Louisiana's TOPS scholarship program could be completely defunded

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LOUISIANA (KNOE) - On March 12th, Louisiana lawmakers will go into a regular session and one topic of discussion will be how to close the state's $1 billion dollars deficit. Closing the budget gap could threaten funds for higher education and health care.

"TOPS will be cut by 100%," said State Representative Katrina Jackson. "I'm not going to put TOPS over services for people with disabilities and higher education institutions as a whole."

Jackson said the TOPS scholarship keeps local students local. She said funding for TOPS comes directly from the state's general funds, costing the state more than 200 million dollars.

"The TOPS scholarship makes up almost about half of my payment towards the school," said Shylon Francis, a ULM freshman.

Francis said the TOPS scholarship not only helps him now but for his future as well.

"I would have to take out more loans and that would be more of a burden on me in the future," he said.

Francis' concern is the main reason Jackson said she and other lawmakers are trying to help. She said in the last special session, no one spoke up on where they would like to see cuts.

"Even with TOPS being introduced totally cut in the budget, some of our parents responded, some of our students responded, but to be honest the community didn't respond," she said. "The state didn't respond like we thought they would, like I thought they should have and that was very disappointing."

That is the main reason students, like Francis, are speaking up. He said he wants the community and lawmakers to know that education is the root of all economic development, so the program should not be cut 100 percent. Jackson said she is working to make sure those with the scholarship, who are in college currently, will be able to keep the funds to finish school.

"I share in some of the arguments that there needs to be a little reform. Truth is is that, you don't promise a student something and take it away."

More than 50,000 students benefit from TOPS each year. The regular session is scheduled to end June 4.