Don’t mask TOPS household income data

Don’t mask TOPS household income data

Recipients of the popular TOPS scholarship increasingly come from higher-income households. Since 2010-2011, the number of students who hailed from households with incomes above $150,000 increased by 56%. While the Louisiana Board of Regents is required by state law to annually report the household income data of TOPS recipients, state lawmakers are considering legislation this session that would mask these disparities by stripping this data from the annual TOPS report, and the entire TOPS reporting system. LBP state policy fellow Richard Davis Jr. explains why it’s crucial for the state to protect public access to TOPS household income data.

Louisiana is better off when people have access to a high-quality, affordable postsecondary education, and TOPS is an important program that helps us achieve this goal. However, there are clear disparities in who benefits from this program. Because of this data, we understand that TOPS scholarship recipients are more likely to hail from higher-income families. It is important to have this information, not to demonize these recipients who rightfully earned their scholarships on merit, but to promote continued conversations about ways to provide more opportunities for lower-income students. 

Lawmakers sideline sales tax rollback
The Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee shelved legislation on Monday that sought to roll back the state sales tax on Monday. House Bill 438 by Rep. Tony Bacala sought to roll off the .45 percent portion of the state’s sales tax early, beginning in 2023, and came with a $408 million hit to the state general fund over three years. As The Advocate’s Mark Ballard explains, senators worried that the tax cut would return Louisiana to the budget instability that the temporary sales tax was designed to solve.  

During his decades in the Legislature, (Sen. Gary) Smith (of Norco) said he recalls the flush times following the arrival of recovery monies from the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Back then, lawmakers rolled back income tax brackets, setting off a decade of annual deficits that led to dramatic cuts in higher education and healthcare along with selling state properties and questionable accounting practices to balance annual operating budgets. “We have some money and now the first thing we want to do is start peeling away the stability?” Smith said.

Bill to stop hair discrimination advances
The House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure advanced legislation on Monday that would ban workplace discrimination based on hairstyle. House Bill 41 by Rep. Candace Newell would ban discrimination against people who wear their hair in natural or protective hairstyles, ending de-facto requirements that Black people undergo chemical or heat treatments on their hair to maintain a job at some employers. Piper Hutchinson of the LSU Manship Schools News Service reports

House Bill 41, sponsored by Rep. Candace Newell, D-New Orleans, would amend discrimination law to include “natural, protective, or cultural hairstyle.” That would include afros, dreadlocks, braids, and other styles with cultural significance or intended to protect hair texture.Newell said protective styles are particularly important in Louisiana due to the humidity. “Hair discrimination is rooted in the belief that straight hair is ultimately cleaner, neater or more professional, while it’s opposite for hair that is textured,” Newell said. The bill passed 8-6, with two Republicans, Rep. Nicholas Muscarello Jr. of Hammond and Rep. Richard Nelson of Mandeville, voting with Democrats to approve it.

The case for cash assistance
America’s federal safety net does a fairly good job of ensuring that children from low-income families have enough food to eat (SNAP) and access to medical care when they need it (Medicaid). But working families whose jobs don’t pay enough also need cash assistance to make sure they have the resources they need to raise their children. A new paper by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Lisa A. Gennetian and Katherine Magnuson explains

By themselves, current safety net programs do not free up enough net household income to supplement shortfalls in earned income or other sources of income, especially when jobs pay little or have unpredictable hours, and are not designed to be immediately responsive to financial emergencies. Providing cash income to families with low incomes can complement the safety net by providing a floor of predictable income. … Cash (also) avoids the paternalistic nature of some public benefit programs by empowering parents to invest in their children as they see fit. Cash builds on parents’ existing strengths, resilience, and capacities to meet their and their children’s needs.

Number of the Day
56% – Percentage increase since 2010-2011 in the number of TOPS recipients who hailed from households with incomes above $150,000 (Source: Louisiana Board of Regents via LBP).