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Scholars of Promise

In this 2017 photo, a Madison Area Technical College student delivers a presentation to a group of his peers. MATC is part of the Wisconsin Technical Colleges System, which may receive more funding in the 2019-21 budget biennium.

Republicans on the Legislature’s budget-writing committee voted for more money for the Wisconsin Technical College System but not as much as what Democrats and the colleges requested.

The $25 million in new funding approved by the Joint Finance Committee was more than the $18 million Democratic Gov. Tony Evers initially proposed in his 2019-21 budget plan.

On Wednesday, Evers requested that lawmakers tack an additional $18 million onto the budget to fully fund the colleges’ request because Wisconsin is set to collect $753 million more in tax revenue than previously estimated, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released Wednesday.

The Democratic proposal failed on a party-line vote.

Democrats argued fully funding the technical colleges in this budget cycle would begin to make up for deep cuts made during former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s tenure.

In the 2011-13 budget biennium, lawmakers cut 30 percent of state money from the technical colleges, from $119 million to $83.5 million. In the three budget cycles since then, the colleges received one 6% funding increase, or about $5 million.

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said the data show “the damage and cuts that have been done.”

Republicans agreed with Democrats on the valuable role technical colleges serve in training the state’s workers and the success those colleges have had in graduation and job placement rates.

But fully funding the agency’s request would not be fiscally responsible when other agency requests are also taken into account, they said.

“There is a balance to be had,” said Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls. “And there is a responsibility that we have to not go to that well too often or in too great of a way because the harm can be irreparable.”

The $25 million boost passed 11-4, also on party lines.

Technical colleges spokesman Conor Smyth said the money would allow colleges to address local needs they have identified, such as adding course sections for high-demand programs such as nursing or creating new curriculum and programming in response to local employers’ needs.

Madison Area Technical College President Jack Daniels said in an interview that the money will help MATC expand dual-credit course offerings for high school students to earn college credit and increase capacity for high-demand apprenticeship programs, such as construction, electrical and plumbing.

He also said some of the money will go toward student support services, such as advising and counseling, which can be particularly helpful for communities in south Madison where access has been traditionally limited.

“What are we going to provide so those student are retained and stay in those programs?” Daniels said. “That’s what those wraparound services will do.”

The request still requires approval from the full Legislature and Evers. If enacted on time, the budget will take effect July 1.

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Kelly Meyerhofer covers higher education for the Wisconsin State Journal. She can be reached at 608-252-6106 or kmeyerhofer@madison.com.