By ?SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker announced Monday he is creating a new council to help better prepare students for college and careers.
The move comes after Walker and the Legislature last year cut $71 million over two years from funding for Wisconsin’s technical colleges, whose primary mission is to train students for available jobs.
Democrats and others criticized that cut and a $250 million reduction in funding for the University of Wisconsin System as harmful to worker training efforts. Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature made the cuts as part of their plan to address a predicted $3.6 billion gap in the state budget.
Walker announced creation of the new council, which will include representatives from the technical colleges and public and private universities, along with his support for various other jobs-related proposals in the Legislature. Lawmakers return to work Jan. 17.
Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie said the budget passed last year, which forced public workers to pay more for their pension and health care benefits, gave technical colleges the tools needed to deal with the cuts. He defended the new proposal, which Walker unveiled during a visit to MCL Industries in Pulaski.
“This plan is a terrific example of the governor’s philosophy that government can do more without spending more,” Werwie said. He said the council was important because it will help align a diverse educational system around college and career readiness.
Messages left with leaders of the technical college and a UW System spokesman were not immediately returned.
The council also will include state Superintendent Tony Evers, secretaries from Walker’s cabinet and representatives from small businesses and the workforce.
Walker said in a statement that the council would work to improve student readiness for college and careers through a variety of measures, including designing shorter and less costly degree programs aimed at filling jobs that are in demand and expanding dual enrollment and dual credit opportunities for high school students.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, one of the Democrats considering running against Walker if enough signatures are gathered to trigger a recall election later this year, said he welcomed steps being taken to address worker training and had no objection to the governor’s proposal.
“But they pale in comparison to the damage that’s been done by the cuts to the vocational colleges and UW System,” Barca said.
Walker also threw his support behind a bill designed to make it easier for veterans and those in the military to receive professional credentials from the state and another measure that creates a pilot program to provide unpaid, part-time training with employers that may lead to full-time work.
The governor also directed the Department of Workforce Development and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to bring together unemployment insurance claimants with businesses looking to hire.
Walker said the Department of Workforce Development will double the number of job fairs it holds across the state to 100 this year in hopes of getting the unemployed into current vacancies.
The department also will hire 14 additional staff members who will be able to serve roughly an additional 400 job-seekers a week, Walker’s office said.
The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs will hold 14 job fairs in conjunction with DWD this year to help veterans and organize an employer educational seminar to lobby employers to hire veterans, Walker said.