High school seniors who prepared to attend college based on promises of free tuition may soon themselves on a road to nowhere.

They can thank state lawmakers for paving that highway of uncertainty.

The fate of the Taylor Opportunity Program Scholarship (TOPS) will figure prominently into the debates during the upcoming 2017 session of the Louisiana Legislature, which gets underway April 10.

Discussion on TOPS comes less than one year after lawmakers implemented cuts to the popular program on the final day of a special session last June.

The first cut alone kept upward of 20 percent or more of the student body from the fall 2016 semester from returning in the spring. Many could not shore up the funding quickly enough to pay the extra $2,000 or so needed to make up the difference in the spring semester.

For Livingston and more than 20 other parishes statewide, floods in March and August also depleted the coffers for families who set aside money for their children to make up the difference during the spring semester.

It was a classic example of pulling the rug from under the feet of students, who did their part through hard work and good grades, in exchange for the promised scholarship money on the TOPS program.

A move to gradually implement those changes would have seemed much more acceptable, but it did not come to play.

In 2017, the state faces a $400 million deficit going into the next fiscal year. It also must find ways to shore up the money from the nearly $1 billion hole from expiration of the 1-cent sales tax, also known as “the fiscal cliff.”

An anti-tax climate does not bode well for hopes among some lawmakers for increased revenue. The flat returns on personal income tax – a byproduct of the plunge in oil revenue - don’t help.

Barring a miracle or some new innovative idea, a majority of lawmakers will embrace – and odds are dim on both accounts – we will likely see more of the same.

It means cuts to education, cuts to healthcare and another trip to the slaughter house for the TOPS program.

In a year when many lawmakers believe they have run out of ideas on how to cut the budget – particularly on healthcare and education – the TOPS program may once again continue its transformation from sacred cow to sacrificial lamb.

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