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Letter from Rep. Petryk: University of Wisconsin Tuition freeze

Since it was first reported that the University of Wisconsin System (UW-System) had a substantial surplus ($1.05 billion), the Legislature has been discussing ways to protect the UW-System but more importantly, the students and their families. As I have reported in the past, the UW-System has continuously planned for and implemented tuition increases. We need to reevaluate this practice and do better to support our state's students.

In the past ten years, the UW-System has raised tuition 134.7 percent, which is a higher increase than any other Big Ten school. From 2009-2012, the UW-System raised tuition 5.5 percent per year and most recently, the UW-System was planning for a 2.2 percent tuition increase while also requesting upwards of $30 million more in General Purpose Revenue.

University students in Wisconsin and their parents can now take solace in knowing that the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) recently voted to freeze tuition for the UW-System. This tuition freeze passed with bi-partisan support. Here is what was included in the JFC budget motion:

Two-year tuition freeze.

Two-year freeze on segregated fees.

A delay of the flexibility granted to the UW-System to develop its own compensation plans.

The UW-System will be required to develop a methodology to calculate the tuition and extension fees and report their findings to the JFC by September for review and approval.

By January 1, 2014, the UW-System will be required to develop a plan for their reserves and submit this plan to the JFC for review.

The UW-System and the Board of Regents are required to cease affiliation with WiscNet by January 1, 2014.

Cash reserves will be used to pay for the Carbone Cancer Center, Medical School, and other programs.

The United Council student organization will no longer be a mandatory fee and will now be voluntary (UW-Eau Claire student government specifically requested this change).

After years of tuition increases and the creation of this massive surplus, I do believe that this was the right thing for the members of the JFC to do. We must utilize the dollars that Wisconsin students have paid in tuition and fees for the betterment of their education and change the UW-System's practice of building up such a large surplus of cash on hand.

These changes will all be included in the state's new biennial budget that continues to be discussed by the JFC. This motion will be included in the final bill which will be presented to the Assembly and the Senate later in June.

Additional Updates from the Joint Finance Committee

This week the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) took many crucial votes to help Wisconsin taxpayers. These budget motions are consistent with the theme of the Committee to restrain government spending, reform how government works, and reinvest in our state's workforce and education.

Skyward Student Information System

As many of you are aware, it was determined by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that Skyward would no longer be the provider of Wisconsin's statewide student information system. DPI chose to accept a bid from a Minnesota-based company which caused much concern for Skyward and school officials across Wisconsin.

JFC voted to delete funding for a single statewide student information system and move the funds into an appropriation. Now, DPI will be required to develop a proposal for a multi-vendor system. The funds will be released from the appropriation after DPI submits a proposal that the JFC approves.

Common Core Educational Standards

JFC voted to temporarily stop the implementation of Common Core. DPI is required to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the Common Core standards. This motion allows for transparency of the standards that were handed down to the states from the federal government while also requiring that public hearings are held to allow for input from those who will have to comply with these standards.

Unemployment Insurance Reform

This is one of the most significant votes the JFC took this week. At the conclusion of 2012, the Unemployment Insurance trust fund was deeply in debt at $900 million owed to the federal government. This debt trickles down to job creators by increasing taxes on employers in an effort to get the trust fund out of debt.

JFC felt it was imperative to decrease the state's debt amount by making a payment on the interest owed to the federal government. This budget motion will assist our state's businesses in avoiding a $26 million tax imposed on them. Also, to attract new businesses to our state and keep our current ones open we cannot put this large burden on them.

The JFC will meet again next week to hopefully conclude their work on the state's biennial budget. Please stay tuned for more updates on their progress.