Eau Claire (WQOW) - Governor Scott Walker elaborated on his promise to cut undergraduate tuition for the UW-System while visiting the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport Wednesday for his State of the State Tour.
Governor Walker said the cut will make college more affordable and accessible for Wisconsin residents. He said finding a way to pay for a degree can be especially hard for middle-class families who may not qualify for as much financial assistance.
"It's why we froze tuition four years in a row, which has never happened before in Wisconsin," Walker said. "Still, what I was hearing from students and families is that is not enough."
Walker said his proposal to cut in-state undergraduate tuition will not take any money away from the UW-System.
"That dollar amount will be added to the overall base of the state budget, and attributed to each of the campuses," Walker said.
The governor also promised to increase funding for the UW-System after cutting it by $250 million in his last budget.
"We need to make sure those dollars, those new dollars in particular, are being used to make sure students are graduating, that they are graduating within a reasonable time frame, that they are graduating hopefully in overwhelming high-demand areas, and that our graduates of UW-System schools are getting jobs, and that those jobs are here in the State of Wisconsin."
The UW-System has asked for a $42.5 million increase in state funding. Walker has not said how much will be put in the budget, but said any additional funding will be performance-based.
"We don't just want to give a blank check for new dollars" Walker said. "If we are going to add that money, above and beyond what we are talking about now, we want to tie that in to these performance measures."
Walker said a good example of a school that meets or exceeds performance expectations is UW-Stout.
"The University of Wisconsin-Stout has historically done exceptionally well in that regard, even at the height of the recession. They had about a 97 percent placement rate of their graduates being employed, and those are the sorts of things that we think matter."
UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer said he appreciated the recognition of Stout's success, but added in a statement, "I certainly hope, however, that the governor plans to both fully fund his plan to cut tuition and to restore at least part of the budget cut we received in 2015-17. We are still working our way through that cut, which amounted to $5.3 million a year, without reducing educational quality. It's been a very challenging task."
Chancellor Meyer and UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt said they looked forward to hearing more details about Walker's budget proposal.
"During the past several months we have been engaged in conversations with the business community, the public, the Governor, the Legislature and the Board of Regents about the importance of reinvestment in the UW System," Schmidt said. "We repeatedly heard that assuring both affordability and quality is a priority."
Walker said his push for affordable education makes the Badger State stand out in the nation.
"In many regards, we will be at the forefront leading on this," Walker said.
UW-System President Ray Cross applauded Walker for trying to keep college affordable, but did not comment specifically on the tuition cut plan.
Some legislative leaders praised Governor Walker, but they also wanted more details. Budget Committee Co-Chair Representative John Nygren said he wants to weigh the idea against all of the other priorities in the budget.
Walker also said he will increase funding for K-12 public education throughout Wisconsin. He highlighted finding solutions for some of the unique challenges rural schools face, such as higher transportation costs, declining enrollment, and poor access to broadband internet.
"Our legislative initiative is calling for an additional $33.5 million more than we want to put into our broadband access program and to the T.E.A.C.H. initiative that also helps wire up and train teachers at rural and smaller school districts across the state."
That would make Governor Walker's total investment in broadband $52 million.