This week, Wisconsin kicked off a series of hearings on Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget, which would slash about $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system over two years, funnel hundreds of millions to build a pro-basketball stadium, and cut deeply from funds for health care, food stamps and public media.
College campuses across the state are already preparing for the worst.
Funding at UW-Rock County would be stripped back to levels not seen since 1998, and the school’s dean has said faculty layoffs are almost certain. The situation appears even more dire at UW-Eau Claire, where administrators have offered buyouts to a record 325 faculty and staff members — about a quarter of the campus’ employees. These so-called “go away packages” have been offered to nearly half of the school’s political science department. UW-Stevens Point reports they will eliminate several entire majors, even for students currently enrolled in them.
And it’s not just higher education feeling the pain.
Public primary schools across Wisconsin will lose about $127 million in education aid next year, largely by scrapping a special $150 per-student fund that Wisconsin school districts received over the past two years.
The struggling Milwaukee public schools are set to lose more than $12 million.
Bob Peterson, who taught 5th grade in the Milwaukee Public Schools for nearly three decades, told ThinkProgress that not only are the cuts “breathtaking,” they come as the schools are still reeling from the lost funding in the Governor’s 2011 budget.
“Over the last several years we’ve seen more kids in each classroom, less individual attention for children, and cuts to music, art, and physical education programs,” he said. “There are also way fewer guidance counselors and social workers, and given the Depression-like economic conditions that are in the community here, that’s a real serious problem. They now don’t have time to give kids guidance around post-high school possibilities like technical schools, apprenticeships or college.”
The money saved from the education cuts is specifically slated for property tax relief, which largely benefits the wealthiest in the state.
“Walker keeps bragging that he’s reduced property taxes each year, but most people don’t see any real difference, and it has cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Peterson, who works now with the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association. “You can see it’s a talking point he’s using in his very self-interested political campaign.”
As Wisconsin students and teachers prepare to push back against the promised cuts at the public hearings this week, Republican governors around the country are similarly raiding their states’ higher education budgets.
Residents of Illinois are organizing against Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposal to cut nearly $400 million from the University of Illinois — taking the colleges back to the funding levels they had in the 1950s even though the student population is three times bigger today.
While university officials are predicting “hundreds of staff cuts” and the possible elimination of the pharmacy and flight schools, some students are pushing for the cuts to be distributed more fairly.
Jen Phillis with the Illinois Graduate Employees Organization told ThinkProgress that if the budget is approved, the savings should come from the college presidents and chancellors who make more than $400,000 a year, not the full-time professor making a tenth of that.
“Finding solutions while not balancing the budget on the backs of the lowest paid workers/students is going to be our highest priority and we think it should be the university’s priority as well,” she said. “We recognize that the university is being put in a very precarious position by the state budget, but we want them to be more accountable about how our money is handled.”
The deep cuts are part of the Governor’s attempt to fill a more than $1.6 billion budget hole. Though lawmakers on both sides in the aisle in the state have pleaded with the Governor to consider ending some of the state’s massive tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, he has largely refused to do so.
At a speech in DC on Monday, Governor Bobby Jindal reiterated his stance. “I’ll veto any tax increase. I’ll veto any budget that includes a tax increase,” he said.