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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

UW System to get $191 million in Gov. Evers’ budget, doubling UW’s original request

In the 2021-23 budget package Gov. Evers presented Tuesday, an additional $191 million is allocated towards the UW System — doubling the number UW officials asked for and marking the largest state funding increase in nearly two decades.  

The proposal comes after last week’s decision to provide $69 million in funding to the UW System for various building and facilities maintenance projects. 

The plan, coined the “Badger Bounceback,” is also $40 million more than Gov. Evers’ proposed the UW System get in his 2018-20 budget

The Badger Bounceback agenda would prioritize recovering from financial strain due to COVID-19 and investing in accessible higher education. 

“I’m proud our Badger Bounceback agenda has already received bipartisan support in so many critically important areas,” Gov. Evers said in a release. “As I said during my budget address, I know we can spend within our means while passing a budget with bipartisan support that will ensure our state can bounce back from this crisis and better than we were before.”

The plan would also provide funding boosts for need-based financial aid programs throughout the state, including $40 million to expand Bucky’s Tuition Promise across all UW campuses over the next two years. Bucky’s Tuition Promise provides subsidized tuition and segregated fees for students whose adjusted household incomes are less than $60,000. 

The budget increases would also expand the Wisconsin Grant Program by $34 million, or 10 percent each year under the plan.

The UW System tuition freeze would continue for another two years under Badger Bounceback, despite UW-Madison predicting a $320 million loss alone through the end of this fiscal year. UW System interim President Tommy Thompson asked for a tuition raise earlier this year, but was told that wouldn’t be allowed to offset losses.

Instead, Badger Bounceback gives the UW Board of Regents power to borrow money from credit markets in times of economic hardship, like the COVID-19 pandemic. To offset additional revenue loss from the tuition freeze that is now running into its eighth and ninth year, the budget proposes providing $50 million in general funding to the UW System.

“Something we can agree upon is the continuation of the UW tuition freeze,” Sen. Chris Kapenga said in a release.

The Governor’s plan would also prioritize $10 million in mental health and behavioral service funding for students. It would mandate a student loan borrower bill of rights which, among other things, would require student loan companies to provide accurate, timely information to borrowers if they were to default on a loan.    

“The budget shows that the Governor recognizes the value [the UW System] can deliver to all Wisconsinites, as we have during the COVID-19 pandemic,” interem UW System President Tommy Thompson said in a release. “Where there is a problem, the UW wants to help – and the Governor’s budget will allow us to do just that on some of Wisconsin's toughest problems.”

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The budget request will next be taken up by the Joint Committee on Finance in the state legislature, where it is expected to be changed by the Republican controlled legislature. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a press conference after Evers’ speech Tuesday he expected the assembly to completely start over — though some things, like the tuition freeze, will likely stay in place.

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