The Louisiana House approved raising the standards on the TOPS awards that also come with stipends.

The House voted 66-29 to approve Senate Bill 329. The legislation returns to the state Senate for an up or down vote on changes added in the House.

Several representatives questioned why standards need to be changed for the politically popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, the $300 million scholarship that pays college tuition for students achieving average academic standards. Because of a $600 million deficit in the state budget, legislators, so far, have been unable to fully fund TOPS for the first time.

Baton Rouge Rep. Steve Carter, a Republican, said other bills addressing a more sweeping change in the minimum standards have not made it through the committee process. This one has.

Under SB329, high school graduates starting in the 2020-2021 school year will have to achieve a minimum GPA of 3.25 to receive a TOPS Performance Award and 3.50 for a TOPS Honors Award. Currently, the threshold GPA is 3.0.

Of the 18,694 TOPS recipients who graduated from high school in 2015, 5,572 received Performance awards; and 4,307 received Honor awards, according to Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance.

Performance and Honors levels of TOPS receive stipends of $400 and $800, respectively, in addition to tuition, Carter said.

The remaining 8,815 received what is called the TOPS Opportunity awards, which require a 2.5 GPA.

If SB329 were applied to the 2015 numbers, then 1,257 students would no longer be eligible for the Performance awards, and 1,024 would no longer receive the Honors stipend.

That would save the state $1.9 million, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates.

Most of those who couldn’t qualify for the stipends still would receive a TOPS Opportunity award.

House Education Committee Chairwoman Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, spoke in favor of the legislation, saying it was narrowly focused on the higher level of TOPS only. “We’re raising the standards for the (students receiving) stipends without eliminating anyone from TOPS,” Landry said.

The legislation is sponsored by Republican Sen. Dan Claitor, whose south Baton Rouge district includes part of the LSU campus and many of the neighborhoods where LSU faculty and staff live.

Voting for changing some TOPS standards (67): Speaker Barras and Reps. Abraham, Adams, Amedee, Anders, Armes, Bacala, Bagley, Bagneris, Berthelot, Bishop, Broadwater, Carmody, G. Carter, R. Carter, S. Carter, Chaney, Connick, Coussan, Cromer, Danahay, Davis, DeVillier, Dwight, Emerson, Falconer, Foil, Gaines, Garofalo, Gisclair, Guinn, Hazel, Henry, Hilferty, Hoffmann, Hollis, Ivey, James, M. Johnson, Jordan, N. Landry, Leger, Leopold, Lopinto, Lyons, Mack, Magee, McFarland, Miguez, D. Miller, G. Miller, Moreno, Jay Morris, Jim Morris, Pearson, Price, Pylant, Richard, Schexnayder, Schroder, Shadoin, Smith, Stokes, Talbot, White, Willmott and Zeringue.

Voting against SB329 (29): Reps. Billiot, Bouie, C. Brown, T. Brown, Carpenter, Franklin, Glover, Hall, L. Harris, Havard, Hill, Hodges, Horton, Howard, Hunter, Huval, Jackson, Jefferson, Jenkins, R. Johnson, Jones, T. Landry, Montoucet, Norton, Pierre, Pope, Reynolds, Seabaugh and Thibaut.

Absent and Not Voting (9): Reps. Abramson, Cox, Edmonds, J. Harris, Hensgens, LeBas, Marcelle, Pugh and Simon.

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