Letter: Education bill could be damaging

If Senate Bill 520 impacted the Louisiana educational system in a uniform manner, it might be considered fair and appropriate, provided all the savings remained in education, especially secondary education. While no one voting on the bill or lobbying for passage of the bill knows what the impact of the bill will be, they are willing to gamble on the outcome in order to obtain questionable savings.

The following are facts that will be used to demonstrate just how unfair and damaging the impact of the law would be.

Currently, 69 percent of entering TOPS students earn an ACT composite score of 20, 21 or 22. The state average ACT composite was 19.5 for the 2013 graduating class. Many parishes, House and Senatorial districts, especially rural parishes, have even lower mean ACT scores. The ACT scores for public high schools are considerably lower than those for nonpublic high schools. An ACT requirement of 21 and a gpa requirement of 2.75 will not impact enrollments at LSU or private colleges.

Currently, 94 percent of the TOPS funding (general fund plus tobacco settlement funds) goes directly into the budgets of the universities, which is consistent with funding trends across the nation. Currently, about 14,500 TOPS students enter Louisiana four-year institutions each year, with 69 percent of those having ACT scores of 20, 21 or 22. This means that an enrollment of about 3,300 students per year would be impacted by Senate Bill 520. Enrollment would be shifted away from regional public universities, away from poor students, away from minorities, away from students graduating from rural high schools without master teachers in math and science. The enrollments would be shifted, in part, to community colleges, vo-tech schools, and proprietary schools or nonattendance. The budgets of regional universities would be impacted, and the best one could hope for would be that a sizable portion of the enrollments would shift to TOPS Tech. The accumulated impact on enrollment over four years will involve a big shift or nonattendance totaling between 6,500 and 8,000.

Any savings in TOPS will come from taking funds away from students who have a reasonable chance of obtaining a college degree and either giving it to students who have very little chance to obtain a degree or funding other functions of state government. GO Grant students who don’t earn TOPS just don’t graduate. The greatest harm will come from taking away hopes and expectations from many high schools, their students and their parents.

Jim Wharton

retired LSU professor

Baton Rouge