WMC, Business Groups AWOL on Higher Ed Bills

April 11, 2016

For all their talk about wanting a more educated workforce, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) and other business groups were oddly silent on bills related to this in the last session.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker recently signed into law a handful of bills to modestly increase financial aid to technical college and university students and have the state coordinate job training programs between schools and employers.

The measures, which were pushed by Walker since January, were passed in March on mostly partisan votes by the GOP-controlled Assembly and Senate. Democrats and other critics said the proposals flunked when it came to providing remedies to the real problems facing higher education – affordability and mounting student debt.

Act 281 increases grants to technical college students by $1 million in 2015-17; Act 282 provides $450,000 in emergency grants to technical college and University of Wisconsin students in 2016-17; Act 283 requires the Department of Workforce Development to coordinate internship programs between businesses and universities and technical schools; and Act 284 requires higher educational institutions to provide students with cost and financial aid information.

Few special interests lobbied on the bills. Some education groups generally supported the proposals and a handful of unions generally opposed them. But curiously absent from the mix of special interest groups that lobbied on the bills were business organizations, like the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization. WMC has complained that an increasing amount of the state’s workforce is not adequately educated or trained for the job market.

Coinciding with its complaint about the workforce is a long-term push by WMC and other special interests to oppose tax increases to pay for education, as well as supporting state budgets and legislative proposals that have slashed state spending on higher education and public schools.