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State News Roundup: Madison had its largest freshman class ever

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U-W Madison has its largest freshman class ever - and more of them are from Wisconsin, compared to a year ago. Almost 63-hundred freshmen are enrolled at the state's flagship campus this fall, after a record 29-thousand new candidates applied - and almost 16-thousand were accepted. 68-percent of those who were offered admission were from Wisconsin, five percent more than a year ago. U-W officials say they're able to accept more high-achieving students from the Badger State who were previously on the bubble. That's because declining birthrates have reduced the numbers of prospective college students - while the university increases its numbers of degrees to create a more talented workforce for attracting high-paying jobs in Wisconsin.

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An elementary school in Beloit is closed today, after a gymnasium wall started to crack during a construction project. Robinson Elementary School was evacuated just before three yesterday afternoon. There were no gym classes taking place at the time, and nobody was hurt. Officials said crews were digging to place footings for a new addition when the foundation started collapsing under the gym - and it caused the gym's north wall to crack. As it turned out, the 400 kindergarten-through-third grade students were released at their normal times. They're off today, while crews support the school's foundation with back-fill and heavy timber. The cracks will be repaired, and structural engineers will then inspect the school building.

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Wisconsin farmers continue to harvest their crops at a record pace - but the drought continues to get worse, as 90-percent of farm fields are now short or very-short of moisture. The percentage of fields with adequate moisture dropped by nine-percent from the previous week. Madison's precipitation is nine-inches below normal for the year, while La Crosse and Eau Claire are over seven-inches short. Thirty-six percent of the state's corn crop has been harvested - almost three-times the normal for this date. A record 75-percent of the Wisconsin soybeans are harvested, 29-percent more than the previous record for the date set in 2010. Most farmers report good yields for their soybeans, but pod-shatter is a problem due to the dryness. State farmers are also harvesting cranberries, and the potato harvest is wrapping up.

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A business coalition says Wisconsin needs to find 100-million-dollars in a tight state budget next year to train workers for the many industrial jobs that sit vacant. Competitive Wisconsin - a group of business, labor, and education leaders - says the so-called "skills gap" has become a crisis. And if Wisconsin doesn't address it, major employers could leave for states that will. In a new report, Competitive Wisconsin says the state will have quote, "major shortages in skull clusters essential to staffing the state's major industries" in the next decade unless something is done now. The proposed tax money would match grants to schools, businesses, and other groups with strategies to address their needs for talented workers. The state now spends 15-million-dollars a year on employee training. And by increasing it to 100-million, the group says Wisconsin will spend close to what neighboring Minnesota spends on workforce development. Also, the group says two governor's workforce councils should be replaced with a new organization that focuses on developing industrial talent. It would help coordinate efforts to train-and-provide workers for jobs that are getting more complex in fields like engineering, health care, and metal fabrication. Mark Tyler, who heads the state Technical College Board, cautions that public budgets are still tight. He believes the workforce funding is a good idea, but it should not be paid for by cutting higher education or something else.

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