Education MacIVer Budget Blog

March 20, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

Biennial Budget Analysis: Spotlight on UW

Before the budget debate gets going, a look into the major provisions for the University of Wisconsin System

*April 6, 2017 Update:* The Joint Finance Committee has scrapped all non-fiscal policy items from the governor's budget proposal, including many items described in this piece. Read more about the latest move out of the budget committee in the Budget Blog. In the below piece, any policy items with asterisks beside them are now struck from the budget and may be introduced as separate bills.

In February, Gov. Scott Walker introduced his biennial budget for 2017-2019, officially launching this year's budget season. With the news that the Joint Finance Committee has finalized its dates for the forthcoming public hearings around the state, it's a good time to review what's in the queue for the University of Wisconsin System in this budget.

Overall, I summarize the goal for the System in one word: efficiency. As someone who hates the phrase "common sense" to describe policy, I found myself using it a lot in reviewing this portion of the budget. Many provisions had me shaking my head, asking, "this isn't already law? Crazy!"

Out of concern for you, the taxpayer, let's start with a basic overview of the scope and numbers of this proposal.

  • Total state spending (GPR): $2,191,070,500, a 3.65% increase
  • Total full time positions, all funds: 35,560.08, an increase of 159.22 positions
  • Total full time positions, general purpose revenue: 18,035.88
  • Total proposed spending, all funds: $12,431,997,800
  • Percent difference from the last budget: 1.94% funding increase
  • Portion of overall state spending: 6%

What's the Takeaway?

The governor's budget grows the size of the University of Wisconsin System. Unlike prior budgets, Gov. Walker comes right out of the gate with $77 million more in state funding compared to 2017. That's an increase of over 3 percent from last year, and to no one's surprise, it's been warmly welcomed by System officials.

The biggest string on that funding increase? Performance. The governor's budget provides $42.5 million to be distributed to institutions that perform well on the following state priorities:

  • affordability and attainability (30%)
  • work readiness (15%)
  • student success in state workforce (30%)
  • efficiency (10%)
  • service (5%)
  • additional criteria specified by the Board of Regents and approved by the Secretary of the Department of Administration (10%)

By tying funding to performance, the governor makes it clear that there's no such thing as a free lunch. Kudos. This $42.5 million is split evenly across the biennium and will be distributed based on the listed state priorities. The Board of Regents would have to rank each institution's performance based on five sets of criteria for each fiscal year and would weigh each criteria accordingly, with affordability, attainability, and student success in the state workforce ranked by the governor's office as the most important criteria.

Now that the overall numbers are out of the way, it's time to cover the most important UW-related provisions in this budget, starting with the one that has caused the most ruckus...

Frozen Tuition in Year One, Tuition Cut in Year Two

Gov. Scott Walker revealed his hope to cut resident undergraduate tuition at the UW System early this year during his State of the State Address to immediate outcry. Legislators on the left and the right immediately leapt at this provision, saying it would either drain the system's resources or be far too expensive for the state.

Under the governor's proposal, resident undergraduates would enjoy a fifth year of the tuition freeze, setting the cost of a year of tuition at UW-Madison at $9,273. In the 2018-19 school year, tuition would be lowered by 5 percent, down to $8,809. The governor's budget specifically allocates $35 million to the System to offset the lower amount of tuition dollars flowing in - just as System officials asked.

As a free marketer, I don't believe that a freeze is a sustainable long-term solution, but given the student debt crisis we're in now, it's the best option out there. Ever since the government began offering guaranteed loans for prospective students, the cost of higher education has skyrocketed. Rather than growing government at the latter end by creating new loan and grant programs, it's best to control costs to begin with and keep the cost of tuition from growing.

From the second Gov. Walker uttered the words "cut tuition" in his State of the State address, it was clear that some legislators wouldn't bite. It's a bit ironic that many legislators - who I will bet have boasted about the tuition freeze and how much money they've saved young Wisconsinites on the many pieces of lit that they've produced in the last four years - are balking at the cost.

Under the proposed reforms, students who began as freshmen at UW-Madison in 2015 would save $12,105 for a degree compared to the pre-freeze trend. How do you go after a growing student debt crisis? Cut the cost of a four-year degree by a full fourth.

Pathways to Three-Year Degrees**

Under another proposal, the UW System would be charged with creating pathways to three-year degrees for 10 percent of programs by 2018, and 60 percent of programs by 2020. The System will also have to report on the number of three-year graduates and the percentage of programs for which a three-year pathway exists in an annual accountability report.

This proposal doesn't add additional burdens on students or ask the System or universities to create completely new programs. Rather, universities will have an opportunity to examine bloated degree requirements while shedding light on meaningful options for students. If passed, this proposal would save students valuable dollars - the benefits of which need not be explained here.

