Despite large cuts to the state’s education budget, Gov. Scott Walker reinstated a program to give merit raises and pay adjustments to University of Wisconsin employees and other state workers, according to a report from the Associated Press on Friday.

218 employees across nine agencies received a total of $765,195 through raises or bonuses over the last four months, according to the AP analysis.

The AP’s analysis found the UW System gave out nearly $300,000 in raises and bonuses, including to five employees in the UW System, who each received $5,520 bonuses.

The bonuses and raises come as the UW System raised tuition by 5.5 percent and absorbed $250 million in cuts in the recently passed state budget.

UW System spokesperson David Giroux said the discretionary merit compensation program allowed state agencies to make pay adjustments to classified employees under certain circumstances. 

The three most common reasons for receiving pay adjustments, Giroux said, were alleviating pay differences between employees doing similar jobs, retaining employees from leaving for the private sector and for employees who recently took on expanded responsibilities.

“Tuition went up before [the pay adjustments] were approved,” Giroux said. “About 70 of the 10,000 person staff received payments adjustments under the program. The overwhelming majority of staff is getting no salary increases at all.”

Giroux also rejected the popularly suggested idea that Walker reinstated this program “quietly” and said all the state agencies were alerted when the program was reinstated.

The largest portion of bonuses went to the state’s Department of Justice, which received $300,000 to be distributed to 94 workers, according to the AP’s analysis.

In a press conference Friday morning, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said he defended merit pay throughout his career and said it helped retain employees who would otherwise leave.

“I’m a firm believer that not everyone deserves the same pay,” Van Hollen said. “The fact that some people go above and beyond and are so effective, you should reward them because it even encourages other employees to work harder.”

Van Hollen said a large portion of the funds went to keeping DNA analysts within the DOJ from leaving the state to enter the private sector. He added it takes a year to train analysts to do the job and, when they leave, the state loses a year’s worth of pay.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.