Wisconsin has long been synonymous with world-class schools, both in K-12 and higher education. When Gov. Scott Walker outlined his budget last week, the focus was clear: Education is in his crosshairs. Walker proposed the largest cuts the University of Wisconsin System has ever seen. Clocking in at $300 million over the next two years, the UW System would lose about 13 percent of its state funding. In a state that touts one of the best public university systems in the world, these cuts are unprecedented and detrimental to our school.
In addition, the governor has proposed extending the tuition freeze through 2017, at which point the university can raise tuition as they see fit. Our university already has trouble retaining professors as a result of low salaries and benefits. Between the massive cuts in funding and the freeze in tuition, the UW System will have to undergo a top-down decrease in services. After a four-year tuition freeze, who knows how much our tuition will balloon? When over 750,000 Wisconsinites already struggle with student loans, Walker’s budget shows complete indifference to the needs of most of Wisconsinites.
These cuts are far from a partisan issue. Republicans in the Legislature are concerned about the cuts, as well. Even ultra-conservative Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has voiced that he is “worried” about the impact the cuts will have. Walker has branded himself as pro-student candidate, trumpeting the success of the tuition freeze for college affordability. Then, mere months after his re-election he announces these cuts in a blatant attack on students that will result in astronomical increases in expenses and tuition down the road.
Perhaps UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank put it best in saying, “If these reductions take effect as proposed, they will trigger employee layoffs and cuts to programs around campus. I am deeply troubled by how this proposal would harm our students’ education along with our hard-working, dedicated faculty and staff.” As Republicans and Democrats together line up to reject these cuts, it becomes clear Walker’s assault on higher education is wholly indefensible.
As if this wasn’t enough, Walker has proposed transforming the university into a “public authority.” This is only a smokescreen term in the Walker-led march to privatize the UW System. The proposal would sever the over century-old tie linking the university and the state in a joint effort to promote public service and invest in the future. The university would no longer be accountable to the state, and would be build expensive buildings, raise tuition and fluctuate salaries entirely unchecked. Our education would have been left in the hands of those merely seeking to profit from it.
In addition, the original proposal included striking words from the mission statement of the UW System. The Wisconsin Idea was a revolutionary innovation in the way we perceive education and the citizens of our state have benefited immensely from it ever since. Walker has since backed down on striking the Wisconsin Idea, accounting it to a “drafting error,” but the intent remains tactless and scornful.
The UW System isn’t the only casualty of Walker’s budget. Walker is proposing to drastically decrease property taxes, saving upper-middle-class homeowners around $5 this year. This decrease in property taxes is troubling, as further funding cuts to public schools will pay for it.
Walker already has made the deepest cuts to our K-12 system on a per-student basis in history and appears hell-bent on continuing the cuts. He’s also expanding the voucher program in the state, which undermines public schools by syphoning funds over to private schools. Private schools don’t have to adhere to any regulation and are free to teach whatever curriculum they want and hire whomever they please to teach it.
Walker also wants to drug test welfare recipients. Not only is this dehumanizing, it’s also discriminatory. Federal contractors and CEOs get greater government subsidies than those on welfare. If we’re concerned about drug use of those who use tax dollars, we should be testing everyone across the board.
Walker has referred to his own budget “bold” — and I agree. It’s bold in dismantling higher education and the Wisconsin Idea. It’s bold in leaving students in public schools behind to favor those receiving a private education. It’s bold in decentralizing taxes so education pays for the mansions of the wealthy. Wisconsin has always been a state known for powerful progressive roots and ideals. We have led the country in educational and social policy for over a century. Now, with one swift budget proposal, Walker has managed to threaten the very foundation and fundamental ideals of Wisconsin.
August McGinnity-Wake ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and economics.