(Photo by Julie O’Donoghue / Louisiana Illuminator)
Louisiana might soon remove the requirement that recipients of the state’s popular merit-based TOPS college scholarship provide information on their family income.
The end of such disclosure in the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) is proposed in Senate Bill 81, authored by Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge. It received unanimous approval Monday from the Senate without debate.
About 58,000 students took advantage of TOPS to cover part of all of their tuition during the 2020-2021 academic calendar.
About 15,000 high school graduates were awarded TOPS grants at the end of the last school year, according to an annual report presented to the Louisiana Board of Regents in 2021. Of those recipients, 6,567 students – around 40% – came from households with incomes of $100,000 or more. That’s more than twice Louisiana’s annual median income of $49,000.
Board of Regents members said it was “very troubling and disappointing” to find out TOPS paid college tuition for more than 11,000 Louisiana students whose families reported an income of $1 million or more over the past 10 years.
In 2020, the state spent more than $320 million on TOPS. Louisiana also offers GO Grants, a needs-based program that offers a much lower rate of assistance and is funded with roughly $40 million annually, well short of the money needed to meet demand for the assistance, said Jan Moller, executive director of the Louisiana Budget Project..
“I would argue we should have this (income) information … not to demonize these TOPS recipients who rightfully earned their scholarships on merit,” Richard Davis, a policy fellow for the Louisiana Budget Project, said as he spoke in opposition to the bill last month in committee.
“…Keeping this data at the front of our minds can really force us to have conversations about how we can work to create more opportunities for those low income students who are not being served by the tough scholarship program,” he said.
The bill moves to the House for debate.
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