Jindal renamed LCTP to the Louisiana Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), in honor of the programs founder, Patrick F. Taylor.

While college may not be for everyone, over 20 million students enrolled in 2017, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. The Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance is in charge of managing TOPS scholarships and updating the requirements needed for extra assistance.

In recent years, the TOPS program has faced setbacks. In 2016, TOPS wasn’t fully funded, and students received less financial aid for the Spring semester than the Fall semester because of it. Several students had to take out loans to cover the loss, and some students even dropped out simply because they couldn’t afford college without help from the program.

“It is important that elected officials understand college students are really the engine that will drive Louisiana forward,” said ULM English professor and Faculty senate president, Dr. Will Rogers.

The TOPS program is fully funded by tax-payers. Many Louisiana families rely on financial aid and TOPS in order for their kids to go to college. Students are told that if they do well in high school, take dual enrollment classes and make a good enough ACT score that the opportunity to receive a higher education would be made available to them.

Students must make at least a 2.5 GPA and a 17 on their ACT to qualify for TOPS. TOPS is separated into four different categories: TOPS Tech, TOPS Opportunity Award, TOPS Performance Award and TOPS Honors Award. Each category has its own set of academic requirements students must meet and maintain to receive TOPS.

Although the budget can be balanced several ways, from raised taxes to pay cuts for government officials, finding a solution to the budget crisis usually ends with cuts to programs like education and health care.

Rogers said that previous special sessions were held earlier in the year with the intent to fix the fiscal cliff, none of which were successful.

“It’s really hard to know how these cuts would affect the ULS system or ULM in specific terms, but I would say this: ULM is quite efficient, and we have responded to financial crises well in the past. We need to prepare for the future, and this uncertainty makes it more difficult to plan,” said Rogers before Sunday’s vote.

It took a total of three special sessions and a compromise made in the “Eleventh hour” for lawmakers to come to an agreement about the budget deficit. Special sessions can run up to 30 days, with each day costing thousands of dollars at the tax payer’s expense. According to a report from nola.com, Louisiana’s first special session of the year took place Feb. 19 to March 5, and cost $642,968.  

Thankfully, students need not fret this fiscal year, because a financial solution was found that satisfied several different areas and government programs.

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The Student News Site of University of Louisiana Monroe
Louisiana Legislature funds TOPS program, finds solution in budget debate