As expected, lawmakers on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee placed a great deal of weight on the federal COVID relief dollars coming into Wisconsin, as it considered state funding for K-12 and higher education. Committee members on the majority side articulated reluctance to expend new state dollars while schools, technical colleges, and universities have federal dollars available to cover pandemic costs. Nevertheless, technical colleges were granted new funding, and flexibility in how to use it.
Joint Finance budget recommendations must be approved by both houses of the Legislature, and signed by the Governor, in order to take effect. Yesterday’s recommendations included the following:
WTCS: Technical colleges would receive an additional $9 million over the 2021-23 biennium, including $2.25 million annually for general aids and $2.25 million annually in grants to district boards. JFC also approved $50,000 annually for fire fighter certification software, per the WTCS budget request. Finance members specifically called out the great work technical colleges are doing, looked forward to the return of valuable contract training for employers, and termed the new funding an endorsement of WTCS priorities and strategic directions.
Thank you to the college presidents, leadership teams, and trustees, for your continuous engagement with your local legislators, and engaging in advocacy in the Capitol throughout this legislative session so far. In a difficult environment, we have collectively delivered a strong message about the value that technical colleges bring to the state, and legislators continue to respond positively.
UW System: The eight-year UW tuition freeze would be allowed to expire, and tuition-setting authority would return to the Board of Regents. In addition, a total of $8.25 million over the 2021-23 biennium is designated for specific purposes within UW. However, the funds were placed in the Joint Finance Committee’s supplemental appropriation. That means UW would be required to apply for the release of funding, along with an explanation of the funds would be used. Eligible purposes for the funds would be: (a) the UW freshwater collaborative; (b) UW Extension agriculture agents; (c) foster youth programs; (d) a physician and dental loan program; (e) the UW Madison Nelson Environmental Institute; and (f) the Water Council collaborative.
Higher Educational Aids Board: HEAB would be allocated an additional $5 million in 2022-23, for a nurse educator loan program. These funds were likewise placed in the Joint Finance supplemental appropriation, so HEAB will be required to apply for its release. The program would provide fellowships for students in doctor of nursing programs, and would fund loan repayment assistance to help recruit and retain nursing faculty. To be eligible, a person must commit to teach for three years in a nursing program at an institution within WTCS, UW System, or at a private nonprofit college or university in Wisconsin.
K-12: School districts, choice and charter schools would be provided a total of $128 million over the 2021-23 biennium, primarily through categorical aid programs (including special education, sparsity aid, mental health grants, and others). Joint Finance also placed an additional $350 million in the budget stabilization fund, which could be allocated to K-12 (or other purposes) as needs arise over the next two years.
In other news, the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities held a hearing for AB-266/SB-291, the bill that would repeal s. 36.31(1), so that approval by the UW Board of Regents would no longer be required before a technical college could offer Associate of Arts/Associate of Science transfer degrees. The hearing was held on May 20th, 2021, before an engaged committee that seized the opportunity to ask questions and learn more from our college presidents, trustees, students, and others who set aside the day to testify on this critical topic. Thanks in particular to Gateway trustee Zaida Hernandez-Irisson, Northcentral trustee Tom Felch, incoming Gateway trustee Jason Tadlock, Wisconsin Student Government president Ann Ilagan, System Board President Becky Levzow, and Presidents Bryan Albrecht, Lori Weyers, Jack Daniels, Jason Wood, Rich Barnhouse, and Morna Foy for their excellent testimony. We anticipate a vote on AB-266 in the coming days.
We will then turn our attention to the next steps in the process, including a floor vote in the Assembly, and consideration in the Senate. The Senate bill is currently assigned to the Universities and Technical Colleges committee, chaired by Senator Roger Roth, who has yet to schedule a hearing.
Read WTCS President Foy statement on Joint Finance action on 2021-23 biennial budget.