Budget committee approves plan to end UW tuition freeze, boost aid for K-12 schools

NOW: Budget committee approves plan to end UW tuition freeze, boost aid for K-12 schools

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Republicans on the budget committee approved ending the UW-System tuition freeze and adopted a $150 million increase for K-12 schools. 

On a party line vote, the Joint Finance Committee voted on a plan to lift the UW-System tuition freeze as university officials for years have struggled with their finances. 

Senator Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) supported the proposal, but warned the UW Board of Regents to not allow tuition to skyrocket.

“Do not, in a tone-deaf manner, take this power you may have when this law lapses and raise tuition to a level that makes the cost of education that is not affordable to middle-class families,” Kooyenga said.

The measure would not put a limit on how much tuition could go up. Governor Tony Evers proposed in his budget keeping the freeze in place for two years. 

The tuition freeze that’s been in place for eight years has been widely criticized by UW officials because it's made it difficult to fund campuses. 

UW System Board of Regents President Andrew Peterson praised the decision. 

"By not further mandating a tuition freeze, the budget committee offers the UW System flexibility to develop talent, generate life-changing research and deliver the education students expect and families deserve,” Petersen said in a statement. 

The budget proposal would have to be voted by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Evers to go into effect. 

The committee also approved a plan to give K-12 schools an additional $150 million over the next two years, about 10% less than what Gov. Tony Evers had in mind. 

Republicans' school funding plan also put federal funding into question. It spends about $200 million less than what the state needed to devote in order to secure those dollars. 

Democrats called the decision risky and problematic. 

“We are so far apart from where the federal government needs us to be to be compliant,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-West Point).

Republicans also approved giving more federal aid to school districts who’ve kept their doors open for more than half the school year during the pandemic. Milwaukee Public Schools wouldn’t benefit since they didn’t offer in-person instruction until the second semester. 

“This is about awarding schools, teachers, superintendents that went the extra mile and taught kids because they knew the detriment of not doing so,” said Sen. Mary Felzcowski (R-Irma).

Democrats blasted the measure, saying it punished districts who had to close their doors in order to keep kids and teachers safe.

“Some of these communities had spikes and spreads, what are you supposed to do when the rate of infection was rising in the fall?” said Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee).

Other measures adopted include: 

  • Increasing special education funding by $86 million 
  • Boosting mental health funds by $12 million
  • Providing $7 million for school-based mental health collaboration grants
  • Investing roughly $13 million in High Cost Transportation Aid
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