For purposes of transparency, the additional reporting requirement is a nice touch. Now let's work on that full audit.

Credit Transferability**

One new requirement would have the UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System Board (WTCSB) ensure that for each course of study, no fewer than 60 core general education credits are transferable within and between each system institution. The System will also be required to submit a report to the Legislature describing any barriers to credit transferability by 2018. Under current law, only 30 credits are fully transferable within and between institutions.

Perhaps more than any other provision on higher education in this budget, this one is a no-brainer. Wisconsin's set of universities and tech colleges exist to serve our residents and get them prepared for the future, and any provision that helps them get there and streamlines the bureaucracy between institutions should be a welcome one.

Wisconsin's state institutions should be as flexible as possible for our residents and students while maintaining the high quality of education that the public expects. In this vein, the institutions should strive to complement one another and to maximize the ways in which students can benefit from them and complete their degrees. It's tough to tell how many students, exactly, will benefit from this provision, but the number is undoubtedly not zero. Besides, this should have been the rule from the beginning.

By requiring that a substantial number of credits transfer between each institution, each school's bureaucracy steps out of the way - just the slightest bit - in the favor of students.

Report Cards**

Similar to report cards for K-12 schools, each System institution will be required to publish single-page report cards beginning in 2018. The report cards will summarize each institution's performance during the prior year, based on the performance funding criteria and with metrics determined by the Board of Regents.

Any provision that increases transparency for the public is a good thing. Let parents and students have easier comparisons for and between each state institute. Another no-brainer.

Academic Freedom

The governor's budget allocates $10,000 for the UW System to review and revise policies related to academic freedom. The Board of Regents will be charged with producing new language that codifies its commitment to students' right to free speech.

In an age of "free speech zones" on campuses - where every inch should be considered a free speech zone, not just a small corner - this provision is relevant and timely, as we've written here before. After all, college is a time for young people to open their eyes to new experiences and perspectives. No, it's not always comfortable. It's not supposed to be.

It's important to note that the UW Board of Regents already adopted written free speech principles known as the Chicago Principles in 2015, and reaffirmed them in 2016. However, such commitments to free speech haven't played out.

In November, protesters physically blocked conservative pundit Ben Shapiro from speaking on UW-Madison's campus. Shapiro eventually spoke, but protesters shouted down him and his supporters, including Vicki McKenna, who was repeatedly shoved and harassed but nevertheless kept filming.

The continual sifting and winnowing of ideas in the pursuit of truth can only occur if dissent in speech is continually protected. On, Wisconsin, indeed.

Freedom of Expression**

In a similar vein to the academic freedom provision, the Board of Regents and each institution and UW College campus is charged with committing to free and open inquiry for the UW community as a whole. This provision for the UW System specifies that all members of the UW community share the responsibility to maintain a climate of mutual respect, and that concerns about civility can not be used as a justification for closing off the free and open discussion of ideas.

This provision goes on to specify that while the UW's commitment to free speech and debate is crucial to its mission, the Board and institutions may restrict any expression that breaks the law, falsely defames a specific individual, constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, or that unjustifiably and substantially invades privacy. The Board and each institution are expressly given permission to "reasonably regulate" such speech as long as the fundamental commitment to the principle of discussion of ideas is not harmed. The bill language specifically writes that UW community members may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views on campus, even while they may reject or loathe such views. Rather, they are free to criticize and contest views with which they disagree, and the Board and each institution is charged with protecting the freedom of debate and deliberation.

I'll be curious to see what such "reasonable regulation" actually looks like, but I remain heartened by the fact that this provision, and the one before it, make clear the System's commitment to free speech.

Faculty Workloads**

The System will be charged with creating a new system to monitor faculty and adjunct workloads, and rewarding those who teach more than the standard workload. By 2018, the System will have to devise policies for faculty members to regularly report their teaching hours on an accountability dashboard.

As a proud alumna of UW-Madison, I value my alma mater's reputation as a research institution. I also valued my professors having time to help me understand their classes and more than anything, I valued those classes that were engaging, thought-out, and comprehensive.

Ask any student if they can tell which professors showed up to class unprepared. They'll be honest with you. By tracking and reporting faculty workloads, professors will have the ability to be honest, too.

Opting Out of Seg Fees**

One provision would allow students to opt out of allocable segregated fees (known as seg fees) starting in the 2018-19 school year. Students would be able to decide whether or not they want to fund student organizations such as Sex Out Loud, the Tenant Resource Center, and Associated Students of Madison (ASM) bus passes.

