Ahead of Wisconsin’s 2018 gubernatorial and U.S. Senate elections, an Aug. 22 Marquette Law Poll showed public education superintendent Tony Evers and incumbent Gov. Scott Walker neck and neck, each receiving 46 percent of likely voters. Sen. Tammy Baldwin holds a slight edge over state Sen. Leah Vukmir, picking up 49 percent of likely voters to Vukmir’s 47 percent.
UW funding is a key question in these races, with both gubernatorial candidates pledging to continue a tuition freeze. However, Noel Radomski, the managing director of the Wisconsin Center for Advancement of Postsecondary Education, said without sufficient funding, the UW system may be harmed.
“If the governor and the legislature continue to say, ‘we need to have a tuition freeze,’ it’s the UW-La Crosses and Steven’s Points and Whitewaters that are saying now, ‘we can’t continue this, we need revenue,’ because now their quality is being affected,” Radomski said.
Also significant in the election for Governor will be the selection of the UW System Board of Regents, who are appointed by the governor.
Under Walker, the Board of Regents was responsible for folding the UW System’s two-year schools into the four-year UW system schools. They also approved a resolution to increase punitive measures taken against student protesters who were seen as disruptive to the free expression of others.
Meanwhile, the winner of the race between Vukmir and Baldwin will play a significant role in determining the amount of federal grant money and research funding allocated to the UW System and the role of federal student loan programs for UW students.
UW-Madison currently receives over $800 million in research funding every year from the federal government, but Radomski said Republican President Donald Trump has proposed cuts to research, financial aid and student loans funding, though these measures have not made it into his final budgets.
So what can UW students expect from the candidates if they were to win this November? The brief profiles below examine what each candidate’s victory would mean for UW students.
Gov. Scott Walker
Gov. Scott Walker came into office in immediate aftermath of the Great Recession, so to help balance the state budget, Walker made significant cuts to the UW system, including a $250 million cut in 2015. From the 2010 fiscal year to the beginning of 2018, the percentage of UW budget funded by the state dropped from 21.1 percent to 17.1 percent.
Radomski said the decision to take money from UW to make up for declining state revenue made sense because, unlike other state institutions, the UW System can find alternative sources of revenue, such as tuition.
However, UW political science professor John Witte, who specializes in educational policy, said the example set by surrounding states shows Walker had other options available for the UW System other than cutting its funding.
“Look at the University of Minnesota,” Witte said. “They have been funded at a much higher level and an increasing level. So somehow the University of Minnesota is weathering this in a much different way and that’s putting us at a disadvantage.”
Walker’s 2015 budget also included measures that weakened tenure protections for the UW system.
While Witte said the move tarnished the reputation of UW nationally, Radomski said it hasn’t lead to the widespread faculty layoffs that some feared would occur.
In the most recent budget, Walker allocated $26 million in performance-based funding. Radomski said the success of performance-based funding is varied and often contingent upon how it is implemented by the university. Studies on the success of performance-based funding indicate mixed results. Although $26 million makes up only a fraction of the overall UW system budget, Witte said he’s skeptical.
“The assumption somehow is that the university system is very inefficient,” said Witte. “I’m not exactly sure why that is. If you look at the number of graduates we have for the tuition we get — my gosh, we’re huge.”
Walker has also frozen in-state tuition over the past 6 years and said that if elected governor, he will extend the freeze another four years.
If re-elected, Walker has also said he plans to offer a tax credit of up to $5,000 over five years for graduates who live and work in Wisconsin.
“Scott Walker is making college more affordable for students and their families,” a spokesman for Walker’s campaign said in an email to The Badger Herald, citing the tuition freeze, tax credit and record funding levels of need-based aid.
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As the state superintendent of public instruction in Wisconsin since 2009, Tony Evers also serves on the UW System Board of Regents. However, Witte said most of his secondary education policy positions have not been implemented.
“The only actions he has been able to take are voting against some of these provisions that are coming out of the Board of Regents,” Witte said.
Although Evers has done work in K-12 education, Radomski said Evers has also been known for his work in expanding dual enrollment courses, where high school students are able to receive college credit in addition to high school credit. Additionally, Radomski said Evers has also helped expand career and technical education in Wisconsin high schools, which has allowed students to pursue trade or technical school out of high school.
As governor, Evers said he would fund the UW System at higher levels.
Witte, who said he thinks Evers will try to “be more friendly to higher education,” said Evers may be limited by budget constraints and demand in other areas, like Medicaid and infrastructure.
If the state can invest $4.5 billion in a Foxconn plant, Evers said, the money can be found to increase funding for secondary education.
“It is about priorities,” Evers said. “I believe there are resources enough to find cuts or other ways to increase revenues in the state of Wisconsin to fund public education.”
Like Walker, Evers said he would support a tuition freeze in his first budget as governor.
Evers said he will use his gubernatorial powers to appoint a Board of Regents which would revisit many of the Walker administration’s policies toward UW and public education at-large. Evers said he disapproved of the decision to increase punishment for student protesters found to be disrupting free speech, and the decision to weaken tenure for UW faculty.
“It was a solution in search of a problem,” said Evers. “Who has said that tenure wasn’t working for the UW system?”
Evers said he is willing to try out performance-based funding on a small scale, but he said he is reluctant to support it outright because he believes it has limited evidence to support its success.
Evers said under his governorship, he would want a UW that prioritizes not just job placement and technical skills, but also training in life skills — such as critical thinking and communications.
“It’s important to me, and I think it’s important to the people of Wisconsin that the UW system can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Evers said.
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Sen. Tammy Baldwin
According to her website, Baldwin supports the refinancing of student loans. Baldwin has also introduced America’s College Promise Act, which waves two years of fees for residents at technical and community colleges.
Baldwin has also worked on college affordability reforms, such as the strengthening of Pell Grants and her efforts to save the Perkins Loan Program, according to her website.
Vukmir’s website does not make any reference to her views on secondary education.
However, Radomski believes the Republican Party, and by extension Vukmir, tends to place financial responsibility on the individual, because the individual receives the greatest amount of benefit.
Radomski also pointed to Vukmir’s work with the American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts template legislation to be used across the country. He said passed ALEC bills can be seen at for-profit universities, where many consumer protections have been lifted under the assumption that students are capable of making informed decisions about the university they attend.
“Historically she’s [relied] more on the marketplace and less on regulatory practices,” Radomski said.