Shared from the 2017-07-09 American Press eEdition


Despite full funding, TOPS reforms failed

Much to the delight of parents and admissions counselors across the state, legislators were able to fully fund the Taylor Opportunity for Students program for another year this past session. The state also froze TOPS amounts at 2016 tuition levels, preventing the program from having to deepen its pockets with every tuition hike.

But the storybook ending masks a series of failed attempts to reform the program.

A bill that would require high schoolers to earn a higher grade-point average was shot down in a Senate committee in June. Another that would have prioritized low-income students died in a House panel in May. And still another that would have required students to take 30 credit hours each year instead of 24 died at the state Board of Regents in February.

Although TOPS is safe this next year, the core issue brought up by these failed bills — the fact that the program continues to provide funding to students who don’t financially need it, who don’t graduate or whose degrees don’t benefit the local workforce — still must be addressed.

The state needs to do more than just put a bandage on the budget each year. It needs to find a sustainable budget that works, and it can’t do so if TOPS is draining money irresponsibly. It must find a way, not to choose between merit-or need-based funding, but to balance these needs.

Legislators recognize that their work isn’t done. They’ve established a 10-member legislative task force headed by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Morrish, R-Jennings, to review the program and present a report by Feb. 15.

Although studies can succeed in producing researchbacked solutions, they can also give people a false sense of security that something is being done when it isn’t.

Residents shouldn’t be satisfied with the fact that a study has been commissioned. They should, instead, use this time to voice their ideas and concerns to legislators, so that the results are as inclusive and accurate as possible. And when the time comes for the task force to present its findings, residents should hold it accountable by taking a critical look at the report.

Let’s hope the study fulfills its purpose in identifying what improvements can be made. Some change is essential to ensure TOPS is fiscally responsible, keeps goodquality students in state and benefits the students who need it most.

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