A bill that would require TOPS recipients who leave the state to repay some of their assistance was defeated Thursday in the Senate Education Committee.
The party line vote was 4-2 to shelve the measure, with Republicans prevailing.
The proposal, Senate Bill 110, would generally require TOPS graduates to repay 50 percent of their assistance if they left the state less than four years later. The same would apply to TOPS recipients who quit school – repay half of the money for each year they got the money.
"We pay for 50 percent of their education," said Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria and sponsor of the bill. "That is still a pretty good deal."
He added later, "The citizens of this state who fund this program expect us to be responsible with their dollars. That is what this bill does. It places the responsibility on students who either quit or move away to pay a portion back."
Opponents said the bill would cause more bright students to leave the state, especially amid fears that they could not find top jobs after graduation.
The new rules would also make it easier for the University of Alabama and other out-of-state schools to lure away Louisiana's top students, they said.
"I am afraid a bill like this would allow other states to cherry-pick our kids," said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie and a member of the committee.
James Callier, executive director of the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, which is named for the founder of the scholarship, said it is a mistake to say TOPS pays for a student's entire education.
Callier said the aid finances a maximum of about $7,200 on an $11,000 annual bill, with students responsible for fees and other charges. "TOP was always intended to be a limited scholarship," Callier told the committee.
TOPS stands for Taylor Opportunity Program for Students.
In a bipartisan but controversial push, two state lawmakers have filed bills that would make…
It pays for tuition, and in some cases other costs, for students who meet academic requirements.
About 52,000 students get the assistance.
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However, state budget problems forced a reduction in what TOPS recipients are getting in the spring semester, about 70 percent of the traditional amount.
Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, said it was unfair to require students to remain if Louisiana cannot offer abundant job opportunities.
Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, said TOPS is one reason the state is ahead of three states in the percentage of adults with college degrees.
Said Luneau, "I think there are a lot of kids who don't plan to stay in the state and take advantage of TOPS."
Louis Reine, head of the state AFL-CIO, said the bill would serve as a wakeup call for students on TOPS who party for a semester or two, then quit school. "Right now there is a carrot and not much stick," he said of rules governing the aid.
Committee members voting to shelve the bill were Sens. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie; Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton; Bodi White, R-Central and Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe.
Voting against the motion were Sens. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette and John Milkovich, D-Shreveport.