With little hope in sight that additional revenue would be raised in the final hours of the Louisiana Legislature, higher education leaders have become resigned to the fact that TOPS could be cut for the first time in its existence.
It appears likely the Legislature will only be able to raise less than half of the $600 million budget shortfall they were called on to fill by Gov. John Bel Edwards for the second special session ending Thursday night.
The four main governmental entities fighting it out in the end for funding are K-12 education, higher education, TOPS and the Louisiana Department of Health.
The most recent version of the budget — passed Wednesday by the Senate Finance committee — fully funded higher education institutions at the previous year’s level.
But it is short 30 percent of the dollars to fully fund the popular TOPS program, which last year paid for the full tuition of more than 51,000 in-state students who earned mid-level academic benchmarks.
Higher education officials say it’s an awkward position to be pitting higher education institutions against TOPS funding, because both represent cuts to their mission.
If TOPS is cut dramatically, it could prevent students from being able to attend schools, Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo said.
But given the choice they are facing, Rallo and Richard Lipsey, chair of the Board of Regents, both said they’d prefer to see higher education institutions fully funded over TOPS because it affects all students, and TOPS would more specifically impact about five universities with the highest TOPS recipients, like LSU.
If higher education is fully funded, it will be the first time it doesn’t take a hit in at least eight years, Rallo said. However, he noted Senate Finance committee’s version of the budget still includes steep cuts for the LSU medical centers.
James Caillier, executive director of the Taylor Foundation, which is the organization that founded TOPS, said he recognizes that it’s increasingly unlikely that TOPS will be fully funded at this point. But he’s still hopeful to get it as close to whole as possible.
Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen.