Gov. Tony Evers will propose a $150 million boost for the University of Wisconsin System in his first two-year budget, including funding to continue a tuition freeze implemented by former Gov. Scott Walker, a pay raise for UW employees, a provision to allow Dreamers to pay in-sate tuition and a study to determine the feasibility of creating a student loan refinancing authority.
"It’s time we start reinvesting in the UW System. With an additional $150,000,000 in funding over two years, we’re going to support campuses across our state and keep the Wisconsin Idea strong," Evers tweeted on Sunday.
Evers is set to deliver his first budget address Thursday evening, but has shared some details from the spending plan with reporters in the weeks leading up to it. The UW System details were first reported by the Associated Press on Sunday, then shared with other reporters on Monday.
In response to a tweet noting some of the items included in Evers' UW proposal, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who co-chairs the Legislature's budget committee, wrote that Evers "continues to make a bipartisan budget nearly impossible."
Evers plans to dedicate about $50 million toward funding the tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students, which has been in place since 2013.
UW System President Ray Cross praised Evers' proposal and his "commitment to funding higher education and the University of Wisconsin System."
"He understands an investment in higher education is vital to growing Wisconsin’s talent pipeline, improving lives, and providing Wisconsinites opportunities to earn higher wages," Cross said in a statement. "By fully funding a tuition freeze in his budget, Governor Evers is committed to preserving the quality of education critical to student success. The UW System helps build vibrant communities throughout Wisconsin and provides a tremendous 23-to-1 return on investment. We look forward to working with the Governor and legislators to advance our shared priorities."
Evers also plans to allow undocumented students who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents as young children — known as Dreamers — to pay in-state tuition to attend schools in the UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System.
Authorities have estimated there are nearly 8,000 recipients of DACA — the Obama-era policy halting deportation of Dreamers — in Wisconsin.
According to a National Conference of State Legislatures report cited by the Evers administration, 21 other states and the District of Columbia have laws or policies providing in-state tuition rates for undocumented students.
The issue of undocumented students became a flashpoint late in the race between Evers and Walker. After Evers said during a debate that he would support the tuition policy and would allow workers who entered the country without legal permission to obtain Wisconsin driver's licenses, Walker launched a campaign ad attacking Evers for supporting "special treatment for illegals."
Under Evers' plan, UW System employees would receive a 2 percent pay increase in each year of the budget, at a cost of $40 million.
The proposal would also set aside $50,000 for the Department of Financial Institutions, the Higher Educational Aids Board and the state treasurer to study the feasibility of creating a state student loan refinancing authority.
Democrats in the state Legislature have repeatedly introduced legislation to create such an authority, which would be charged with creating a system to buy federal and private loans and refinance them at lower rates. Under the Democratic proposal, borrowers would also be able to deduct student loan payments from their income taxes.
During his gubernatorial campaign, Evers said that in addition to supporting the refinancing authority, he would allow students to deduct student loan payments from their income tax, provide students and parents with detailed information about student loans and collect data on student debt in Wisconsin.
Evers' budget would provide an additional $18 million to the state's technical college system. It would provide $5 million over the two-year period to fund student support services at UW Colleges as the UW System moves forward with a restructuring process that would merge its two-year colleges with its four-year universities.
Also included in Evers' plan is a $45 million increase that UW System authorities could distribute to each of its campuses to help them meet regional needs and fund programs in high-demand fields. Another provision would direct $10 million to the UW System's nurse educators program.
Evers would allocate $3.5 million and 20 full-time positions for UW-Extension County Agriculture Representatives, who offer agricultural advice to farmers throughout the state, and $500,000 to fund environmental education programs at UW-Stevens Point.
The plan would also put an additional $17.4 million into the state's Wisconsin Grants program, which provides need-based grants for in-state undergraduate students at UW institutions, technical colleges, private, nonprofit colleges and universities and and tribal colleges in Wisconsin.