TOPS Girls State celebration

Participants at Louisiana Girls State react with big applause and cheers upon hearing Louisiana will fully fund the TOPS program for the upcoming year.

It didn't take long for news to spread Sunday that the Louisiana Legislature passed a budget that fully funds the state's mega popular TOPS scholarship program.

Jim Henderson, the president of the University of Louisiana System, tweeted a video showing the reaction of an auditorium full of high school students at the annual Louisiana Girls State program. According to Henderson, Northwestern State University President Chris Maggio told the crowd about the budget news. The girls' reactions, in a word, look like the student section in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night after LSU scores game-winning touchdown against Alabama.

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"Wow! This right here. This is why it was so important," Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted in response to the video.

The state's more than $29 billion operating budget will shield most agencies from cuts and fears college students would be left scrambling to offset reductions in the TOPS tuition program.

Formally called the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, TOPS began covering college tuition costs in 1998 and is credited with improving high school performance and college graduation rates in a poor state that has struggled to boost education attainment. But its costs have shot up to nearly $300 million annually, as more students reached the modest eligibility standards and as colleges boosted tuition rates to compensate for cuts to their state financing.

Louisiana has spent $2.7 billion on TOPS since it began.

The program pays for tuition at a four-year school for any high school graduate who reaches a 2.5 grade-point average and 20 ACT college entrance exam score. Higher-performing students receive additional stipends, while other students get aid to attend community and technical colleges. The average yearly tuition rate in Louisiana is $5,600.

Students or their parents still pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in additional fees on top of that award. But until recently, TOPS had been a reliable source of aid for graduating high school students to attend college. More than 50,000 students are in the program.

In recent years, the assistance hasn't stayed so reliable.

For the first time, lawmakers didn't fully fund TOPS during the 2016-17 school year, leaving students and parents to make up the difference when Louisiana didn't pay 30 percent of the annual tuition costs.

For the past 2017-18 school year, lawmakers put up enough money to pay full tuition.

The Associated Press' Melinda Deslatte contributed to this report.