Last week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that for the first time the state’s corrections budget was larger than the state’s allocation to the University of Wisconsin System. In 2011, the state spent $2.25 billion on prisons and correctional facilities and nearly $2.1 billion on UW System.
Historically, higher education has placed in the top three of spending categories behind K-12 education and medical assistance. Because UW System receives outside funding in the form and grants and contributions and can raise fees (tuition), it is often a target of spending cuts. Last year, the university was forced to take more than a $250 biennial budget cut and a $66 million lapse cut. The corrections budget has grown as the state’s prison population has grown. 22,000 inmates are currently incarcerated in Wisconsin — more than triple the number incarcerated in 1990, and more than twice that of the Minnesota prison population.
UW System President Kevin Reilly told the Journal Sentinel that the state has an obligation to educate the state’s workforce and the university cannot meet the needs of the state if budget trends continue:
Elected officials . . . are going to have to make a decision on what’s the priority of higher education.