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As part of its push to give higher education management boards authority over setting tuition and fees—instead of the Legislature—BRAC is taking on one of the state's most sacred cows: TOPS. In a report released this morning, BRAC recommends a series of reforms to TOPS that would decouple TOPS awards from tuition costs and raise the academic standards for the popular tuition program. "We are supporting bills during the session to vest the power over tuition-setting to higher education governing boards," says BRAC spokeswoman Lauren Hatcher. "As a result, our organization feels it is necessary to have an official position on the TOPS program, because the issues are so closely related." Among the recommendations in the report: raising both the minimum GPA and ACT score requirements for TOPS Opportunity, Performance and Honors awards, three of the five scholarships in the program. The report also suggests decoupling tuition costs from the TOPS program—in other words, providing for a maximum award amount for each school year, regardless of tuition. A third reform outlined in the report would increase state funding for need-based GO Grants, as a way of helping students from low-income families who would likely be most affected by the higher academic standards. BRAC is not recommending the proposed changes for the current legislative session, but rather is trying to get out in front of an issue that will be of increasing importance as funding for higher education continues to shrink and Louisiana continues to lag behind peer states. You can read the full report here. —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story here.
Today's poll question: Do you think the academic requirements for getting a TOPS scholarship should be raised?
Elite Airways—a six-year-old airline that, until now, has provided only charter service—will begin offering regularly scheduled commercial flights from Baton Rouge this summer. Elite's president, John Pearsall, tells Daily Report the Portland, Maine-based company will be expanding into several markets around the country in the coming months, and that Baton Rouge will be its first hub city. “We think Baton Rouge is a great area and I think they can use some unique flights,” he says, adding that service is tentatively scheduled to begin in mid-July. “We are excited.” Pearsall declines to disclose at this time the number of flights Elite will offer locally or the destinations to which it will fly, but says the airline will offer non-stop service from Baton Rouge to destinations that currently can only be reached via connecting flights. “We've been working closely with the Baton Rouge Metro Airport,” Pearsall says. “They have been after us and showed us the need for service in certain markets and we agreed.” —Stephanie Riegel
Seven of the country's strongest charter school operators—including two with proven track records of success in New Orleans—have applied to open charter schools in north Baton Rouge. The groups are among 35 organizations that have applied for charters to operate 100 new schools in 19 parishes across Louisiana, according to a news release from the Louisiana Department of Education today, which notes that nearly twice as many organizations applied for charters this year as in 2012. Locally, where many public schools are failing, the number and quality of applicants is particularly significant, according to charter school advocates. They credit the interest, in large part, to the efforts of New Schools for Baton Rouge, a community partnership focused on bringing in charter operators to improve public education in north Baton Rouge's so-called Achievement Zone: a cluster of ZIP codes in which 26 of the 31 public schools received a D or F on the state's latest report card. In its first year in operation, New Schools recruited seven top-performing charter organizations for the Achievement Zone. They include: Celebrity Education Group, Collegiate Academies, Democracy Prep Public Schools, Family Urban Schools of Excellence, Green Dot Public Charter Schools, Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), and YES Prep Public Schools. Collegiate Academies and KIPP both operate top-performing schools in New Orleans. In a separate announcement today, New Schools for Baton Rouge says it will partner with a team from LSU to analyze the track record of those applicants, as well as with all others applying for charters to operate in the Achievement Zone, and will make recommendations to the state and the East Baton Rouge Parish School System. —Stephanie Riegel