Lawmakers Approve New Funding Formula For UW System Schools

Democrats Argue Change Will Deprive Schools Of Adequate Funding

By Laurel White, Wisconsin Public Radio

The state budget committee voted Wednesday to approve the formula for providing performance-based funding to University of Wisconsin System schools.

The 2017-19 state budget created a new performance-based funding category for UW System schools and set aside about $26 million to be awarded beginning this year. The formula will be used to determine which schools receive money and how much they receive.

"It’s about accountability," said Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam. "We should set up a system that can bring more accountability for the taxpayers and the families and the students of this system and I think this is a good starting point for that."

The UW System Board of Regents submitted the formula to the committee in February for approval. The board recommended using three-year averages to create baselines for data on things including the number of graduates in science and technology disciplines, the number of underrepresented students enrolled as undergraduates, and the average student debt upon graduation.

The committee approved 11-4 on a party line vote, with Republicans voting for and Democrats against.

During Wednesday’s committee hearing, Democrats pushed back on the performance-based funding concept.

"I really believe that performance-based funding, based on the research we have, isn’t an adequate and sustainable way to fund the university," Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said. "This seems to be a desperate attempt to hold control and actually not provide the funding they desperately need."

Taylor and other Democrats reminded committee members of the $250 million cut to the UW System in 2015.

"In my opinion, outcomes-based funding creates 'haves' and 'have nots,'" said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point.

Republicans argued the performance-based funding system is used in many other states and will continue to improve over time.

"It sets clear expectations from policy makers," said Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, who co-chairs the state budget committee. "It will also help taxpayers hold the UW System accountable and give students a better pathway to decide what school is best for them."

"This formula isn’t perfect, but the UW worked hard to develop a good formula that will reward institutions for making meaningful change and progress toward the state’s goals," he added.

The first set of performance based funding payments to schools will be made in the 2018-19 fiscal year, which begins in July.