Budget Blog – JFC Rejects Dems’ “Free Tuition” Stunt

May 18, 2017

The Joint Finance Committee took up the first of the big education agencies today when voting on budget provisions for the Wisconsin Technical College System. Most notably, JFC bucked Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to freeze tuition at the tech colleges and voted instead to send that money towards scholarships.

The committee cast a 12-4 party-line vote to delete the proposed tuition freeze and instead provide $2.5 million annually for need-based Wisconsin Grants for technical college students. Rather than spending $10 million in GPR across the biennium, the approved motion spends $5 million during the same period of time.

The stunt of the day came when Democrats on the committee tried to pass a motion that would spend $545 million in GPR to make tuition and fees at the tech colleges completely free. The legislators took great lengths to describe the food insecurity that tech college students face that they claimed could all be solved by this motion. Not mentioned, of course, was the multitude of research showing that affluent students typically benefit the most from “free college” schemes.

The one-page motion did not include any information on how the legislators would pay for the massive new expenditure.

JFC Co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) noted that the expense would throw off the entire budget and reminded Democrats on the committee that “Bernie Sanders lost.” With that, the committee went to a vote, which failed 12-4.

The last major tech colleges-related issue was that of performance-based funding. Walker’s budget proposal would change the way that funding is allocated to each of the colleges, relying more heavily upon each school’s performance. Rather than approving the Governor’s plan, the committee voted to keep the current law’s allocation mechanism.