Democrats want free tech school tuition, while Republicans give option to raise it

By Mitch Reynolds, WIZM News

Tech schools in Wisconsin would still be able to raise tuition after a move by state lawmakers Thursday.

The legislature's budget writing committee tossed out Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's plan to freeze tuition at the state tech school campuses.

Democratic lawmakers were trying to add free tuition to technical schools altogether.

In budget hearings Thursday, Democrats argued for what Sen. Lena Taylor calls, "an investment" in the state's work force. One that would return $7 to the economy for every $1 invested.

"There is no better investment," Taylor argued. "This isn't a risky investment. This is the smartest investment we could ever make."

Democratic state rep. Katrina Shankland was also advocating for free tuition.

"I think it's important," she said, "to recognize for many people, technical college alone is out of reach, because of their comments, because of the rising costs in child care, because of the rising costs in general - and low wages, frankly."

Republicans say tuition at the tech campuses is cheap enough already and doesn't need to be frozen or free. They say the plan is unrealistic.

While the proposal would cost hundreds of millions of dollars per year, Democrats like Taylor argued that could be easily paid for by simply ending a manufacturing tax credit that largely benefits the wealthy.

"If we really care about giving access to education," Shankland said, "I think we need to follow the lead of states like Tennessee, which reduces barriers for working families and adults to actually get an education."

Undergraduate tuition has been held in place at the University of Wisconsin System since 2013.