Finance committee approves $36M funding increase for UW System

The University of Wisconsin System would receive a funding increase of more than $36 million over the next biennium under the budget proposal approved Thursday by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance (JFC).

The committee voted 12-4 to pass an omnibus motion that included 23 provisions, including $5 million for an innovation fund to increase enrollment in high demand areas and $26.25 million for outcome-based funding. This is less than the $37.5 million requested by UW System, but the motion gives the Board of Regents the authority to create the system to distribute the funds instead of setting them in state statute as proposed by Gov. Scott Walker.

Chancellor Blank supported the significant changes made by the committee to the outcome-based funding proposals.

“While we have concerns with some of the provisions included in the motion passed by the committee, I was pleased to see that the outcome-based funding included by the committee both rewards maintaining excellence and calls for creating peer groups for each campus instead of pitting UW System schools against each other,” said Blank.

The committee opted not to include a 5 percent tuition decrease proposed by Gov. Walker, but instead included a continuation of the 4-year tuition freeze for in-state, undergraduate tuition across UW System campuses for the next two years.

The new Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership at UW-Madison will receive $1.5 million annually under the motion as well. The center will be dedicated to the study of public leadership and is proposed to be housed jointly at the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science. Faculty committees in the La Follette School and Department of Political Science unanimously voted to approve moving forward with the concept of the center prior to legislative interest in funding it.

The committee approved additional support for several important UW-Madison health programs. These include an additional $100,000 annually for the rural physicians residency assistance program run by the School of Medicine and Public Health and an $50,000 annually for Alzheimer’s research proposed by Gov. Walker. The committee also added $490,000 annually for the Carbone Cancer Center for its precision medicine program, which will expand access to better cancer treatments for more Wisconsin residents, especially those in rural areas.

In other notable provisions, the JFC motion:

  • Requires the Board of Regents to revise segregated fee policies so that classification of fees as allocable or non-allocable is consistent across all campuses.  It does not include a freeze on segregated fees or the opt-out provision proposed by Gov. Walker.
  • Requires UW System to contract with an independent accounting firm to conduct an annual financial audit in both years of the next biennium, rather than having the Legislative Audit Bureau perform such an audit.
  • Expands eligibility for tuition and fee remissions for children and spouses of deceased or disabled veterans.
  • Exempts from nonresident tuition certain members of the Wisconsin National Guard or reserves.
  • Prohibits the Board of Regents from requiring that only those eligible to be granted tenure can be considered for appointment as president of the UW System or chancellor or vice chancellor of an institution.
  • Deletes the requirement that there be a new Flex Option program geared toward assisting CNAs in becoming registered nurses.
  • Authorizes the Board of Regents to create an engineering school at UW-Green Bay.

It is expected that the committee will take up the compensation reserves plan toward the end of the budget process. The omnibus motion for the UW System did not allocate the $35 million Gov. Walker included in his budget for the tuition freeze, but the JFC co-chairs stated most of those funds will be used to cover the cost of salary increases for UW System employees through the compensation reserve fund.

Similarly, no action has yet been taken by the committee on the capital budget, which controls the state’s building program.  And changes to the early college credit program will be considered when the committee takes up the Department of Public Instruction section of the state budget.

Earlier in the budget process the committee removed many troubling policy items including faculty workload requirements and requiring students to have an internship before they graduate. In addition, the committee approved $10 million in additional funding for the Higher Educational Aids Board for financial aid on Tuesday with $5.6 million of those funds targeted to UW System students.

Both houses of the legislature need to pass the budget as well, but no major changes to the JFC proposal are expected in either house before it is sent to the governor for his signature. Passage by the committee is expected next month.