Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) education record at a town hall meeting in Claremont, New Hampshire. Clinton has been introducing voters to her new college affordability plan, the College Compact, which would encourage states to gradually increase spending on public colleges and curb tuition increase through grants. It would be paid for by placing a cap on the itemized deductions higher income households are able to take through tax returns.
“And you take somebody like Governor Walker of Wisconsin, who seems to be delighting in slashing the investment in higher education in his state; in making it more difficult for students to get scholarships or to pay off their debt; eliminating the opportunities for young people who are doctors or dentists to actually work in under-served areas in return for having their debt relieved; ending scholarships for poor kids; and most surprisingly to me, rejecting legislation that would have made it tax-deductible for you on your income tax to deduct the amount of your loan payment,” she said on Tuesday.
Walker proposed a cut of $300 million to the University of Wisconsin system, though ultimately cut adopted in the budget was less severe, at $250 million. Meanwhile, Democrats in the Wisconsin state legislature have proposed the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act, which let borrowers deduct student loan payments from state taxes and refinance loans at lower interest rates. It would also help students understand different options for private lenders, some of which engage in dubious practices.
What has made Walker’s cuts even more controversial is his decision to spend $250 million in state, county and city funds on a new basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. One of the team’s owners, Jon Hammes, contributed $150,000 to Walker’s Super PAC on the day he started advocating for the arena, and has also donated tens of thousands of dollars directly to past campaigns.
Walker responded to Clinton’s criticisms.
.@HillaryClinton I’ve frozen in-state tuition rates for four years, while you charged colleges $225K+ just to show up. -SW
— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) August 11, 2015
Clinton has come under fire for collecting lavish speaking fees from universities. Some of Clinton’s speaking fees go to the Clinton Foundation and some go to her personal account. The speaking fee Walker is likely referring to, for the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, went to the foundation. Students at the university asked her to return the speaking fee last year.
But even Walker’s attack on Clinton doesn’t escape scrutiny. University officials have pointed out that freezing tuition eliminates one option to make up for Walker’s large budget cuts. In April, Regent David Walsh said he thought it was unusual to both cut higher education funding and freeze tuition, and told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the cuts were “devastating.” Universities are preparing for the cuts by cutting back significantly on professors. Funding at UW-Rock County would receive funding not seen since 1998 and at UW-Eau Claire, administrators have offered buyouts to more than 300 faculty members and staff. Some universities within the system will have to eliminate several majors.
Walker also proposed a $127 million cut in primary school funding in January and Wisconsin’s decrease in per-pupil spending from the 2010–11 year was the highest of all 50 states, according to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau report.
Scott Walker continued his attack on Clinton’s education approach in a post on Red State, calling her a “deceiver-in-chief” when it comes to her higher education policies:
America needs real reforms in higher education, including putting in place incentives to keep costs low, confronting the accreditation cartels that limit options, and improving federal government data so students and families have the information they need to make the best decisions possible. We need to make sure our students are getting the skills they need to fill open jobs in our economy…
Walker isn’t the only Republican candidate to mention college accreditation in the debate over improving college affordability and student debt. Rubio brought up the issue on Fox & Friends Monday and in campaign stops, saying that accreditation rules needed to be loosened. Their mention of accreditation is likely a reference to making accreditation easier for for-profit colleges. A good share of Republican candidates, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) have had a history of supporting the industry. Some for-profit colleges, such as Corinthian Colleges have been guilty of misrepresenting job placement data submitted to the U.S. Department of Education and have closed campuses afterward.
A few Republican candidates have criticized the plan as too expensive, lacking in “innovation,” or encouragement of for-profit colleges, and suggest Clinton will raise taxes in general if she is elected president. Although other Republicans criticized the plan soon after it was announced, Walker did not weigh in until Clinton criticized his education record in Wisconsin.