TOPS scholarships are safe from cuts in the coming school year.
The Louisiana Legislature on Friday passed a final budget that fully funds the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, a year after it was decided that the program -- for the first time in its history -- wouldn't cover 100 percent of students' tuition.
The ability to fund TOPS at its $300 million projected need and protect state colleges and universities from cuts was touted by lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards as one of the few bright spots in the budget that begins July 1.
Louisiana lawmakers wrapped up their fourth special session in less than two years on Friday…
"This is the best we've done for higher education in Louisiana in a decade," Edwards told reporters after a week-long special session ended with a final budget deal in place.
Lawmakers last year passed a budget that had funded TOPS at 70 percent. That left students picking up the out-of-pocket difference during the school year that just ended.
The reversal comes after months of uncertainty that universities have said was pushing students to consider attending colleges in other states. At one point a letter was circulated claiming that the awards would only be worth $2 in the coming year, heightening the anxiety despite there being no final budget agreement from which to base that claim.
Just minutes after the House and Senate adjourned, LSU's Alumni Association blasted an update highlighting the significance of protecting TOPS.
"LSU is going to try to recruit some of those high school seniors who chose to go out-of-state because they were uncertain about TOPS," the email noted.
TOPS scholarships are awarded to Louisiana high schoolers who earn at least a 2.5 GPA on an outlined high school curriculum and score at least a 20 on the standardized ACT test and choose to attend college in the state.
Before last year, TOPS fully covered each recipient's tuition. (It doesn’t include fees and other costs of attending college.)
Last year's cut was front-loaded, meaning that TOPS covered the fall semester, but students had to pick up about 60 percent of their tuition in the spring.
Despite the full funding this year, the awards may not cover 100 percent of tuition.
State law was changed last year so that TOPS awards are no longer linked to current tuition levels and are instead set at 2016 prices, unless the Legislature changes the award amount to reflect tuition hikes.