Sept. 23: Advice on TOPS

Sept. 23: Advice on TOPS

Restructuring TOPS - the state’s merit-based college scholarship program - so that low-income students get larger awards than middle and upper-income students can help to save the program, and make college more attractive for students who might not otherwise attend because of financial concerns.

Restructuring TOPS – the state’s merit-based college scholarship program – so that low-income students get larger awards than middle and upper-income students can help to save the program, and make college more attractive for students who might not otherwise attend because of financial concerns. It also would free up dollars to reinvest in higher education. Douglas Harris, professor of economics at Tulane, shares his opinion in an Advocate guest column:


If we take TOPS back to its roots by awarding these scholarships to low-income students, we can save money and help those who need it most. For example, if we adjust scholarship levels on a sliding scale by income, giving full TOPS funding to students from families with incomes below $50,000 year and gradually smaller TOPS scholarships to higher-income families, the state would save at least $100 million a year. This approach would also target spending where it will do the most good. For low-income students, TOPs scholarships really will increase their chances of getting a degree, which will pay dividends for the whole state in the long run. As Louisiana emerges from this fiscal crisis, the saved funds could then be reinvested in colleges and universities to help offset the past decade’s massive cuts to higher education.


Meanwhile, Gov. John Bel Edwards says policymakers should not expect a reprieve from the across-the-board cuts to TOPS ordered by the Legislature earlier this year, which were backloaded to the 2017 spring semester. University of Louisiana President Dan Reneau told Gannett’s Greg Hilburn that the cuts are likely to hurt enrollment.


TOPS’ students, about 51,000, are victims of budget cuts made during the spring Legislative Session. Funding to the scholarship program was trimmed by 30 percent. Lawmakers in the House decided to front-load funding, meaning full tuition scholarships were awarded for the fall semester but only 46 percent of tuition will be covered in the spring.


Hospital deal not reached

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration has begun the process of removing the Biomedical Research Foundation as the operator of LSU hospitals in Monroe and Shreveport after contract negotiations failed. This means the foundation and the state have 45 days to continue to talk until the contract is terminated. Star reporter Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press has the story.


The research foundation managing the state-owned charity hospitals in Monroe and Shreveport says the renegotiated contract terms offered by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration are unfair. The Biomedical Research Foundation of Northwest Louisiana, which runs the two hospitals as University Health, has balked at signing the reworked agreement proposed by the Edwards administration…Steve Skrivanos, chairman of the University Health board of directors, issued a statement Thursday about the stalemate. He called the proposed agreement out of line with the terms offered to the other managers of the LSU charity hospitals and services in Louisiana. Skrivanos says the renegotiated deal “unfairly targets the Shreveport and Monroe hospitals” by requiring changes to the contract’s financial terms.


Conservative solutions to poverty
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina has launched a coalition with fellow Republicans  in an effort to apply “conservative solutions” to fight poverty. The senator announced the effort would rely on listening and learning from those affected as opposed to relying on polls and statistics. Vera Bergengruen of McClatchy DC has more.


Named the Senate Opportunity Coalition, the group will focus on reaching out to families living in distressed communities to see what works, and what doesn’t. Though well-intentioned, most previous “cookie cutter approaches” to fight poverty have not accomplished their goals, Scott said. The coalition is not pushing for one specific piece of legislation, but instead looks to piece together different initiatives and partnerships. “We realize that there is no single bill that will combat poverty, but we’re going to embrace this time to speak with people within our states — whether it is in Native Alaskan villages or inner city Miami — to work together and offer the best solutions,” Scott said. The Republican lawmakers’ plan Wednesday had a softer tone than their party’s usual approach to poverty, focusing on the everyday struggles of low income families…According to the coalition’s first report, they will focus on the 50 million Americans who live in economically distressed communities.


State to pursue litigation
Gov. John Bel Edwards wants to see more parishes sue for damages from oil and gas companies to compensate for their role in the erosion of Louisiana’s wetlands. Currently only 4 parishes are involved. Edwards would like to see all coastal parishes join the litigation. If they do not, the state will sue for them. The Advocate’s Jeff Adelson reports  money won from the energy companies would go toward implementing the state’s Coastal Master Plan- an effort to restore 1,900 square miles of land that has washed away since early in the last century.


“We are going to pursue the litigation so that there’s a timely but successful resolution, particularly for the parishes along the coast, because this is just too important,” Edwards said…The rationale for Edwards in persuading more local governments to join the fight is to gain leverage and bring the energy industry to the bargaining table, where the state can push for a big, lump-sum settlement. “To do this piecemeal over a long period of time is in no one’s best interest,” Edwards said. “We need to make sure we have a global resolution to all of these claims.” The Governor’s Office will be sending letters to 16 parishes later this week encouraging them to file their own suits and putting them on notice that Edwards is prepared to step in if they do not. They include all parishes where energy companies have filed for permits to do work in wetlands. Four parishes have already filed suits: Jefferson, Plaquemines, Cameron and Vermilion. Those suits have been winding their way through state courts, in some cases for years. They were initially overshadowed by a more all-encompassing case filed by a New Orleans-area levee authority, but that suit was dismissed by a federal judge, though it remains on appeal.


Number of the Day

51,000 – Number of TOPS students in Louisiana who will see their scholarships cut by 46 percent in the Spring 2017 semester due to the state’s chronic revenue shortfalls. (Source: Gannett)