One essential distinction - which is described in detail by ASM here - is that between allocable and non-allocable fees. This provision would not affect the non-allocable fees, which remain 83 percent of overall seg fees. Non-allocable fees fund things such as University Health Services, Recreational Sports, the Union, as well as all debt services and ongoing payments for building projects.

I'd be curious to see a breakdown of how many students would actually opt out of paying seg fees. My gut instinct tells me the majority of students would continue paying the fee because they enjoy the presence of such services on campus. But if they don't? That's their prerogative, and that's the way it should be.

Increased Flexible Options

The budget proposal requires the Board of Regents to expand the number of degrees offered through the UW Flexible Option program by at least 50 percent by December of 2019. At least one of the new programs created must be geared towards helping certified nursing assistants in becoming registered nurses, and another must help prepare nonteacher school district employees to successfully complete standardized exams as a condition of becoming certified teachers. The proposal also offers $700,000 in financial aid for students who are enrolled in programs through the UW Flexible Option platform.

Currently, the Flex Option offers five degree programs and three certificates. The program is "made for busy adults" and catered towards individuals who want to get their degrees but who may already be working full time, supporting a family, or otherwise unable to attend traditional college courses.

Only UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and UW Colleges offer the Flex Option.

Wisconsin Tech College System

It's not just the UW System - WTCS is also affected by the governor's budget. The biggest provision is one which would freeze tech college tuition for two years, providing $5 million to offset lost program revenues. According to the governor's office, revenue per full-time enrollee at tech colleges has risen more than 20 percent over the last five years and is at its highest level ever. Clearly, the System won't be bled dry by letting students save more of their hard-earned dollars.

Local tech college districts will be allowed the flexibility to drop tuition lower than the statewide frozen amount.** I won't hold my breath and wait for any districts to jump at the opportunity to make less tuition money, but it's nice that they'll be allowed the option.

WTCS will also be required to submit an annual accountability report** to the governor and Legislature, just as the UW System already does. Such transparency is necessary and welcome.

Required Work Experience**

I've written on this issue here, leaning heavily on my experience as a young graduate who has never had to be told that getting a job is important. Maybe that's just me, though. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Other Odds and Ends

I could wax poetic on all the provisions in this budget for thousands of words, but in the interest of keeping my readers awake, I'll go through the last of the provisions here:

  • $11.6 million for a general wage adjustment for UW employees. This will fund both the expected inflation increases in fringe benefit costs as well as two 2 percent bumps in general wages, slated for September 2018 and again in May 2019.
  • $168 million in additional program revenue and 159.22 additional positions to reflect increases in tuition revenues and positions funded by that revenue.
  • $200,000 for the System's rural physician residency assistance program, spread evenly across the biennium.
  • Tuition fee remission for the children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans: this provision expands tuition fee remission to the children and spouses of veterans who lived in the state prior to serving, rather than just those individuals who lived in the state after service.
  • **Student Housing Leases: the Board of Regents would be responsible for all student housing leases, rather than exempting the Board's lease authority for leases of real property as student housing, as is current law.

That's about it for the UW System. In your opinion, what's the most important provision related to higher education in this budget? Let us know your thoughts here and keep scrolling to read about K-12 education!

** indicates that the item has been removed from the budget, as of April 6, 2017.

March 20, 2017 | By Ola Lisowski

K-12 Education in Walker's Proposed Budget

A deep dive into the numbers

*April 6, 2017 Update:* The Joint Finance Committee has scrapped all non-fiscal policy items from the Governor's budget proposal, including many items described in this piece. As above, any policy items with asterisks beside them are now struck from the budget and may be introduced as separate bills.

Now that the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau's budget analysis is finally available to the public, let's look back at Gov. Scott Walker's K-12 education proposals for the 2017-19 biennial budget. First, the numbers:

Overall, the Department of Public Instruction sees a large increase of overall funding - $648.2 million more in total school aid than the last budget, a 6.0 percent increase. The biggest single increase comes in the form of $508.7 million for per pupil aid.

Currently, districts receive $250 per pupil in aid. Under the governor's budget proposal, they would receive $450 per pupil in 2017-18 and $654 per pupil in 2018-19. One major caveat, though, is that districts will need to prove that they're in compliance with Act 10's requirements on employee healthcare contributions in order to receive the extra bump in funding. Act 10 required many public employees to begin paying at least 12 percent of total health care costs, but certain districts, such as Madison Metropolitan, extended their old contracts rather than moving into compliance immediately.

Under the provision, districts will need to certify to DPI that school district employees are paying at least 12 percent of their total health care costs for that school year. If districts don't or can't ensure that their employees are contributing to heath care coverage, they could miss out on the new funding. Madison Metropolitan and Beloit School District are among the districts that are currently not in compliance.

