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Grant proposed to UW System under Walker budget

February 28, 2013

Gov. Scott Walker proposed a $181 million grant for the UW System after cuts made two years ago.

This proposal is not official until it is debated and voted on by the state legislature,  but is a change from the $46.1 million cut to the UW System in 2011.

“From a university standpoint, this is a step in the right direction,” said United Falcons President Kurt Leichtle.

If this proposed amount is passed, then the increase will be in a flexible spending grant, meaning the universities it is allotted to can put the money in areas of their greatest need.

In an email to faculty and staff, UW-River Falls Assistant Chancellor for Budget and Finance Elizabeth Frueh said, “This increased flexibility and autonomy for the UW System is both a positive development and one reason why evaluating the effect of the Governor’s budget proposal on UW-River Falls is more difficult than in past bienniums.”

The proposal is harder to pass because, typically, when the state gives the UW System money, it is for a particular purpose.  The unknown of where state money will be going is an issue for some politicians who want to see it be put to good use.

For instance, State Senator Sheila Harsdorf said that she supports the flexible spending option, but she also wants the UW System to be accountable to where they are spending the money.

Harsdorf supports this budget, and is very interested to start receiving feedback from campuses, including UWRF, on how it will impact them.

Even with this silver lining peaking around the corner for the UW System’s budget, the gray cloud caused by Gov. Walker’s initial budget cut to the UW System still lingers.

“[The amount is] just over half of what he cut out of the system budget a biennium ago and we’ve certainly had inflation, as gas prices have indicated,” Leichtle said.  “It’s going to help. It is certainly better than another cut, but I guess there’s a part of me, that I’m not sure I want to be cheering all over the place with it.”

“We have to look in the context of the various areas of funding and one of the things that continues to be a focus of this legislature is to pass a fiscally responsible budget, but also one that increases job growth,” Harsdorf said about the cuts.

With this increase to the UW System, she said, she hopes the skill gap that is still prevalent can continue to be filled.

This skill gap refers to the demand for workers to fill jobs that require skills that people are not necessarily trained for, like manufacturing jobs.

Leichtle said the he disagrees with using public education as a means to train people for jobs since the job market is always changing.

“We really do it as service to train you to do something, to train you to do a job when in 20 years, in 10 years, that job may not exist,” Leichtle said. “We need to look at training you, not just for a job but as citizens.”

These differences of opinion will be discussed at different forums during the legislative process.

This budget increase does not include the faculty pay plan that has yet to be proposed by the governor. It is also uncertain if tuition will be increasing, Frueh said in an email.