Sponsored: An Update On TOPS

The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students faced another round of changes during the 2017 Louisiana legislative session, including a raise in the grade point average requirement. But to the collective relief of families around the state and after significant cutbacks last year, the program was funded once again for the upcoming school year.

Signed into law in 1989, the program provides scholarships to secondary education students who earned a 2.5 GPA or greater in high school. It’s a program that has grown by millions and remains a near sacred subject, especially for families with high school graduation on the horizon.

Mike Michot, The Picard Group’s senior director of state affairs, was a member of the legislature when TOPS was born. Then Governor Mike Foster aimed to maintain the best and brightest students in Louisiana. The cost for TOPS began at around $30 million.

“It has now grown to more than $300 million,” Michot said. “In recent years, we’ve seen attempts to try to cap the TOPS award or to try to force recipients to stay in Louisiana after graduation.”

TPG'S Mike Michot

One such bill in the 2017 session called for an increase in the minimum GPA from the current 2.5 to 2.75 over the next few years. The bill narrowly passed the House and for fear of failure was withdrawn from facing the Senate or Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“As the cost of tuition has gone up so has the cost of TOPS,” Michot said. “It’s always difficult to put a limit on TOPS because the middle class feels like it’s one of the few benefits they receive as a return for the tax dollars they pay.”

When the state monies fell short last academic year, the Legislature cut close to one-third of the scholarships for the roughly 51,000 recipients of TOPS. As the legislative session wrapped this year, several TOPS-focused bills failed leaving two dealing with TOPS standing — SB 71 clarifies confusing language and passed by a landslide, and SCR 110 creates a task force to study the TOPS program.

In short, changes to TOPS may not be imminent in the short term, but could certainly come down the line following task force recommendations.

“There are no changes to TOPS that don’t come with controversy,” Michot said. “It’s entirely merit based. And that’s one criticism — that it is not based on income.”

The balance The Picard Group must strike with the University of Louisiana Lafayette Foundation as a client is to advocate on the behalf of UL while acknowledging the task of funding TOPS.

“There’s always an impact to universities whenever there are cuts or caps placed on TOPS,” said Michot. “Our role is to preserve and protect TOPS while understanding the challenge as it relates to funding TOPS.”

In addition to TOPS talk, several other educate-centric bills passed during the 2017 session including:

  • HB 113 extends the authority of the higher education boards to establish and increase fees at their institutions from June 2017 to June 2020.
  • HB 130 provides economically disadvantaged students shall be included as a factor for purposes of teacher evaluations and requirements for enrollment of at-risk students in charter schools.
  • HB 133 requires each public post-secondary education management board to develop a centralization plan and a cooperative unification plan and submit them to the Legislature.
  • HB 688 prohibits a public postsecondary education institution from inquiring about a prospective student's criminal history, except for history pertaining to specified offenses, prior to acceptance for admission.

The preceding message is sponsored by The Picard Group

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