A $100,000 funding stream the Dane County Rape Crisis Center receives from the University of Wisconsin-Madison could be in jeopardy under a proposal in Gov. Scott Walker's 2017-19 budget.
The funding comes from the segregated fees UW-Madison students pay to help cover a variety of services and activities on campus. The majority of segregated fees are designated as "nonallocable," meaning chancellors have primary authority over their distribution. The remaining "allocable" segregated fees are distributed with the guidance of student government representatives.
Walker's budget proposal would allow students to opt out of paying allocable segregated fees in an effort to help "students make the decisions on what they do and do not want to fund."
Allocable segregated fees paid by UW-Madison students in fiscal year 2017 amount to about $8.2 million, up from about $8 million the previous year and $7.5 million in 2015.
Of those funds, $100,000 per year is allocated to the Dane County Rape Crisis Center under a contract with Associated Students of Madison, the university's student government.
It is unclear how many students might choose not to pay allocable segregated fees in the future, or whether they would be able to choose which specific services receive their money. The proposal is part of Walker's focus on college affordability and offering students more freedom, said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson.
"At a time when we want to make college more affordable, we should not be forcing all students to pay for things such as 'Sex Out Loud,'" Evenson said, referencing a student group that received $103,000 in allocable segregated fees this year.
The group describes its mission as promoting "healthy sexuality through sex positive education and activism" and offers programs ranging from "Healthy Relationships 125" to "Kink 420."
"The governor's proposal reduces tuition for students by 5 percent and ensures they have the final say on what their money funds in terms of allocable programs. It is all aimed at affordability and accountability," Evenson said in an email. "Long term commitments, or non-allocable fees, are not impacted under this proposal. But where students and their families are asked to pay for optional activities, the governor's budget provides the freedom to choose."
Colin Barushok, chairman of the Associated Students of Madison’s Student Services Finance Committee, said it is his understanding that students who opt in would pay higher fees for services like the Rape Crisis Center, where the funding is issued through a contract.
Barushok said he's afraid the fees would become so high that eventually, too many students would opt out to continue funding services. He argued students already have input on where their money goes, through their elected student government representatives.
"It’s true that not every student will use Sex Out Loud, but not every student will use Badger Catholic either, or go to Vets for Vets," Barushok said. "But we trust that every student wants to support their classmates in their ability to go to those programs."
While the UW-Madison funding stream is "not a huge piece" of the organization's budget, it is still significant, said Rape Crisis Center executive director Erin Thornley-Parisi.
"It’s highly concerning to me because this is on top of President Trump threatening to cut the Violence Against Women Act funding, and in Dane County, that will possibly result in us losing a prosecutor who specializes in sexual assault," Thornley-Parisi said.
It was first reported by The Hill last month that the president's team is considering widespread cuts to government spending that would include scrapping the U.S. Department of Justice's Violence Against Women grants.
Thornley-Parisi said the Rape Crisis Center has seen an increased need for services since the presidential campaign, when a recording of Trump making sexually predatory comments about women was released.
Any decrease in funding sources would show "a disregard for the needs of victims of sexual assault," she said.
The Rape Crisis Center has an office in Madison and a location on the UW-Madison campus, which houses a counselor who works as an advocate for victims who pursue assaults through the campus disciplinary process. The center also runs a 24-hour telephone line.
"This (allocable segregated fee) funding is not specifically used just for the campus office, because the campus knows that students live all over the place," Thornley-Parisi said. "They pay a portion of all of our advocacy services in order to make sure that their students receive services."
In addition, she noted, the state Legislature passed a law signed by Walker last year giving victims the right to have an advocate present for any proceeding related to the crime.
Victim services the center provides range from helping victims with paperwork and payment for medical exams to walking them through their options when it comes to evidence collection and filing a police report. Advocates work with victims from the moment they enter the hospital until the case has worked through the judicial process.
"All of that is free," Thornley-Parisi said. "And it’s free because of the funding that we get."
Other sources of funding include the state Department of Justice, federal grants, federal funding from the Victims of Crime Act and private fundraising, Thornley-Parisi said.
Thornley-Parisi said Walker is generally supportive of efforts to prevent violence against women, noting that he increased funding for domestic violence abuse grants by $5 million in the 2015-17 budget.
But the threat of any loss of funds is cause for concern, she said.
"Victims of sexual assault are feeling like this country doesn’t have their back, and now this state doesn’t have their back," she said.
In addition to the Rape Crisis Center, allocable segregated fees support the General Student Services Fund, WSUM student radio, the Tenant Resource Center, bus passes, grants to student organizations and administrative costs for student government.
Students with Associated Students of Madison and UW System Student Representatives spoke out against the opt-out proposal on Tuesday.
"Allowing individual students to opt-out of paying would destabilize the funding of these services and create an administrative burden to ensure only fee-paying students could access the services those fees support," said UW System Student Representatives chairman Graham Pearce in a statement.
Barushok called the proposal "an attempt to undermine student authority over distributing their own fees."
"I think that the governor’s office is attempting an overreach, a big-government intrusion into our affairs as students," he said.
Walker's UW budget proposal also includes a 5 percent tuition cut for in-state undergraduate students, paid for with a $35 million bump in general purpose revenue. That would come on top of a $100 million increase to the UW budget, $42.5 million of which would be tied to performance metrics based on affordability, workforce success of graduates, administrative efficiency, service and other criteria.
Walker is set to release his entire budget proposal on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
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