Evers' higher education budget would continue tuition freeze

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — People who entered the country illegally could pay in-state tuition, a long-running tuition freeze would continue for another two years and institutions would receive an additional $150 million under Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' executive budget proposal for the University of Wisconsin System.

Evers is scheduled to release his two-year spending plan on Thursday. His administration gave The Associated Press a broad preview of his plans for the system over the weekend.

The governor said during his race against then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker last year that he wanted students who were children when their parents brought them into the U.S. without legal permission to pay in-state tuition rates, a popular Democratic talking point. The budget proposal appears to go further. According to the administration's outline of the plan, any Wisconsin resident who entered the country without legal permission would pay in-state tuition at both UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System schools.

The plan is certain to draw criticism from Republican lawmakers. Walker criticized Evers over the idea, saying Evers wanted "special treatment for illegals." But Evers' administration said in the outline that 21 other states as well as the District of Columbia provide in-state tuition for "undocumented students."

Evers also promised on the campaign trail that he would continue a freeze on in-state undergraduate tuition . The freeze has been in place since 2013; Republicans imposed it after learning the system was building huge reserves while raising tuition year after year.

The freeze has been a perennial sore spot for UW officials. Walker made things even tougher for them when he slashed $250 million from the system's 2015-17 budget.

The GOP restored about $26 million in the current budget as Walker headed into his re-election battle with Evers but tied the money to institutions' performance. Evers' administration said in the budget outline that a third of the additional $150 million he wants to give the system would go toward backfilling revenue lost through the freeze.

Here's a look at other highlights of Evers' proposal for UW:

—$109 million in additional funding to provide access to classes in high-demand fields; maintain student support services and bolster funding for a nurse educators program that would give nurse educators help repaying their loans if they commit to teaching in a Wisconsin nursing program for three years; funding a UW-Extension agricultural agent in every county that wants one; and help fund the tuition freeze.

—$40.4 million in additional funding for a 2 percent pay increase for UW System employees in each year of the biennium.

—$18 million in additional funding for the technical college system.

—$50,000 for a study on the feasibility of creating an authority to refinance student loans. Evers promised during his campaign to allow students to refinance their loans. The study is a step toward that goal.

—$17.4 million in additional funding for need-based grants for in-state undergraduates at UW schools, technical colleges and private universities. Last fiscal year 63,567 students received such grants totaling $107.7 million, according to Evers' administration's outline.

It's unclear how much of Evers' plans will survive in the final budget. The executive spending plan is only the starting point of a months-long approval process. Republicans will go through the budget and revise it line by line before sending it back to Evers for his signature.

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