Just how much has the UW System lost since 2011?

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Mostly True

Cuts made in 2011 to the University of Wisconsin System and tuition freezes have made higher education funding a topic of debate between the two political parties, and 2016 is no different.

In an Oct. 5 speech to the UW-La Crosse Student Association, state Sen. Jennifer Shilling expressed concern about cuts to higher education in Wisconsin. The incumbent Democrat is facing a challenge from former Republican state Sen. Dan Kapanke.

“I worry about the state of our university,” Shilling said. “Since 2011, $250 million have been cut from the UW system with an additional $11 million to (UW-La Crosse).”

In a phone interview with Shilling’s communications director, Tony Palese, he clarified that the senator was referring to cuts that occurred after 2011 and not during.

That is an important distinction because in 2011, the UW System faced a $250 million cut over two years — which if added with cuts taken after 2011 would have been significantly higher than Shilling’s figure.

To fact check Shilling’s claim, The Observatory investigated post-2011 cuts to the UW System and UW-La Crosse.

In 2015, Walker proposed a $300 million cut to the UW System in the biennial budget. Ultimately, the state Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee voted to cut $250 million and end tenure protections.

The previous biennium, in 2013, the Legislature had enacted more than $100 million in cuts after discovering the System was maintaining large tuition revenue balances. According to University Relations, the UW System will have sustained $362 million in cuts for fiscal years 2012-17.

Despite all the cuts in state funding, the UW System’s total budget actually has increased since 2011. The total budget for fiscal year 2011-12 was about $5.6 billion, compared to the $6.2 billion total budget for fiscal year 2016-17. This comes from an increase in revenue from tuition, private gifts, federal grants and other sources.

Shilling’s claim regarding the $11 million cut to the UW-La Crosse actually is a bit low. Over the two-year period, UW-La Crosse is facing a $12.7 million loss in state funding.

To review, the dollar amount of state funding cuts to both UW-La Crosse and the UW System are actually higher than Shilling claimed. Her underestimate notwithstanding, Shilling’s claim that UW schools are facing budget cuts is accurate. And although the numbers are off, Schilling’s point is that the UW System has faced steep cuts, a fact which the numbers still support.

Due to this discrepancy, The Observatory rates her statement at mostly true.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, UW System shoulders biggest share of new budget cuts, Dec. 23, 2011.
Wisconsin State Journal, Scott Walker calls for extending UW tuition freeze in next state budget, Aug. 2, 2016.
The Racquet, State Senator Jennifer Shilling visits UWL Student Association, Oct. 8, 2016.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Cuts at UW System among nation’s largest, study says, Jan. 24, 2012.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Scott Walker budget cut sparks sharp debate on UW System, Jan. 28, 2015.
Wisconsin Public Radio, Budget Committee Passes $250M Cut to UW System, May 29, 2015.
UW System Budget office, 2011-12 Operating Budget, July 14, 2011.
UW System Budget office, 2016-17 Operating Budget, June 9, 2016.
La Crosse Tribune, La Crosse to see $768,000 in restored state funding, least in UW System, July 7, 2015.
Legislative Fiscal Bureau, GPR Base Budget Reduction, May 27, 2015.

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