By Jack Tierney, The Advance-Titan
The United Faculty and Staff of Oshkosh partnered with UW Oshkosh College Democrats to host a Town Hall with state representatives Gordon Hintz (D–Oshkosh) and Katrina Shankland (D–Stevens Point).
Shankland has proposed a six-part “Reaching Higher for Higher Education” legislative bill package that funds higher education while maintaining the tuition freeze.
“I think [the package] is different than what we have seen in the past 10 years,” she said. “It’s a forward-looking package that shows us how we can invest while being sustainable and without asking too much.”
Bill One prohibits the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System from placing a limitation on the amount charged for resident undergraduate tuition unless the limitation is offset by a corresponding increase in the amount of general purpose revenues given to the Board of Regents.
“It’s important to note that the cost of education has not astronomically risen as people want to note,” she said. “It’s been relatively similar. It’s who pays for it that is different.”
Shankland said this portion of the bill relates to state investment that matches state investment of the 1960s and ‘70s that contributed 60% of taxpayer dollars to higher education.
She said what is being invested now depends on the university, but is close to 13, 14 or 15%, which means students have to fund a greater percentage of their tuition costs that are not being supported or funded by the state.
“In the ‘60s and ‘70s, the people who said, ‘Oh when I was your age I went to school and I paid $350 in tuition,’ you know who was paying the rest in tuition? It was the state of Wisconsin,” she said. “They weren’t paying as tuition; they were paying as state investment. We’re going to make it so that taxpayers pay the exact amount that they paid in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” if her bill is approved.
A second part of the bill package is the “Blue Ribbon Commission,” which is a 19-member commission with representation from the president of the UW System, faculty and academic staff and students from UW System schools, one chosen higher education expert, one workforce development expert and four legislators.
The commission would be tasked with studying the UW System and facilitating discussion of a public agenda for higher education, setting long-term goals and priorities for higher education and finding plans for accessibility and affordability of higher education.
Hintz did not have a bill package to showcase, but he did support Shanklands’. Hintz also expressed support for the UW System and said he is doing everything he can to advocate for investment in higher education.
Hintz said he was disappointed in Gov. Tony Evers for not generating the tuition funding that Hintz thought Evers could have gotten with better negotiating.
Shankland mentioned that investing in the UW System is investing in the state and an investment that has proven to pay off.
“For every $1 we invest, we see $23 in return,” she said.
People who filled the Reeve Memorial Union ballroom 307 to capacity expressed concerns for advocacy in the UW System when the question and answer portion of the Town Hall occurred.
One faculty member who said he was a member of the United Faculty and Staff of Oshkosh said that faculty members are trying to keep the morale of faculty at UWO out of classroom discussions.
He said by doing that, support of the UW System is not being recognized.
He said the current students do not know about the morale of faculty that he said has left him upset when he sees empty offices, and alumni haven’t shown much interest and the general public has been pulled by Marquette University as saying investing in the UW System is one of the lowest priorities they have for state investment.
Shankland was the first to grab the microphone between her and Hintz and immediately responded.
“At the end of the day, as lawmakers, it is not enough to just pass a budget and put out bills that our constituents want,” Shankland said. “I think it is policy makers who are failing and I think it is incumbent on us to fix it and if we are not willing to commit to at least conversations and modest investments in our technical colleges and university system while showing students and student teachers we value them and are willing to make higher education more affordable for them, then we shouldn’t be in office period. It’s simple. ”