State News

Committee members vote to continue tuition freeze

The Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee passed a motion rejecting Gov. Scott Walker's proposed 5 percent tuition cut for UW System schools and continuing the tuition freeze.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

Tuition at UW System schools will remain frozen for the next two years under a proposal approved by the state’s Joint Finance Committee setting the budget for the state’s public universities.

Lawmakers rejected, however, a proposal by Gov. Scott Walker that would slash tuition by 5 percent, electing instead to use those funds for other pieces of the 2017-’19 biennial budget.

Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee moved Thursday to eliminate Walker’s proposed tuition cut for the UW System in favor of continuing the tuition freeze for the next two academic terms.

JFC members passed the GOP’s motion in a 12-4 party-line vote. UW’s budget was scheduled to be considered on Tuesday, but was postponed due to disagreement among Republicans over the tuition cut.

Walker expressed optimism for the continued freeze, calling it a “great victory." Chair of Legislative Affairs Kat Kerwin also had a positive response to the motion's passing.

"I am so thankful for the JFC's decision to vote to fund the freeze," Kerwin said. "This really proved the committee's willingness to support the UW System and most importantly invest in students."

JFC leadership also announced plans to reduce funding for the UW System in the 2017-’19 biennial budget to $31.5 million. It was initially proposed at $42.5 million.

Democrat JFC members expressed disappointment in the passed motion.

“If the priorities for the governor were correct, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today about UW,” state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said. “We’d be doing what we can to fund UW, rather than throwing money away on tax breaks that don’t generate the kind of jobs that the governor promised.”

JFC called upon the Board of Regents to develop an outcomes-based funding formula using metrics they create to measure strides each institution within the system takes to meet each of four goals. Each school would be required to select one metric for each goal that they could improve upon, as well as one they excel at and will maintain.

The goals would include expanding accessibility for students, improving degree completion, accelerate contributions to the workforce and develop operational efficiency and excellence.

The motion also addressed the newly-instated Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership at UW-Madison, which would “improve the practice of American government,” according to the motion document. It said this goal should be carried out across the UW System. The motion asked that a board be formed for the center, who will select speakers to visit campuses. The board would be chosen in part by the state Legislature, controlled by the Republicans.

JFC approved Walker’s proposal to allocate $10,000 in the 2017-’18 academic term for reviewing policies regarding academic freedom, which has been a hot-button issue as state Republicans have said conservative viewpoints are stifled on UW System campuses.

The motion document mentioned segregated fees, and would require the Board of Regents to revise policies regarding the student fees. The revisions would ensure that whether segregated fees are consistently allocable or nonallocable at each UW System school.

UW System President Ray Cross thanked legislators in a statement for working with the system throughout the budget process.

“We put forth a reasonable budget request that strategically aligns our resources with the state’s greatest needs,” Cross said in the statement. “While we have concerns with some of the provisions, the vast majority of our requests were approved, and we look forward to working with the legislature on remaining issues, including our capital budget and compensation requests.”

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank also issued in a statement in which she said she also has some concerns regarding the budget. However, she praised the outcomes-based funding motion and the sentiment that the funding would not be “pitting UW System schools against each other.”

“Giving authority to the Board of Regents to define and operationalize a set of metrics and a process to distribute funding was an important improvement,” Blank said in the statement. “Rather than setting these in state statute, this process will allow the System to adapt these metrics to the changing needs of Wisconsin.”

UPDATE May 26, 11:54 a.m.: This story was updated to include a quote from a student government representative. 

UPDATE May 26, 1:18 p.m.: A previous version of this story's headline mischaracterized the status of the system's budget. The legislature reduced the amount of additional funding for UW from $42.5 million to $31.5 million.

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