Legislation that would impose a cap on TOPS scholarships was crushed Wednesday morning in the House Education Committee.
The measure, House Bill 294, failed 4-12.
State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville and sponsor of the bill, said the aid needs to be capped at $1,600 per semester, which he said would save $55 million in the first year.
Harrison said the move is needed because of rising costs of TOPS, and because of what he called an excessive number of students with TOPS who flunk out of four-year schools.
“Our losses are substantial,” Harrison said.
Opponents said the move would endanger a program that has improved academic rigor in high schools, and helped raise the average score on the ACT, which is a test of college readiness.
“This is not an expense, it is an investment the state makes in its future,” Cody Wells, president of the LSU Student Government Association, told the committee.
“Without this program I would not be here in the state of Louisiana,” Wells told lawmakers.
The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students provides the cost of tuition and some fees to high school graduates who achieve certain grade-point averages and standardized test scores.
TOPS requires students to graduate from high school with at least a 2.5 grade point average – on a 4.0 scale – in a core set of academic courses.
The student also must score a 20 – out of a possible 36 – on the ACT, or an SAT equivalent.
Louisiana is spending $154 million on TOPS this academic year.
Harrison said some students who qualify for TOPS with a 20-22 on the ACT would be better served, and save the state money, by attending a community college.
He said Georgia and other states have more stringent rules for state aid similar to TOPS.
“We can’t continue to pay for failure,” Harrison told the panel.
“I’ve been beating this drum for four years,” he said. “Allow me to get this to the floor so we can have the full discussion.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration opposed the bill.
Stafford Palmieri, policy director for the governor, called TOPS an “incredible asset” for the state and one that has helped improve ACT scores.