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House panel passes TOPS changes

Joby Richard
LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE—A divided House committee on Thursday approved three bills that would tighten eligibility for the popular TOPS scholarships and require some recipients to first attend two-year colleges.

One bill, by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, would create a new scholarship tier that would channel students into community and technical colleges before allowing them to transfer to four-year universities. The House Education Committee passed the bill 7-6, with seven of the eight Republicans voting yes and all five Democrats voting no.

A second Ivey bill that would increase the grade requirements for university students to maintain entry-level TOPS awards passed 8-5.

The third bill, sponsored by Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, would require students who become ineligible academically to repay their TOPS awards. It also passed 8-5.

The bills will go next to the House floor, where they are likely to receive tougher scrutiny.

While Gov. John Bel Edwards has said that funding for the $290 million TOPS program could be slashed if the Legislature does not find more revenue, he and Senate leaders have shown little interest in making adjustments in how the program works.

Ivey’s bill to create a new tier, the TOPS Transfer Award, for students who start out at two-year colleges would take effect for seniors graduating from high school in 2022. Ivey originally brought this bill in 2016, but it failed on the House floor.

Ivey said he was seeking slower pacing and more remediation opportunities for students lacking academic maturity. He acknowledged his own personal struggles in adjusting to university life and losing TOPS in his first semester at LSU.

Rep. Ken Brass, D-Vacherie, expressed concern that this bill might disportionately impact minority and low-income students who barely meet the ACT threshold to attend universities.