OPINION: “I was awarded $2.00 for TOPS, a dollar a semester”

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Karriem Bennet, 2017 College Track New Orleans Scholar and Malcolm Jenkins Scholar

Karriem Bennet, senior at Warren Easton High School in New Orleans, reads her letter at a campaign rally protesting cuts to Louisiana’s merit scholarship program, TOPS, on April 4, 2017, at the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market.
 

House Education Chair
Rep. Nancy Landry
109 S. College Road
Lafayette, LA 70503.

Dear Rep. Nancy Landry,

I support one of the Cowen Institute’s recommendations of Instituting a Sliding Scale. If legislators want to ensure all students can remain eligible for the program, regardless of income, I recommend that the state create a means-tested sliding scale that offers students scholarship support based on their family income. All students, regardless of family income, could still qualify for TOPS, but the amount of the award would vary — students coming from families with lower incomes would receive larger rewards than students from families with higher incomes.

When Mr. Patrick Taylor conceived the plan in 1988 and the state implemented it as Act 789, TOPS guaranteed access to college for low- and moderate-income students based on their academic achievements, and not on their ability to pay. In 1997, the governor enacted Act 1375 and Act 287 — removing the income cap. I personally believe the income cap was removed to assist the wealthier citizens of Louisiana. The wealthier citizens did not qualify for Pell Grant assistance, so their friends in the legislature gave them some assistance.

According to a U.S. News & World Report “Best States” list in February 2017, Louisiana is the worst state in the country according to a new analysis based on health care, education, infrastructure, crime and other quality-of-life measures. The TOPS program afforded college-age students the ability to stay home or at least in the state to attend college. The state should be thrilled that we are staying home and attending state schools. If TOPS is going to give us $2.00 a semester, then we can go to schools out of the state. If we have to take out loans to attend college we might as well leave the worst-rated state and experience one of the better 49 states.

I consider myself to be a fair person; this is why I prefer the instituting of a sliding scale for TOPS. Yes, TOPS started with an income cap, I would qualify under the income cap. I just believe that if we want to make the state a better place for ALL to live, we need to allow financial assistance to ALL that meet the academic criteria. We have to keep our brightest and driven commodities, the youth, in the state. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” — Nelson Mandela. Let’s use TOPS to help us to change Louisiana’s ranking from worst state to best state.

Sincerely,

Karriem A. Bennett

Warren Easton Charter High School