Historic Increase in K-12 Funding
Governor Evers has always believed that what’s best for our kids is what’s best for the state. In his first term, he passed a historic increase in K-12 public education funding, and increased the state’s investment in the UW college system and Wisconsin’s community colleges. His latest budget would have restored the state’s two-thirds funding commitment to K-12 schools, which has been supported by a Republican-led bipartisan panel. Republicans on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee removed that support for public schools.
Special Session for Needed Funding
Governor Evers has used every avenue available to him to reach two-thirds funding for public schools. When the Republican Legislature thwarted his proposed state budget, he was clear the Legislature’s job wasn’t done and more investments in our kids and our schools were needed. Governor Evers has called two special sessions of the Legislature to provide more hundreds of millions more for education— but Republican leaders have gaveled out without consideration or debate.
Higher Education Funding Increased
Governor Evers understands that Wisconsin’s institutions of higher education are key drivers of our state’s economy, from the folks they employ in communities big and small to the students they educate and help retain in-state post-graduation.
The COVID-19 pandemic upended the operations of Wisconsin’s institutions of higher education throughout the state. While institutions quickly pivoted, they were forced to deliver education in unique ways and, in many cases, experienced reduced revenues. These institutions will face continuing challenges regarding how to conduct in-person and online learning, as well as increased uncertainty related to future enrollments.
Robust state investment is necessary to maintain the ability of our University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Technical College System institutions to meet and exceed their missions and goals, grow the state’s workforce, and maintain affordability for students.
Governor Evers has proposed continued investments in our state’s technical colleges so that they are able to continue providing critical services to their over 280,000 students.
The final report of the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt noted that because 53 percent of Wisconsinites live paycheck-to-paycheck, outstanding debt places students and families in precarious financial situations. Unfortunately, for many Wisconsinites, this has likely been exacerbated by the economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maintaining the affordability of our state public higher education institutions is essential to regaining the vitality of our economy and keeping the best and brightest in Wisconsin. The governor’s budget proposal addresses this in several ways:
- Expanding the “Bucky’s Tuition Promise” program to all UW System campuses. The program provides four years of free tuition to students in a household with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less. In 2018, UW-Madison created this program to attract resident low‑income students by offering free tuition.
- Providing UW System non-resident tuition exemptions to:
- Certain members of Native American tribes in Wisconsin and contiguous states;
- Otherwise qualified individuals who are undocumented; and
- Resident active-duty military service members and their families who are relocated to another state by the service agency.
- Providing 10 percent increases in each year of the biennium in Wisconsin grant appropriations for need-based financial aid for eligible students attending UW System institutions, WTCS, private non-profit, and tribal colleges.
- Doubling funding for the need-based Minority Undergraduate Retention Grant program. This program provides minority students with grants of up to $2,500 per year to offset postsecondary education costs.
- Expanding the rural dental loan repayment program to provide loan repayment assistance to dentists at the same level as physicians practicing in rural areas.
- Dentists will earn be able to earn up to $100,000 in assistance over three years for providing services in rural areas.
- This will help to ensure dental access is widespread across Wisconsin both in urban centers and rural areas.
- Fellowships and loan repayment assistance will be offered to individuals who commit to teaching nursing at a UW System institution for at least three years.
Assisting Higher Education Borrowers
In addition to working to make higher education in Wisconsin more affordable for future students, Governor Evers is also addressing some of the issues that have made student debt such a problem for so many borrowers.
In January of 2020, Governor Evers created the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt to assess the state of Wisconsin’s education borrowers and propose solutions on how to address the crisis. This task force found that Wisconsin residents have more than $24 billion of outstanding student loan debt. Unfortunately, some of this burden exists unnecessarily due to either inadequate information provided to borrowers or a lack of positive actions by loan servicers that could reduce an individual’s debt balance.
To help ensure that our Wisconsin residents get the best guidance to pay off their student loan debt, the governor is proposing the creation of a student loan borrower bill of rights and an Office of Student Loan Ombudsman within the Department of Financial Institutions.
- The borrower bill of rights will require student loan servicers to provide complete and accurate information to borrowers on payment options and would ensure that our residents be treated fairly.
- The borrower bill of rights will require student loan servicers to provide information on income-based repayment plans prior to placing an individual borrower in default and require loan servicers to respond to borrowers in a timely manner.
- Loan servicers would be prohibited from omitting or misrepresenting material information.
- The Office of Student Loan Ombudsman will oversee the implementation of the borrower bill of rights, function as a central resource for information for student loan borrowers, and if necessary, revoke the license of a loan servicer imposing unjustified harm on borrowers.
Additionally, the governor further recommends that all state and local public employers be required to provide information regarding student loan forgiveness programs to their employees.
The governor recognizes that the UW-Extension, now a division within the UW-Madison, provides critical support for farmers and other agriculture-industry parties. While the previous executive budget and legislation during the 2019-20 session included new funding and positions to expand local access to county-based agricultural agents, the Legislature failed to extend its support. This budget again recognizes the importance of local outreach and education conducted by UW-Extension.
- The budget provides $2 million to fund 15.0 FTE county-based agriculture experts, as well as 5.0 FTE research specialists, two of whom will specialize in climate science.
- The time spent by UW-Extension specialists providing education in the field will be officially recognized as teacher hours, similar to classroom teacher hours.