Imagine it’s your high school graduation day. You’ve worked hard, and your parents want to reward you. They tie a big bow around a car and hand you the keys. They tell you the car is a graduation gift.
Now imagine how you’d feel if your parents forgot to mention that they expect you to make the car payments. Suddenly, that shiny car doesn’t look so shiny.
As a state, we will be making a similar false promise if Senate Bill 48 becomes law and allows us to saddle our students with expenses that TOPS should cover. It is my hope that Governor Jindal will consider vetoing this no doubt well-meaning but ill-conceived legislation.
TOPS is one of the greatest programs we’ve ever established in Louisiana. Through TOPS, students who study hard and keep up their grades can get a college education courtesy of the state. It’s the smartest thing we’ve ever put in place.
SB48 would dilute the program’s value by allowing TOPS to remain stagnant while tuition increases. The Legislature would have to vote on whether TOPS awards should be boosted to match tuition hikes. In other words, our students could be left responsible for part of their tuition bill.
Let me boil down what SB48 truly is: It’s an attempt to cap TOPS. Thankfully the governor has recognized the legislation for what it is and voiced his opposition for the bill. I can only hope that he will take a hard look at the bill that landed on his desk.
TOPS has sent a quarter of a million kids to college in Louisiana. That’s a staggering statistic considering the state’s population is only 4.65 million.
SB48 exists because legislators blew the opportunity this year to streamline state spending in order to safeguard priorities such as health care and higher education. They balanced the state budget with $145 million in efficiencies that probably won’t materialize. They relied on $300 million in revenue that will have to be replaced in a year’s time. They stuffed the state construction budget with $377 million in projects that the state cannot afford.
The Legislature put the budget together with duct tape, and they’re at the end of the roll. Ten years ago, Louisiana had a budget of $16 billion. Next year’s budget is $24.5 billion. Louisiana’s population hasn’t exploded in a decade, forcing the state’s budget to exponentially grow. We’re simply spending beyond our considerable means.
TOPS should not be a casualty of the state’s spending problems. We can’t promise to pay college tuition and then only fulfill part of the promise. We can’t build up the American dream and then give our kids an invoice for it.