Opinion: Edwards Made Bad Call on TOPS, Budget

In his official response to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards’ announcement of this year’s budget shortfall, Treasurer John Kennedy, the man who many think should be leading this state, described the condition of Louisiana’s budget.

From the start, Kennedy announced that he would be speaking “from (the) heart,” and his words afterward displayed how remarkably sensible and logical he is for a politician. Throughout the response, Kennedy displayed a sense of levelheadedness, knowledge, and grace that led into a tone of betrayal when he explained the cause of the budget being where it’s at now.

The majority us are not politics gurus; we leave that reporting to Luc Hebert. But Kennedy explained the problems and solutions to the goings-on of the state budget in a way that would allow each of us to take to the floor of the state capitol armed with the knowledge to turn the pelican state into a cajun Abu Dhabi.

“(The governor is) telling Louisiana families and the Louisiana businesses that they have to cut their budgets so that Louisiana state government doesn’t have to cut its budget,” Kennedy said.

The problem with that, Governor Edwards, is that if you force middle-class families that are preparing to send academically mediocre kids to college to find alternative means to fund that education, you’ll end up creating a situation where those who have so much to prove and achieve in our higher education system can’t do it because of a lack of the ability to get scholarships for either low income or high academic marks.

85% of students that currently receive TOPS would lose it under the worst case scenario as predicted by The Advocate. (Graph by Nick Ashton)

85% of students that currently receive TOPS would lose it under the worst case scenario as predicted by The Advocate. (Graph by Nick Ashton)

Having a 3.5-plus grade point average or a 28 on the ACT doesn’t necessarily determine how much you can achieve at something you have a passion for in college, and thanks to TOPS, Louisiana’s program of state-issued college scholarships, students that fall within that range have been able to find their niches and achieve in Louisiana colleges up to now. Taking that away leads to a situation that could lead to more student debt, less individual income straight out of college, and a further decrease in the quality of life for future graduates.

Tracing this back to the source reveals that, in Kennedy’s words, the raiding of state savings accounts over the past seven years has led us to where we are now. According to The Advocate, the worst case scenario would call for for the amount of TOPS-eligible students statewide to be 15 percent of what it is now, and the minimum qualifying ACT score would be bumped to a 28.  The funding set aside for TOPS in the 2016-2017 school year comes from one of the few remaining savings accounts from a 1990s lawsuit settlement’s interest.

None of this statement comes from years of acute political analysis, a keen eye for corruption and waste, or a grass roots watch dog mentality; as a whole, our staff doesn’t have any of that. Our perspective and qualifications come only from each of us being one of those students that will be affected by this decision; TOPS is something we can’t afford to lose, and we stand alongside tens of thousands of Louisiana high school students that think the same.

Resolve this budget issue like you said you would, Governor, when you told that assimilation of protesters that we can’t afford not to fund our future in higher education. You said to make sure that our legislators hear us; this is our plea, Governor Edwards.

We’re not opposed to the restructuring of TOPS requirements, but eliminating the program or revising the requirements to make it almost not achievable by many students’ standards is not the way to go.

Invest in higher education, invest in TOPS, and invest in the youth of Louisiana to make our future brighter, and we can guarantee that those students you fund that become the future taxpayers of this state will make Louisiana great for all of us and for future generations.

The amount of students that qualified for TOPS in the Class of 2015 would have been dashed to 48 as opposed to 151 under the worst case scenario. (Photo by Nick Ashton)

The amount of students that qualified for TOPS in the Class of 2015 would have been dashed to 48 as opposed to 151 under the worst case scenario. (Graph by Nick Ashton)

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