By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Interim University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson said Tuesday that he’ll ask Gov. Tony Evers to include a nearly $100 million boost for the system in the next state budget as the coronavirus pandemic bleeds revenue from campuses.
A UW news release outlining the request makes no mention of the virus. The closest it comes is a sentence with Thompson acknowledging “unprecedented challenges.” Instead, the release lists a number of new initiatives Thompson wants to use the money to launch.
Chief among them is the Wisconsin Tuition Promise, a pledge to pay up to four years’ worth of tuition and fees at any system school for incoming state resident freshmen and transfer students whose families make $60,000 or less. The initiative is modeled after UW-Madison’s Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which covers tuition for resident freshmen and transfer students at the state’s flagship university.
The money also would go toward expanding and enhancing online courses, forgiving teachers’ student loans, providing stipends for student teachers, adding 20 county-based agriculture positions in the Division of
Extension at UW-Madison, and adding mental-health services for students.
Thompson also plans to ask Evers to give the system the ability to borrow money and reduce reporting requirements to the state by a third. He wants $1.2 billion in the state capital budget for renovations across the system as well.
The Board of Regents is scheduled to approve Thompson’s plan on Thursday. The request next would go to Evers for consideration as his administration crafts the 2021-23 executive budget.
The request is an ambitious one as the pandemic continues to crimp state revenue. Evers’ administration has projected a $2 billion shortfall in the 2021-23 budget.
UW has been struggling since Republicans froze tuition rates for in-state undergraduate students in 2013 and things have only gotten more dire since campuses closed in March as the pandemic took hold. System schools plan to reopen this fall with at least some in-person classes, but that may not be enough to them back into the black; UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said last week that her school expects to lose around $150 million this fall even if the full student body returns.
The system has already cut $49 million as part of a round of reductions that Evers ordered and directed employees to take furloughs. Earlier this month Thompson announced an additional $10 million in cuts. He plans to achieve those savings by laying off several dozen system administration employees, limiting out-of-state travel and supply purchases and eliminating several memberships and sponsorships.
About half of the $10 million saved would go toward a new scholarship for under-represented and under-served students beginning in the fall 2021 semester.