Last Tuesday, Gov. Scott Walker released his much-anticipated 2011-'13 biennial budget proposal. Built to eliminate Wisconsin's $3.6 billion deficit, the UW System expected the proposal to contain drastic cuts as well as major hits to pertinent educational programs—adding to already heated contentions over Walker's budget repair bill.
UW-Madison officials anticipated big cuts, and Walker's budget did not disappoint. Along with the $834 million reduction in state aid to Wisconsin public school districts and a $71.6 million cut to Wisconsin technical colleges came a $250 million decrease in funding to the UW System, with half of that aimed directly at UW-Madison.
While Chancellor Biddy Martin said she wouldn't know how the university would respond to a cut as large as 15 percent under the authority of the Board of Regents, her accurate forecast of Walker's devastating budget storm gave UW-Madison officials time to build a bomb shelter stocked full of, as Martin puts it, tools needed to preserve UW-Madison as a competitive Big Ten institution.
By pushing forward Martin's New Badger Partnership, Walker gave UW-Madison an opportunity to handle funding cuts presented in his proposal. His budget allows UW-Madison to break from the UW System and instead operate under a public authority model, giving the university more wiggle room when addressing shortfalls totaling $125 million. While the 13 percent decrease in state aid may force UW-Madison to tighten its belt, Walker's support for the partnership gives the university an opportunity to address hits in funding without increasing tuition at outrageous rates.
Unfortunately, schools across Wisconsin aren't as lucky. Walker's proposal calls for across-the-board education cuts that hack away state funding to public schools without access to any emergency exits. His budget annihilates vital state grant programs and calls for a hefty 30 percent decrease in state aid to Madison Area Technical College, just after it passed a referendum to expand and renovate its nursing and police training programs.
But what is most disappointing is the fact that Walker is chaining schools to these cuts by prohibiting them from raising property taxes to make up for their monetary losses.
Instead, Walker said that the $834 million in cuts to public education are made up through the savings seen in his controversial budget repair bill, which seeks to raise the amount public workers contribute to their health care and pensions while eradicating their collective bargaining rights.
The money that school districts will save from contributing less to teachers' pensions and health care is almost equal to cuts seen in state funding—ripping the financial rug out from under Wisconsin teachers' feet.
While UW-Madison was lucky enough to work with Walker to create a back-up plan to deal with the impending budget hits, Walker is essentially silencing the voices of teachers' unions and deciding a back-up plan for them: Cut funding to public schools and ask the teachers to foot the bill. Clever.
Martin may have gotten what she wanted with the New Badger Partnership, and UW-Madison may be able to take a breath of relief, but schools across the state suffered harsh losses and are left hamstrung. While Walker sought to close the $3.6 billion budget gap in his proposal, it's safe to say he did so at the expense of public education. His savings attack Wisconsin's intellectualism, and options to preserve the education that kids need most are virtually non-existent.
No, UW-Madison students will not see a 26 percent increase in tuition. No, the UW will not operate as a private model. And no, the institution will not crumble under these crippling budget hits. But it is important to note that our neighbors in education aren't as lucky. While the cuts were projected to be drastic, Walker's budget leaves the outlook for education in Wisconsin helplessly grim—destroying the Wisconsin Idea.