LSU

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After a sometimes heated debate, a bid to make it harder to land a TOPS scholarship narrowly won approval in the Louisiana House on Tuesday.

The vote was  53-32, the minimum needed for approval.

The measure, House Bill 117, would raise the minimum required GPA on the high school core curriculum from 2.50 to 2.75.

Doing so would save the state up to $7 million per year in a roughly $300 million program, backers said.

It would also, if in effect now, trim the list of TOPS recipients by about 1,800 students.

The legislation is opposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and officials of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, which is named for the founder of the scholarship.

In addition, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, told the USA Today Network last week that he doubts the legislation would win Senate approval.

TOPS stands for Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.

Students who qualify have their tuition financed by the state. About 52,000 students get TOPS today, but the traditional aid was reduced for the 2016-17 college school year because of state budget problems.

TOPS students got 67 percent of the traditional amount, with most of the reduction showing up in the just completed spring semester.

Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, sponsor of the bill, said it would first apply to students who begin the 9th grade this fall.

"I am giving kids four years to move from a 2.50 to a 2.75," he said.

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, made a fervent appeal for the bill during closing comments.

James said that, in his visit to Baton Rouge high schools, students routinely say that a higher GPA makes sense.

The lawmaker called the current, 2.50 GPA requirement for TOPS "very low" and said he grew up in a low-income family and achieved much better grades than that.

"When we create a culture of low expectations we get what we ask for," James told a suddenly quiet House. "We need to make changes to TOPS."

James added, "I hope you follow my green light."

In a biting response, Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, called James "exceptional" but disputed the need for the higher GPA. Those who could be denied eligibility, Cox said, badly need it.

Cox was among a group of lawmakers who argued throughout the debate that the bill would hurt students from low-income families.

The House initially voted to direct any savings from Foil's bill to the state's needs-based college scholarship program called Go Grants.

However, Foil, who initially agreed to go along with the change, later asked the House to undo it.

"I am a deliberative person," he said of his change of heart.

That move won narrow approval.

Foil said that, as the bill advances, he will work with Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, and others behind the effort to craft a compromise that addresses needs-based assistance.

The bill would apply to TOPS Opportunity, which is the most popular.

Foil initially proposed increasing the GPA requirement to 3.0 but changed it to boost chances for approval.

The session ends on June 8.


HBS FINAL PASSAGE

HB 117 BY FOIL

FINAL PASSAGE

Date: 5/23/2017

Time: 6:31:59 PM

ROLL CALL

The roll was called with the following result:

YEAS

Mr. Speaker

Abraham

Amedee

Anders

Bacala

Bagley

Berthelot

Bishop

Broadwater

Brown, C.

Brown, T.

Carter, S.

Chaney

Connick

Crews

Cromer

Danahay

Davis

DeVillier

Dwight

Edmonds

Emerson

Falconer

Foil

Garofalo

Guinn

Harris, L.

Hill

Hodges

Hoffmann

Horton

Huval

James

Landry, N.

Leopold

Mack

Magee

McFarland

Miller, D.

Miller, G.

Morris, Jim

Pearson

Pugh

Schexnayder

Schroder

Seabaugh

Simon

Smith

Stefanski

Stokes

Talbot

Thibaut

Thomas

Total -- 53 

NAYS

Abramson

Billiot

Bouie

Carter, G.

Carter, R.

Cox

Franklin

Gaines

Gisclair

Glover

Hall

Harris, J.

Havard

Henry

Hensgens

Jackson

Jefferson

Jenkins

Johnson

Jones

Jordan

Landry, T.

Leger

Lyons

Marino

Miguez

Pierre

Pope

Price

Reynolds

Richard

White

Total -- 32

ABSENT

Armes

Bagneris

Carmody

Carpenter

Coussan

Hazel

Hilferty

Hollis

Howard

Hunter

Ivey

LeBas

Marcelle

Moreno

Morris, Jay

Norton

Pylant

Shadoin

Stagni

Zeringue

Total -- 20

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.