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Another View: Donahue on target with TOPS pitch PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, June 03 2014 - 11:53 am



Procrastination is a human trait, and it is perhaps most pronounced in the herd of humans in the Louisiana Legislature.

The issue is the popular TOPS scholarships, and the struggle with making it somewhat less generous so that it is affordable in the future.

In concept, something like the bill to increase TOPS requirements will pass one day, simply because TOPS is a large and unaffordable drain on the state’s general fund. But human nature being what it is, and politics being what it is, the herd has simply not worked up the courage to cut costs.

Leaders in both House and Senate are aware of the problem, and bills by House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, and Sen. Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville — the latter head of the Finance Committee — have filed some reasonable solutions.

I think we will allow students to have a higher goal to shoot for,” Donahue argued. “Quite a few of them would raise their standards.”

But even given the influence of Donahue in the Senate — indeed, he is a respected member — his bill to raise TOPS requirements modestly was defeated 23-16. Now, that’s a pretty solid vote but it’s not a monolithic majority.

The debate surely presages some changes in future. “The challenge is, how do you put a handle on this?” asked Sen. A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell. In fact, there are a number of ways to cut costs and still provide the benefits of what is now known as the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.

We liked Donahue’s proposal to raise the academic requirements modestly so that TOPS is really a scholarship, and we suspect that the state will have to go in that direction.

How do you put a handle on this? By taking even a glance at the numbers.

TOPS will cost the state an estimated $250 million next year and $387 million by the 2018-19 school year, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office. That’s up from about $40 million in the late 1990s.

A report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office last year showed that 44 percent of students lost their TOPS awards between 2002 and 2008, and more than half of those lost the scholarship during the first year of college.

We commend Donahue and others for pushing reforms in the program, and we hope to see its benefits continued, but on a more financially sustainable basis.

Procrastination can’t last forever on a price tag that is going higher every year.