Late last year, after a legislatively authorized panel had finished gathering data on how various tweaks would affect the number of students eligible for the state's cherished TOPS college tuition scholarships, I wrote that lawmakers now face the hard part: Coming up with cost-saving recommendations that might actually pass.
It turns out that curbing the program's ever-growing price tag may be even harder than they thought.
Not only is there little appetite among legislators for curtailing an entitlement their constituents love. There appears to be even less in the governor's office. Speaking about the state's perennial budget woes before the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday, Gov. John Bel Edwards sure seemed to pour some cold water on the effort.
"I don't favor changing TOPS; I favor funding TOPS," Edwards said.
He did acknowledge that's a difficult task. During Edwards' first budget year in office, the state came up short and had to shift some costs on to students. Full funding was restored this year, and Edwards hopes to keep it that way.
One reason he's not focused on altering TOPS, he said, is that any changes in eligibility — things like raising the minimum ACT score or core curriculum GPA for high school students — would likely kick in years down the road, so that the state doesn't pull the rug out from under current high schoolers who are meeting existing standards. That means TOPS isn't a place to look for solutions to immediate budget challenges, he said.
But if the state ever reaches the point where "we're going to chronically underfund TOPS," he said he might be open to other ideas.
So don't put him down as a firm "no." More of a "not right now."