Is Revamping TOPS Really a Bad Idea?
Look, its no secret, I have a problem with TOPS. Several of them, actually, but we'll get back to that in a minute. Currently, the state is in the midst of trying to fix some serious budgetary woes. According to Governor John Bel Edwards, the state faces a Billion Dollar shortfall. If you believe some republican lawmakers, the state is only 400 or 500 million dollars short. Either way, things need to change to make things balance.
And, the sad reality is that in times of crisis (thanks to dedicated and protected funds) the only pots law makers can cut from are Education and Health Care...arguably the two things most important to voters and Louisiana residents.
With all that being said, the TOPS program costs the state between $280 and $300 million a year. And even though the program has obvious flaws (and arguably is causing the price of college tuition to go up) and the state is strapped for cash, it seems to be the one thing Republicans and Democrats refuse to touch. We've even had some Republican lawmakers, both on and off the record, tell us that the only way they would raise taxes is if some of the funds go towards the TOPS program.
To me, TOPS has SEVERAL major flaws. The first is that C students can be awarded funds. Why are we rewarding students for being mediocre? It seems to me that only the best and brightest should get a free ride to college. I'm not saying those C students don't belong in college...I'm just saying that they shouldn't go on our collective dime. And, as a side note to that, a lot of kids who didn't use to go to college are now taking the "free" money, going to school and then deciding that college isn't for them. Which is just a waste of money that could have gone to a more deserving student or fixing our failing school system (which is ranked 48th in the Nation).
Another thing that greatly irks me is the fact that we are driving these C student kids to college when maybe that isn't the right set up for them. The world needs as many ditch diggers and undertakers (probably even more) as it does doctors and lawyers. Yet, instead of guiding kids towards a future that is best for them, we make them feel inferior if they don't go to college. Instead of all but forcing a kid to take TOPS money and go to college...maybe just maybe, a high school counselor should try to guide the child to a vocational or trade school. I get it parents, you all think your child is a special little snowflake and future president of the United States...but the reality is that's probably not the case and all your doing is stopping your kid from finding a future that fits them.
And finally, the thing that drives me the most crazy about TOPS is the hypocrisy that is associated with it. All those lawmakers and state leaders who are against welfare programs and government handouts are the same people who are fighting tooth and nail to keep TOPS alive and unchanged. So...its okay that you make $500,000 a year and take money from the state to send your kid to college but the mom who has fallen on hard times shouldn't get food stamps to feed her family? That just seems insane to me.
There are flaws with a lot of government programs. And annually, a lot of laws are passed to try and fix issues associated with them. Unless that government program is named TOPS...then we just bury our heads in the sand and hope it all works out. I'm not against helping kids, I'm against wasting money and refusing to say we have a problem.
Why not implement tougher standards? Why can't we make the application process for TOPS harder? Why can't we make these kids create a resume and interview for their money? Maybe we should treat TOPS funds like a job opening...there are tons of candidates who want want is available, but only those most qualified will get it. It'll give these kids some real life experience on what to expect in the real world when people just aren't handing them stuff and a board of educators will be able to look at a students GPA, their body of school work and, through an interview, get a sense of their drive and future. We'd save money and only award those most deserving.