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Bill Aims At Removing Family Income Information On LA TOPS Applications

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Courtesy: LA TOPS Website

REMOVING INCOME REQUIREMENT? The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, known as TOPS, is a merit-based scholarship that covers tuition costs for in-state Louisiana students. And of the 15,000 high school grads who were awarded TOPS scholarships in 2020, 40% came from households with annual incomes of more than $100,000. The state Board of Regents, which oversees higher education, reports that over the past decade, more than 11,000 students with parents making $1 million or more had received TOPS funding. Groups advocating for more aid to low-income students have questioned the fairness of the TOPS awards going to such higher-income families. Race, gender, and family income are required disclosures when applying for a TOPS scholarship. But Senate Bill 81 sponsored by Republican Senator Bodi White of Central, Louisiana, would eliminate the need for reporting family incomes of TOPS applicants. During discussions before the Senate Committee on Education last week – opponents to the measure said collecting income data helps with addressing the needs of lower-income students. Richard Davis, Jr. is with the Louisiana Budget Project.

Any disparities and equity gaps that exist can only be identified and addressed at the state level if lawmakers and the general public have access to data that isolates indicators such as race, gender, and income,”
Davis explained.

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Courtesy: LA Senate Video Archive
Richard Davis, Jr. is with the Louisiana Budget Project.

But Senator White pointed out that the TOPS program was established to provide higher-education opportunities for all students regardless of income.

“If you want to do away with the program, then say that because you make X-amount dollars, everybody in the state has the same chance to get this. If you want to kill the program, go that route and I promise you it will be dead in just a few years,” White said.

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Courtesy: LA Senate Video Archive
Senator Bodi White (R) of Central, Louisiana sponsored SB-81.

Roughly 58,000 students in Louisiana were able to attend colleges and universities last year because they took advantage of the TOPS scholarship program. The state spent over $320 million on TOPS in 2020. Senate Bill-81 was unanimously approved by the committee, it is now headed to the Senate for debate.