The “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” package builds off of Gov. Tony Evers’ commitment to college affordability. The majority party made significant changes to the governor’s 2021-23 budget proposal, but there is still time to fix higher education by passing these bills.
One of our proposals freezes UW System tuition to keep costs low for students, and it fully funds this freeze to ensure educators have the resources to keep teaching. Another one of our proposals takes a step further, requiring that all future tuition freezes be funded to ensure UW System schools are supported and can properly teach students.
A third bill in the legislative package expands the Tuition Promise program to UW System institutions. In 2018, the UW-Madison created a program called Bucky’s Tuition Promise to provide resident low-income students with free tuition. The program provides four years of free tuition to students in a household with an adjusted gross income of $60,000 or less. Under our proposal, the Tuition Promise would be available to students at other UW System schools who fit the eligibility criteria.
In addition to the Tuition Promise, another bill from the Reaching Higher for Higher Education package invests in need-based financial aid for UW System and technical college students to ensure more grants are available to those who qualify.
To support those studying to become educators, one of our proposals provides a one-semester tuition remission for student teachers. We hope this bill will alleviate the financial strain prospective teachers face and encourage more individuals to go into the profession.
Lastly, the other two bills provide the state support for the UW System and Wisconsin’s technical colleges needed to hold onto their outstanding education institutional reputations. We’ve proposed directing $50 million to Wisconsin technical colleges and district boards, and $16.6 million to the UW System.
The goal of introducing the Reaching Higher for Higher Education package wasn’t only to help Wisconsin students achieve their dreams of attending college, although that reason would be good enough. The investments we make today are critical to make sure students learn new skills and are prepared to enter the workforce. Supporting higher education investments today will address our current labor shortage and encourage business owners to grow our economy for tomorrow.
We want to support our kids to achieve their dreams, whatever they may be. Well, here’s our chance. Let’s move the Reaching Higher for Higher Education package forward to help the future generations of dreamers and doers.
Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, represents Wisconsin's 31st Senate District.
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