March 1, 2015

Changes coming to college savings plans

Learfield file photo

Learfield file photo

Families sending someone off to college may appreciate the changes being made to some government endorsed college savings plans.

Congressman Ron Kind says the tax-free 529 college savings plans, such as Wisconsin’s EdVest program, have several rules and restrictions that need to be revised, such as what you can and cannot use the money for. “What’s not allowed to be purchased with the money set aside in those accounts are computers and software, yet that’s an important part of learning.”

With the use of computers moving from optional to a necessity, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday 401-20 to pass the College Affordability Action Plan, or House Resolution 529.  “The bill that Representative (Lynn) Jenkins and I offered would make that an allowable use of the money, so students could purchase computers and software from their 529 accounts, so they don’t have to borrow money or get the money somewhere else.”

The changes also allow students that have to leave school to save the money and resume classes later, without penalty.  “If they have to withdraw from school for some reason, so long as the put it back into the 529 account, it won’t be taxed at that point, and then we tried to streamline the paperwork requirement too, to try to make it simpler.”

Kind says the modern college student needs computers, and they need less debt, so making the program better is the right thing to do. Kind says he will also oppose further cuts to the Pell Grant program, which helps low-income families pay for college.

WSAU, Larry Lee

United Council pushing back against UW budget cuts

United Council members

United Council members

Governor Scott Walker’s proposed $300 million dollars in cuts to the University of Wisconsin System over the next two years, along with an offer of greater autonomy and flexibility, through creation of a public authority. The United Council of UW System Students oppose those cuts, as well as making the UW System a public authority.

“A budget is a value document, and the governor has been clear that he devalues higher education in the state of Wisconsin, to the tune of $300 million,” said United Council Executive Director Nneka Akubeze. “That’s unacceptable, and the students are outraged.”

UW Superior Student Senate Speaker Kara Schmidt said budget cuts have already had an impact at the school, which has the smallest enrollment of all four-year campuses. “It’s not because that’s what’s right for our school, but because it’s what we fiscally have to do,” Schmidt said. “That’s a business decision that’s not an educational priority decision.”

UW Madison professor Karma Chavez said the campuses need to stick together. “We need UW Superior just like we need UW Madison. We need all of the UWs. And the fact of the matter is, it’s going to be a lot worse for the smaller UWs,” Chavez said.

United Council members from 13 campuses voted unanimously over the weekend, to oppose budget cuts and public authority.

DPI concerned about ‘new pathway’ to teaching license

Wisconsin State Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin State Capitol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Governor Scott Walker wants to give someone with real life experience the option to pass a competency test and get a teaching license, though not everyone is on board.

Tammy Huth is Director of Teacher Education at the Department of Public Instruction. She testified before the Assembly Committee on Education, which held a public hearing on Thursday. “In Wisconsin to obtain a license there are two things an applicant must have,” she says. “The first thing is they must have a bachelor’s degree. And the second thing they have to have is they have to complete an approved educated preparation program.”

Representative Romaine Quinn (R-Rice Lake), who is on the legislative panel, referenced the governor’s Workforce Readiness Initiative, asking DPI officials whether they were familiar with the proposal. Jennifer Kammerud, policy initiatives advisor for DPI, said she was aware of it. “We’ve read the proposal. I think there’s some question regarding what is meant by some of the language. Generally speaking, though, the department feels that it is important to know how to teach.”

AUDIOHuth explains the importance of having “pedagogical” knowledge. :17

In addition to the ability to teach, Huth says, there are several other “building blocks” in the teacher preparation program. Those include having evidence of communications skills, knowledge of the subject, human relations, student teaching experience, and there are statutory requirements.

DPI officials note there are also alternatives for obtaining a license to teach in Wisconsin.

Budget co-chairs critical of UW-Madison chancellor

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Recent comments about the state budget by University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank are drawing criticism from two top Republicans in the Legislature.

Blank held a series of meetings last week on the Madison campus, where she criticized a proposed $300 million cuts to the UW System under Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal. Blank claimed the cuts, which include a roughly $120 million reduction over the next two years for the UW-Madison, would devastate the campus and force her to lay off employees. Blank said the cuts are “just too much.”

In exchange for the cuts, UW campuses would be given more autonomy to make their own decisions on a number of financial issues, including setting tuition.

In a statement released Wednesday, Joint Finance Committee co-chairs, state Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and state Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette), criticized Blank for bringing “Washington politics” to Madison. They also pointed out that Blank’s predecessor, former Chancellor Biddy Martin, had backed a similar autonomy plan in the last state budget that could have cut $125 million from the university.

“Today’s budget proposal is similar to that of the 2011-13 budget with one major difference – the autonomy and prospective $300 million cut would be spread between campuses in the entire UW System. This may mean a lesser cut for the UW-System’s flagship campus and more autonomy than what was proposed in 2011,” Darling and Nygren said.

The lawmakers argue that decisions need to be made based on what’s best for Wisconsin students, and that “no constructive conversation will come from bringing Washington politics to Madison.”

Kind ‘troubled’ by Governor Walker’s UW budget plan

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI)

A Wisconsin Congressman says making college more affordable for students needs to be a top priority. U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) says that’s why he’s promoting a college affordability plan, which would allow students to consolidate and refinance student loans and set repayment levels based on income.

Kind was on the UW-Eau Claire campus Tuesday to talk about the legislation, where he also weighed in on proposed state cuts to the University of Wisconsin System. He called Republican Governor Scott Walker’s plans to cut $300 million in funding to the UW over the next budget biennium troubling.

Kind said “The university has been one of our locomotives for job growth and good-paying jobs here in the state, and that could jeopardize all of it, so I think we all need to be thinking creatively about how do we keep higher education more affordable for all students.”

The Wisconsin Democrat noted the cuts make it harder and harder to call the UW a “public institution,” since the state share of operational costs continues to fall below 50 percent. He also warned that the cuts being proposed by the governor will make it hard for campuses to recruit and retain top talent, which is needed to set them apart from other institutions.