Rural Schools

Behind per pupil funding and general school aids, the single largest line-item increase in Walker's proposal is over $20 million for sparsity aid. Under current law, districts qualify for an additional $300 per pupil if they have an enrollment of fewer than 745 pupils and a population density of fewer than 10 pupils per square mile of the district's attendance area. Under the budget proposal, district payments increase to $400 per pupil, and districts with an enrollment of up to 1000 students with the same population density will also qualify.

Rural schools also receive over $10 million for high cost transportation aid and increased transportation reimbursement rates to the tune of $92,000 over the biennium. Pupils that are transported more than 12 miles between home and school would receive a $65 reimbursement increase up to $365 beginning in the 2017-18 school year. Summer school reimbursement rates would also increase from $4 to $10 for students traveling between two and five miles, and from $6 to $20 for students transported more than five miles.

Special Education

Another $6 million is sent to special education transitions incentives grants. Last budget, these grants received just $100,000, making this fund the single largest percentage increase in Walker's DPI budget, at 3,050 percent more than the base year funding. This proposal would provide an additional $1,000 per pupil for children who meet the following criteria:

  • attended school in the district or charter school in the 2014-15 or 2015-16 school years
  • had an individualized education program (IEP) in place
  • has been enrolled in a higher education program, postsecondary education or training program, or employed for at least 90 days

Currently, DPI estimates that schools receive $60 per pupil under this program. Gov. Walker's budget also includes an additional $1.5 million for special education transition readiness investment grants in the 2018-19 school year.

Other focuses on children with special needs in this budget include a provision that requires a DPI ombudsman to ensure that private school pupils have equal access to special education services. To that end, the provision creates a new "fiscal agent" to ensure that private schools receive federal funding for special education services and other benefits.

Along the same lines, the budget also specifies that independent charter schools and noninstrumentality charter schools would be allowed to employ personnel and create special education programs on the basis of demonstrated need. DPI would be required to certify to the Department of Administration the amount expended by each school for salaries and related services, and would be reimbursed for such expenses. Entities such as school boards and the board of control of cooperative educational service agencies (CESAs) would also be required to provide special or additional transportation for students with disabilities, as required in any pupil's IEP.

The State Superintendent is also required to certify reimbursement costs for special education aid, if satisfied with the services provided. The State Superintendent would be allowed to audit costs related to special education transportation services in order to ensure that reimbursements are limited to the actual costs.

Focus on Milwaukee

Schools in Milwaukee receive extra attention in this budget, with $5.65 million provided for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), district charter schools, independent charter schools, and private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).

About 35 percent of that funding is earmarked for distribution among eligible schools that received scores of "significantly exceeds expectations" or "exceeds expectations" on the most recent school report cards. Each school would receive a payment directly proportional to the number of pupils in that school.

The remaining 65 percent of performance-based funding would be allocated to schools that show performance increases of three points or more over two years prior on their report cards. This funding would also be split directly proportional to the number of pupils in each school.

MPS also receives an additional $2.8 million for summer school grants, split evenly across the biennium. The MPS Board is charged with creating a program to annually award grants for summer school programs to increase pupil attendance, improve academic achievement, and expose pupils to innovative learning. This pot of money is specifically allocated for public schools in the city of Milwaukee, except for independent charter schools.

Mental Health and Bullying

With an increased focus on mental health care throughout the governor's budget proposal, DPI sees extra funding in this issue area as well. A new $3 million categorical aid program is created to reimburse school districts and independent charter schools for social workers. Another $2.5 million is provided in 2018-19 for community and mental health collaboration grants. DPI is charged with creating a new grant program for the purpose of collaborating with mental health professionals to provide mental health services to pupils.

Another new program is funded to the tune of $300,000 across the biennium to provide and create an online training curriculum for bullying prevention. Students in grades kindergarten through eight are expected to benefit from this program.

One full time position and $1 million is provided across the biennium to fund training for school districts and independent charter schools to provide mental health screening and intervention services for students.

