BATON ROUGE (WBRZ) – The Edwards' administration proposed a state budget Thursday that keeps the cuts to the TOPS scholarship program intact. In the proposal, students would only receive 70 percent of their scholarships beginning fall 2017. It's the same amount students are receiving this year after lawmakers cut the program in the 2016 session.
The TOPS scholarship offers two to four years of in-state college tuition to Louisiana high school students who meet the requirements. In December there were 49,581 students enrolled in the program with the largest portion going to LSU in Baton Rouge."They cut all my TOPS for senior year so I had to get supplemental scholarships to counteract that," said LSU senior Brooke Deveer.
"We didn't know how we were going to pay for school so I had to take an extra loan from an alternative loan program. And then they lowered the amount I would get," another LSU senior, Jaleja Page said.
At the Capitol Thursday, Governor Edwards' chief financial adviser Jay Dardenne presented the state budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning in July. Dardenne pointed to Louisiana's slow economy and low tax collections when he announced the state will be short $440 million for its operational budget.
"[TOPS] will be at the top of the list of items that will be funded if new revenue is recognized," Dardenne said. The scholarship program is shorted $80 million in the administration's budget.
LSU in Baton Rouge reported flat enrollment in spring 2017 with no significant change from the previous year. A spokesperson said students usually plan by the year as opposed to by the semester when it comes to things like apartment leases.
"The Governor's budget released today shows TOPS at the same 70% rate [as this year], if that number holds through various sessions then we can make a better analysis of its impact," said Joe Rallo, Commissioner of Higher education.
TOPS isn't the only state service facing cuts. State agencies, roads work, hospitals and deferred maintenance on college campuses are all in danger. Lawmakers have until June to pass a budget.