Wisconsin Examiner

Lawmakers Release $32 Million They Previously Withheld From UW System

Money was previously cut by GOP legislators as part of DEI fight.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Feb 29th, 2024 02:45 pm

Bascom Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus. Photo by Rosina Peixoto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bascom Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus. Photo by Rosina Peixoto (Own work) (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Lawmakers on the state budget committee unanimously approved the release of about $31.9 million to the University of Wisconsin System that will be used to invest in workforce development.

Republicans cut the money — about $15.9 million annually — from the UW budget in June 2023 saying they intended the cut to eliminate funding for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts on campuses in the state. The money was placed in a supplemental fund, and legislative leaders said the money could only be recovered if the UW System came up with a plan to use the money for improving investments in the workforce.

The UW proposed its plan in November 2023, but it wasn’t until a deal was reached between Republicans and UW System leadership on DEI that lawmakers agreed they would release the funding.

The UW System, now known as Universities of Wisconsin, plans to use the funding to work towards boosting the number of graduating students in fields with the highest need including engineering, nursing, business and finance and computer and data science.

Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee, who supported the release of the money, criticized Republicans for withholding it in the first place.

“It was never proposed that the delay was intended to find additional resources to assist all students in succeeding in college. It was communicated publicly that this delay was created in order to remove resources from certain students,” Rep. Tip McGuire (D-Kenosha) said. “The delays that we have seen for this reason — to remove resources from certain students — doesn’t go without its harm.”

McGuire pointed to recent staffing cuts at UW-Oshkosh, which announced in October 2023 it would cut staff by more than 200 employees due to budget shortfalls, and UW-Parkside, which announced it would cut its staff by about 10%, as signs of the harm that delays in UW funding have caused. The budget committee also withheld funding for UW staff pay raises from October 2023, when they approved pay raises for all other state employees, until December 2023.

“There are so many people whose lives have been negatively impacted by this delay for ultimately, what amounts to a political point, a talking point, for Republicans for their base,” McGuire said. “That’s unfortunate.”

Under the plan, the UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee will each get $2,470,450 in each year of the biennium, while the other eleven campuses, including UW-Eau Claire, UW-Green Bay and UW- Oshkosh, will receive $1 million per campus each year.

Co-chair Rep. Mark Born (R-Beaver Dam) said that the recent cuts on campuses had nothing to do with the funding that the committee was set to approve. He said that some of the campuses were making decisions to “right-size” their operations, and “that’s why people got laid off.”

Born said that the money was removed from the UW budget because it was being “wasted” and lawmakers wanted them to refocus. He added that he was proud of the decisions that the UW System and campuses across the state were making to “refocus” their priorities.

“We challenged them to step up on workforce,” Born said. “They brought us a plan. We’re accepting it.”

Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) said it was “really something to see folks on this committee pretending like this is the plan that the University of Wisconsin… brought to the finance committee because this is what they decided they wanted to do.”

“They presented a budget to us. That budget request was not funded and in addition to not giving them any increases… this committee decided we were going to cut $32 million and hold that money hostage,” Roys said.

McGuire also expressed concerns that the decision to release the money only now sets a concerning precedent for the future. The committee has yet to act on two requests from the Evers administration to release $125 million in funding that would be used to combat PFAS and $15 million in funding that would be used to help health care providers in Chippewa Valley as closures are underway of hospitals in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls.

“This all worries me because we’re allowing these minor political arguments to impact people of this state,” McGuire said. “We’ve already seen people lose their jobs… because of the delays of this committee, and now there’s the potential for children to drink more poison or people to lose their lives if there continues to be a delay in assistance for medical care in western Wisconsin.”

Budget committee releases $32 million to the UW System for investments in workforce was originally published by Wisconsin Examiner.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us