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Education Issues Take Center Stage At First Public Hearing On Budget

Citizens Testify On Campus Construction, Student Fees, K-12 Funding In Platteville

Students studying
Gerry Broome/AP Photo

Education issues took center stage at the first public hearing on the 2017-2019 state budget Monday in Platteville.

Dozens of citizens testified on issues including funding for a new engineering building on the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus, increased spending on K-12 education statewide and a proposed opt-out for student fees on UW System campuses.

The UW System’s capital budget request included about $55 million for a new UW-Platteville engineering building, Sesquicentennial Hall, but Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal omitted the project.

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During testimony, UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields spoke about the state of the existing engineering building on campus.

“It is bursting at the seams, it is below modern standards for engineering education,” Shields said. “It doesn’t meet our needs.”

Shields added the campus is “desperate” for the new building.

Engineering is a flagship program at UW-Platteville.

“We need a building that can educate our students in a modern way on modern tools and techniques in engineering,” said Philip Parker, an engineering professor at UW-Platteville.

The governor has said this capital budget is focused on improving and maintaining existing facilities.

“The Sesquicentennial Hall was 16 of 20 on the UW System’s list of priorities,” said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson. “Many of the UW’s other top priorities are funded.”

K-12 Education Funding

Increased state funding for K-12 education was another primary focus of the hearing, with several citizens speaking in support of increased per pupil aid and other supports for schools across Wisconsin.

Barbara Feeney, vice president of the Oregon School District, argued for increased funding for rural school districts in particular.

“No child in our state should be deprived of an excellent education because of an accident of geography or birth,” Feeney said.

Walker has said education is a high priority in this budget cycle. His proposed budget would increase sparsity aid and high cost transportation aid for rural districts and bumps overall K-12 education funding by about $650 million, including a per pupil increase of $200 in 2017-2018 and $204 in 2018-2019.

Evenson said the governor’s proposal is receiving “overwhelming support across the state.”

Allocable Fees

Several college students offered testimony in opposition to the governor’s proposal to allow students to opt-out of certain student fees.

Under the governor’s plan, students could choose to forgo paying allocable segregated fees, which fund some campus groups and activities.

The average student pays about $200 per year in those fees.

“Under opt-out, the funding that breathes life into my organization would wither away – we would lose our jobs, our office and our farm,” said Rena Newman, a freshman at UW-Madison who participates in F.H. King, a sustainable agriculture organization on campus.

Walker has argued the opt-out helps alleviate the cost of higher education and gives students a choice on what they want to fund on campus.

“At a time when we want to make college more affordable, we should not be forcing all students to pay for things such as ‘Sex Out Loud,’” said Evenson, referencing a sex-positive education and activism group at UW-Madison.

More public hearings on the state budget will be held Wednesday in West Allis and Friday in Berlin.