TOPS Task Forced 3 020718

State Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, chaired the TOPS Task Force, which held 12 meetings since September. Morrish's plan to make the most popular form of TOPS a $4,000 per year stipends was one of nine forwarded to the full Legislature.

After months, the deliberations of a task force studying the popular TOPS waivers of college tuition resulted in a big nothing-burger.

The task force created by the Legislature looked at the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students but could not agree on recommendations.

We say a nothing-burger because the crying need for the program is higher academic standards. Last year, prodded by state Rep. Franklin Foil, the House narrowly backed a modest increase in the grade-point average required for students for the valuable waivers.

The Senate refused to agree, and the idea went to the task force meeting in the interim between legislative sessions.

"I was disappointed that our committee couldn't come to a consensus on some concrete proposals for the Legislature to consider," said Foil, R-Baton Rouge, who was also a member of the study group.

Was this all a waste of time? Perhaps, but we nevertheless saw at least some thinking going on about TOPS, a program that rewards modestly achieving high school students with four years of tuition waivers.

Foil's controversial bill only pushed the required GPA to 2.75 from the current 2.5. That's barely above a C average.To call it a scholarship is a bit of a misnomer.

That the Legislature would not agree on that modest step foreshadowed failure in the interim committee. Gov. John Bel Edwards also kibitzed from the sideline, saying he did not favor changes to the program, even as budget problems — not, admittedly, of the governor's making — required him to submit proposals to reduce TOPS funding sharply.

Nevertheless, the panel put a spotlight on a program that could cost $300 million a year in the near future.

The committee chairman, Sen. Blade Morrish, R-Jennings, advanced a proposal to restructure the awards so that costs are modestly trimmed, with the waivers rewarding better-performing students who stay in school to graduate.

Louisiana's public universities, with rare exceptions, are not exactly world-beaters when it comes to graduation rates. Students of modest academic achievement who are encouraged to go to college by TOPS waivers may well be stuck with a substantial tab and end without a degree.

Critics of change argued that poor families deserve more aid rather than less, but we wonder if students who are not prepared for college work really benefit if they don't graduate.

Morrish's proposal was not supported, but he said the committee did distill much of the thinking about changes. It may be that TOPS is such a political sacred cow that we can expect no more this year.