One of the Joint Legislative Council Study Committees that is meeting this summer is looking at the funding and governance of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS).
How the system is funded and its governance structure have long been the subject of debate in Wisconsin, and I’m glad this study committee is meeting to take a close and methodical look at the issue.
Specifically, this committee is directed to “review the current governance model of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) in the interest of transferring governance responsibilities of local district boards to the state WTCS Board and examine the current funding model for the WTCS with a preference toward reassigning current local property tax revenue to a broader state tax source.”
The committee met at the end of July and heard from The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, the Wisconsin Realtors Association, the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce, the WTCS, WEAC and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. The committee also received information from Legislative Council attorney on the history, funding and governance of the WTCS.
Wisconsin was the first state in the nation, in 1911, to establish a system of state support for industrial education.
As defined in statute, the WTCS has two main purposes. First, to provide occupational education and training and retraining programs that enable residents to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment at a technical, paraprofessional, skilled, or semiskilled occupation. This includes general education courses to facilitate student achievement in occupational skills training.
Second, to provide customized training and technical assistance to business and industry in order to foster economic development and the expansion of employment opportunities.
The WTCS is governed by a board made up of the superintendent of public instruction, the president of the UW System, the secretary of the Department of Workforce Development, one employer, one employee who does not have hiring or firing authority, one farmer and one student. There are also an additional six public members.
Each technical college is also governed by its own board comprised of two employers, two employees, one school district administrator, one state or local elected official and three additional members.
Technical colleges are funded through a mix of state aid, property taxes, federal aid and student tuition and fees. There were a number of changes made to the funding mechanism during the last state budget. In addition to that, a portion of the state surplus ($406 million) was directed to the WTCS in the last session, reducing the system’s dependence on property taxes in 2014-15.
One of the concerns that has been raised over the years has been the system’s reliance on property taxes for revenue and how that contributes to the state’s property tax burden.
The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance shared information with the committee about Wisconsin’s tax system compared to other states and cautioned that changes to how one tax is used, like the property tax, need to be considered as a part of the state’s overall tax system. The Wisconsin Realtors Association also voiced concern about property taxes and the impact the tax burden has on individuals and businesses in the state.
The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce spoke more to the issue of governance than funding mechanism. They explained that the local decision-making authority of the technical college boards around the state allows them to be responsive to employers in their area and tailor training programs to meet specific needs.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce also spoke about the need to keep the technical college system focused on local economic development needs.