April 17, 2014

UW System President responds to longer tuition freeze

The president of the University of Wisconsin System says he wants to work with the governor and Legislature to create the best budget possible for the university. That’s how Ray Cross responded today, after Governor Scott Walker said he wanted to freeze UW tuition through the summer of 2017.

Walker said he was concerned about a surplus in the UW System that’s projected to be over a billion dollars by the end of the school year. Walker and GOP lawmakers imposed the first tuition freeze a year ago, after being blindsided by reports of large university cash reserves while tuition kept going up 5.5 percent.

While Cross on Friday agreed with Walker’s sentiment, he also signaled there could be some reservations about the plan. In a statement, Cross said “Holding college costs down helps Wisconsin students and families.” However, he also noted that “UW tuition is already lower than many peer colleges and universities.”

Cross said “We intend to thoughtfully and judiciously manage and explain our resources. We will continue to work with the Governor and the Legislature to meet our shared goal of delivering value to the state of Wisconsin.”

The governor said he would include another two-year tuition freeze in his next state budget in early 2015, if he’s reelected this fall. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he expects his colleagues to consider the tuition freeze while working to assure a quality university system. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald also supported a continued freeze, as did both chairs of the Legislature’s finance panel.

Walker calls for extending UW tuition freeze

Governor Scott Walker says the University of Wisconsin System should extend a tuition freeze for another two years, on top of a two year freeze that is already included in the current state budget. The freeze adopted last summer was the first in UW System history.

“After years of tuition hikes, it is important to give our students and their families a break. Our proposed second two-year tuition freeze will go a long way to helping working families and students have access to higher education,” said Governor Walker.

Walker’s request comes a day after the UW System announced that it expects to end its fiscal year in June with a budget surplus of about $1.1 billion. The tuition freeze was added to the state budget last year after a similar surplus was uncovered, drawing harsh criticism from state lawmakers. System officials have since proposed policies aimed at reducing the ability of campuses to build up large cash reserves, which the Board of Regents is expected to take up on Friday.

Task force charged with closing achievement gap

A task force hopes to close the state’s achievement gap. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers noted that the gap between white and black students has been persistent for decades. “Certainly a lot of it is economically based, and how our economy has changed dramatically over the decades. But the fact of the matter is we can’t wait for that to rectified anytime soon,” Evers said. “I’ll be honest, at the state level when we always talk about this, the discussion always degenerates to some extent into “well what system is better, choice, charter, public schools. We’re going to solve it by governance issues.” Well that’s just baloney. If we believed that at one time, it’s been dispelled.”

Evers has tapped Demond Means, superintendent in the Mequon Thiensville district, to lead a group of 17 educators charged with providing insight into how successful practices are working to close the gap. “These school districts and schools that are members of our task force represent places where it is happening, and positive things are occurring when it comes to closing the gap. It ultimately comes down to are you engaged and invested in doing “love work,” and wrapping your arms around parents, their children and your colleagues,” Means said. The task force met for the first time on Wednesday in Madison.

“We have kind of internal benchmarks about closing this gap that I think are appropriate. We just need to start the process,” said Evers. “We have had some success frankly, but not enough.”


Walker interested in finishing college degree (AUDIO)

Gov. Scott Walker speaks to students at a Middleton elementary school. (Photo: WRN)

Gov. Scott Walker speaks to students at a Middleton elementary school. (Photo: WRN)

As the University of Wisconsin continues to expand its Flexible Degree Option, Governor Scott Walker says he might be interested in working towards completing his college degree.

Walker never finished the degree he was working on at Marquette University. He left the school in 1990 to take a job in the private sector and never went back to get the remaining credits he needed to finish school. While the UW program does not currently have any options matching the political science degree he was working on, Walker says there could be something that’s close down the road.

AUDIO: Gov. Scott Walker (:57)

Speaking with reporters Wednesday morning during a stop in Middleton, Walker downplayed any link between his interest in finishing school and a possible presidential run for the Republican nomination in 2016. Walker said “I’ve gotten to be governor without it, so I don’t think it’s any base requirement out there.”

Walker indicated that he’s more interested in finishing his degree as a way to generate interest from those whose college education ended early, noting that an estimated 25 percent of the state’s population has some amount of college credit. “I think it’s a good thing to encourage others to do,” Walker said.

State exams show slight bump in reading and math scores

The latest and final results of a statewide achievement test given to Wisconsin public school students shows reading and math scores were generally up from a year ago. However, the findings of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WKCE) also shows minority student continued to lag behind.

The report shows that, overall, 48.6 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in mathematics, while 36.6 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in reading. Both scores were up over a five year period; about 1.8 points for math and 1.1 points for reading.

The state Department of Public Instruction says results were up across all racial and ethnic groups, although officials also note that state achievement gaps remain large.

State Superintendent Tony Evers says those gaps are why he appointed a special task force, which begins meeting this week, to “specifically address classroom-based practices that can impact Wisconsin’s achievement gap. The educators on my Promoting Excellence for All Task Force are from public, charter, and choice schools that are moving the needle on student achievement. We want them to tell us what works in their schools and help us apply these strategies in classrooms across the state.”

This is the last year the state will have results from the WKCE to examine. The exams, which have been used since 1992, are being replaced with other yearly exams that will measure progress much more often during the school year. The exams are aligned with the state’s Common Core standards, and Evers says they should help close racial-and-ethnic achievement gaps and prepare students better for college and careers.