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Early Dismissal? TOPS Reinstated, But For How Long? Written by: Meghan Henoumont and Peter Howard

Early Dismissal? TOPS Reinstated, But For How Long?

Written by: Meghan Henoumont and Peter Howard

 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards giving his Feb.11 speech.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards giving his Feb.11 speech.

In a televised speech on Thursday Feb.11 Gov. John Bel Edwards said, “…Even with additional revenue, higher education this year will need to cut $42 million. This will be combined with a $28 million cut in TOPS scholarship funds that the universities will have to absorb, resulting in the largest mid-year cut in Louisiana history…”

 

Edwards went on to express the same danger for Louisiana’s Community and Technical College System, Delgado included, saying “The development of our technical and community college system has been one our greatest points of progress in the last two decades. The current budget realities will decimate these institutions as they are already preparing to lay off 1,200 employees… These are not scare tactics. This is reality — an unstable state budget will not only hurt children and working families in our state, it will devastate communities, businesses and local government as well.”

The same day as Edwards’ speech, payments to Louisiana’s universities and colleges from the TOPS free college tuition program were suspended. According to, gov.louisiana.gov, “…students on TOPS this semester will not see cuts. The universities will absorb the TOPS shortfall this year. Students will not receive any bills for this shortfall or lose any TOPS awards this semester.”

Also in the same day, within hours of suspending TOPS funding, Gov. Edwards reinstated them.  Sujuan Boutte, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Aid, said on Friday Feb. 12 that TOPS payments will resume on Thursday Feb. 18 for up to 80 percent of the student’s award, but that the additional 20 percent will have to be absorbed by the individual universities.  Students will not receive any bills for this year’s shortfall or lose any TOPS awards this semester.

The proposed cut for TOPS would reduce funding from more than $250 million to just $60 million, cutting scholarship recipients from 46,000 to 9,000.  Boutte also stated that the minimum ACT score to qualify for TOPS will be raised from 17 to 28.  Students in Louisiana score 19.2 on average.  Further implications for TOPS will mostly depend on the outcome of the upcoming legislative sessions concerning the state budget crisis.

On Fri., Gov. Edwards continued his talk about TOPS in a radio interview with Jim Engster.  “I, and every legislator I know, wants to continue funding for the TOPS program, but we have to solve the (budget) problem to make that possible.  I cannot guarantee that the general fund portion of TOPS will be funded next year.”

Edwards proposed raising the cigarette and alcohol taxes and, “… significant cuts, including a hiring freeze across state government, a reduction in state contracts…more than $160 million in cuts to state government spending…use(ing) $128 million from the rainy day fund and $200 million in non-coastal BP payments to the state to reduce the current year deficit.” As solutions to this years$940 million budget crisis and next years $2 billion deficit.  However, in a televised rebuttal, Treasurer John Kennedy said that the current year’s budget could be handled without raising taxes.

 

“The treasurer is off base,” Edwards said, adding that a cuts-only approach is “just not feasible.”

 

Edwards stressed the need for public action, in order to save higher education, again and again during his speech. “Tell your legislators we need a responsible fix for this budget – a balance of necessary cuts and responsible revenue that will make our budget realistic and strong.”

 

TOPS is only funded 25 percent next year, as it stands, meaning fewer TOPS scholarships will be awarded next year.

 

To contact Louisiana legislature and ask for a solution to save the state’s public higher education system, go to https://www.legis.la.gov/legis/Contacts.aspx.

 

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