School Choice Programs

As I wrote here, there are no substantial changes to any of Wisconsin's school choice programs, which are known formally in law as the Parental Choice Programs. Plenty of new regulations, however, are proposed:

  • **Requirements for annual hours of instruction for public schools and private schools that participate in a choice program are deleted. However, current law requiring that private schools offer at least 875 hours of instruction would be maintained.
  • **Private choice schools would be required to conduct a background check for all potential teachers and administrators prior to extending an offer of employment. Private choice schools would also be required to conduct background checks on all individuals already employed by the school, and would have to regularly conduct such checks at least once every five years after the initial background investigation.
  • Students would be able to participate in the statewide choice program if they attended a school in another state in the previous school year. Such students are not currently eligible for participation in the statewide program.
  • **Pupil parents or guardians, as well as private schools, would be allowed to submit financial information to DPI for the purpose of verifying student eligibility. Under current law, only private schools are able to submit parental income information.
  • **A school would be able to be barred from participating in a private school choice program for two years if it is found to misrepresent any information to DPI. Schools may also be barred from participating in the special needs scholarship program if the school is found to misrepresent any required information.
  • **Change private school reporting requirements so that schools may submit information prior to the first year of participation in any of the choice programs rather than annually. Schools would still be required to provide copies of any policy - such as the school's policy for awarding a high school diploma - upon request of DPI.
  • **Certain members of school governing bodies will be required to submit signed statements to DPI verifying that the individual is a member of the governing body.
  • **DPI will be explicitly prohibited from requiring any private choice school that is not a new school and that is in good standing with DPI to submit an annual operating budget as evidence of financial viability.
  • **Pupils attending a private school in a nonresident district will be able to be reevaluated by an IEP team appointed by the nonresident district if the parent or guardian provides written consent. Under current law, pupils who participate in the special needs scholarship program may only be reevaluated by an IEP team appointed by the pupil's resident school district.
  • The part-time open enrollment program, which the 2013-15 biennial budget transformed into the course options program, would be gradually restored as the open enrollment program once more.
  • The youth options program would be modified into the early college credit program, allowing public high school pupils to enroll in higher education institutions to take extra classes.

All the Rest of It

Other odds and ends in Gov. Walker's K-12 budget proposal include:

  • **Eliminating the required hours of instruction for public schools.
  • **Deleting the requirements that school boards meet at least once per month, that common school districts hold an annual meeting on the fourth Monday in July at 8pm, and that union high school districts hold an annual meeting on the third Monday in July at 8pm.
  • **Eliminate the current rule that school district's employment contracts not exceed two years.
  • **Allow school boards to contract with each other and to offer shared services required under state law. Such services would include a shared bilingual-bicultural program, emergency nursing services, guidance and counseling services, among others.
  • **School boards would be allowed to compensate student teachers for classroom time spent directly with students.
  • **Delete the requirement that school districts provide statements showing bonded and all other indebtedness of the district.
  • Specify that the Department of Children and Families (DCF) can inspect the premises and records of any child care program established or contracted for by a school board that receives childcare subsidies. DCF is also permitted to investigate and prosecute any alleged violations at such programs.
  • **Exclude school districts from a law requiring local units of government to maximize the purchase of recycled materials when possible. School districts are also exempted from law requiring local units of government to award contracts for material, supplies, and equipment based on life cycle cost estimates.
  • A new renewable energy appropriation of $29,000 across the biennium is created for the generation or purchase of electric energy.
  • The Very Special Arts program, which provides arts activities for children and adults with disabilities, is provided $23,400 across the biennium, restoring funding levels to the 2008-09 fiscal year.
  • The five-year renewal requirement for teaching and administrator licenses would be eliminated. However, school boards would be required to conduct background checks on all employed individuals at least once every five years.
  • A teacher development program grant program is created to increase collaboration between the Department of Workforce Development and schools of education in the UW System.
  • **A faculty member of an institution of higher education would be allowed to teach in a public high school without a license or permit from DPI.
  • **The requirement that an individual receive an offer of employment from a school in Wisconsin to be eligible for a teaching license based on reciprocity is eliminated.
  • An additional $52,200 across the biennium is provided for a program that provides newspaper access to the blind.
  • The State Superintendent will be required to work with DCF to develop success sequence-related materials to be incorporated into academic and career services. The document defines the success sequence as graduating from high school, maintaining a full-time job or a partner who does, and waiting until after age 21 and marriage to have children. Every school board is required to incorporate success sequence information into its career services materials by the 2019-20 school year.
  • **School report cards will be required to include additional information, including: the number and percentage of pupils participating in early college credit programs, the number and percentage participating in a youth apprenticeship, the number of community service hours logged by pupils, the number of advanced placement courses offered and the amount of credits earned, and the number of pupils earning industry-recognized credentials through a technical education program.
  • Finally, DPI is required to create a report on the population overlap of families that receive public benefits and children who are absent from school for 10 percent or more of the school year. The report must be submitted on or before December 30, 2018.

Phew! That was a lot, wasn't it? As always, follow our budget coverage at and on twitter at @MacIverWisc.

** indicates that the item has been removed from the budget, as of April 6, 2017.


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