TOPS expansion bill OK’d by House

Amid cost concerns, the Louisiana House tweaked legislation Wednesday expanding the state’s popular scholarship program.

House Bill 612 by state Rep. Hunter Greene still would allow some students who got an undergraduate degree out of state to use TOPS money for graduate studies. However, the House added a condition that the students would need to be in a field of study that qualifies for employment in a four or five star job as determined by the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

The legislation advanced to the state Senate on a 57-38 vote.

Greene, R-Baton Rouge, pitched the bill as way to attract the state’s best and brightest back to Louisiana. “We may never get these children back,” Greene said.

TOPS, or the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, funds tuition and other costs for undergraduate work by qualifying students.

Greene wants to allow students who pass on undergraduate dollars to use the money for graduate studies in Louisiana.

The Legislative Fiscal Office warned that the bill as it entered the House could increase the money the state puts into TOPS by “indeterminable, but likely significant amounts.”

State Rep. Vincent J. Pierre, D-Lafayette, said the program already costs the state a lot of money.

“Right now, TOPS it seems to be steadily going up and up,” he said.