The legislatively appointed panel created in 2017 to study the future of the popular but pricey TOPS scholarships asked the right question: How can the state make the program sustainable in the long term?
It didn't come up with an answer.
Rather, it produced nine of them, to be forwarded on to the Legislature, which will once again debate curtailing the program's growth in cost.
As usual, the ideas tended toward the controversial. Chairman Blade Morrish, who also chairs the Senate Education Committee, favors limiting awards to $4,000 per student per year, for example. The average tuition today at state four-year schools is $5,620, and students at the flagship LSU campus get $7,462. But this proposal, like the others, was forwarded without an up-or-down vote from the group's members.
The move throws the ball back into the court of the Legislature, which has struggled to agree on a basic philosophy on how to scale back — how to balance need versus merit, for example — and even whether to. Even though it's not at all clear at this point where lawmakers will find the money to pay for TOPS in the coming academic year, Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he'd rather fund the program than change it.
As for Morrish, he said afterward the group's final meeting that "we didn't feel like 10 members of the task force should make a decision."
Here's the part he left unspoken: Just as with prior efforts to change TOPS, they probably couldn't have agreed on a single proposal if it they'd tried.