Blackhawk Technical College funding could change

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Nick Crow
Saturday, February 8, 2014

JANESVILLE — Blackhawk Technical College receives 53 percent of its $30 million budget through local property taxes. If Gov. Scott Walker's tax proposal is approved, that amount would drop to 21 percent.

BTC President Tom Eckert said he likes to see less of a burden placed on taxpayers.

“We like to see taxpayer relief that could make it more even between local support, state support and tuition," Eckert said. "Those are our three major funding sources.”

In his recent State of the State address, Walker proposed cutting technical college property taxes by 89 cents per $1,000 of accessed value. The move would save an average of $101 on a $151,000 home. The cuts would eliminate more than $406 million in property taxes statewide.

Technical colleges receive around $800 million in property taxes from Wisconsin residents.

In addition to the 53 percent from property taxes, BTC receives 13 percent from the state, 27 percent from tuition, 4 percent from federal grants and 3 percent from institutional revenue. The new plan would decrease property tax revenue to 21 percent and increase state aid to 45 percent. Other revenue streams would remain unchanged.

“Clearly this is not an increase in funding for the college,” Eckert said. “This is a dollar-for-dollar swap. We are very happy with the relief for local taxpayers and understand that the proposal still requires approval from the Assembly and the Senate.”

Eckert said there are no advantages or disadvantages to the governor's plan for BTC. The main advantage is the relief it brings taxpayers, he said.

The property tax cuts would not limit BTC's spending, Eckert said.

Critics of technical colleges say the schools are too sheltered from taxpayers partly because their boards are appointed and not elected. Eckert said that BTC being funded more by the state won't affect the school's transparency.

"Technical college boards are not insulated," Eckert said. "In fact, the meetings are open to the public, the agendas are posted online, and minutes are made available to anyone who would like a copy. Technical college board members are appointed by elected officials who carefully vet those who apply. Members volunteer their time because they have a deep belief in technical college education and serving the citizens of the district.”

Wisconsin has 16 technical colleges serving more than 380,000 students. BTC's main mission is toward workforce development, Eckert said.

“We have long sought greater equity between local and state investments,” said Wisconsin Technical College System President Morna Foy in a press release. “The governor's proposal brings better balance to the system's funding structure.”

Lawmakers in Madison also will consider Walker's proposed spending of $35 million to help technical colleges train people in fields that are in high-demand, to develop work programs for people with developmental disabilities and to help high school students get training through dual-enrollment programs.

“Our programs evolve constantly,” Eckert said. “The majority of our students stay within our borders and are never more than a county away in any direction.”

Eckert said advancing the school's training in areas such as welding,  police dispatch and computer technology would benefit from additional funding.

“It's really about opening up capacity,” Eckert said. “There are lots of places to expand capacity. That's what we're looking at.”

Eckert said he was unsure how exactly the funds would be split between the state's technical colleges.

“We will look to create additional capacity in a number of our programs so we can offer more space and opportunities for students,” Eckert said. "The details and particular programs are not yet finalized. More details in terms of what restrictions and the specifics to guide this money and the actual amounts to be distributed are not available at this point. However, capacity building will be our goal.”

According to an Associated Press report, both of Walker's proposals found widespread support during a legislative hearing Tuesday.

“It's a nice thing,” Eckert said. “I'm glad to hear that it went well. That's very encouraging.”

No one testified against Walker's workforce development proposal and the state Assembly and Senate could vote on it as early as next week.

“The idea is to take those funds to the DWD (Department of Workforce Development), and they will be looking at how to expend that money,” Eckert said. “We will partner with them in some capacity.”

Eckert said he anticipates both plans coming to fruition sooner rather than later.

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