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The changing mission of TOPS

Posted on April 20, 2017

The Nola.com/Times-Picayune editorial board says that if lawmakers don’t fully fund the TOPS scholarship program, low and moderate-income families should be prioritized for full awards. Providing funding for these students isn’t just the most compassionate policy, it carries the best return on investment, as students with fewer means are most likely not to seek higher education – and thus achieve social mobility- without adequate financial support. It also lines up with the original mission of TOPS.

Currently, the program is skewed toward wealthier Louisianians. The share of TOPS scholarships going to families earning $150,000 and above has almost doubled over the past decade, according to a study by the House fiscal office. In 2005-06, those families made up 10.6 percent of TOPS awards. But by the 2014-15 academic year, that category had grown to 20.4 percent. At the same time, many middle class and poor families lost ground. The percentage of TOPS awards going to students from families earning between $35,000 and $99,000 fell. So did the percentage going to the poorest students, whose households earn less than $15,000.

The editorial board goes on to say that Rep. Gary Carter’s bill, HB 390, is a “good start” to ensuring families struggling to make ends meet receive full awards.

New Orleans Rep. Gary Carter filed legislation that would give priority funding to students from lower income families or who score 30 or above on the 36-point test. Those students would get their full tuition award even if TOPS wasn’t fully funded. Other students would have their awards prorated. Under Rep. Carter’s House Bill 390, students would qualify for full funding if their Expected Family Contribution is not more than twice the level eligible for a federal Pell Grant. That comes out to $10,470 or less, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office. Roughly 24,000 of the almost 51,000 students eligible for TOPS this year would qualify for full funding under that definition.

 

Looking out for No. 1

The Legislature isn’t in much of a mood to spend money on education, public health or transportation. But they do want to spend money on themselves. As costs rise each year, legislative have proposed a $10 million spending increase for the House, Senate, Legislative Auditor and other legislative offices. This comes as most state agencies are being cut by 2 percent – which comes on top of the two rounds mid-year cuts in the current budget year. The AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports:

House Speaker Taylor Barras, a New Iberia Republican, agreed: “We’ve made our contribution. To continue at that (lower) level would be difficult.” The increased spending comes as the state operating budget under consideration by lawmakers for next year wouldn’t fully fund the TOPS college tuition program, would cut state spending on higher education and would make reductions across a wide array of state agencies. Gov. John Bel Edwards has proposed tax hikes to raise more for the state treasury next year, but Republican leaders in the House have shown resistance to tax increases. … Legislative agency leaders talked of their shrinking workforces, even as demands have grown higher amid additional legislative sessions called by the governor to handle Louisiana’s unstable finances and close budget gaps.

 

LSU event explores race, politics

The annual John Breaux Symposium at LSU’s Manship School of Communications explored the intersection of race and politics this year. East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome talked about coming into office in the aftermath of the killing of Alton Sterling, who was shot by a Baton Rouge police officer, and the assassination of three law enforcement officers shortly thereafter. Broome also addressed the rumors of a re-emerging movement to establish a new city in the southern portion of the parish. Andrea Gallo has the story in The Advocate:

As Broome fielded questions, (LSU President F. King) Alexander brought up the 2015 petition movement to create the City of St. George in the southeastern part of the parish. Thousands signed a petition to bring the city’s creation to a vote, but the parish Registrar of Voters office said the number of signatures on the petition fell short. “We worked together successfully about a year and a half ago to make sure the city wasn’t split in half,” Alexander said. Broome took an anti-St. George stance in the Louisiana Legislature, and former Mayor-President Kip Holden also fought to stave off the creation of the city. Alexander referenced a PBS “Frontline” documentary that partially painted St. George as a racial issue, and he asked Broome how Baton Rouge could avoid the return of the St. George movement.

 

Uncertainty -> Instability
Some areas of the country have only one insurance option in their non-group “Obamacare” health marketplaces. And actions by President Donald Trump’s administration aren’t reassuring skittish insurers; these “sabotage” efforts include the decision to reduce outreach and advertisements for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment period, an executive order implying the administration would weaken the requirement to enroll, propagation of a false narrative that the health insurance market is collapsing (though this could turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy) and a threat to not fund cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers. As Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times reports, the uncertainty stoked by the administration leaves the market in a precarious position.

Amid this uncertainty, crucial deadlines are approaching for insurers, who must calculate and submit next year’s prices to state regulators in the coming weeks. “The regulatory uncertainty is something that is very hard for these people to price in,” said Craig Garthwaite, an associate professor of strategy at the Kellogg School at Northwestern. “How do you develop a model for the thoughts of the Trump administration on what they’re going to do policywise in health care?”

 

Number of the Day

$2.6 billion – Medicaid costs that would be shifted from the federal government to Louisiana from 2020 – 2023 under the American Health Care Act, which House GOP leaders are signaling they want to revive. (Source: LBP analysis)

 

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