Walker Wants To Invest Nearly $100M in Workforce

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by Associated Press

MADISON Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker said Sunday he wants to invest nearly $100 million in programs to develop the state’s workforce, including grants to train residents for high-demand professions and a requirement for nearly 76,000 on food stamps to enroll in job-training programs.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported ( http://bit.ly/VMKvag) Sunday that Walker’s plan would also fund a faster system to track jobs data and tie funding for technical schools and universities to filling high-demand jobs.

The proposals are part of the Republican’s 2013-2015 budget, which is to be announced Feb. 20. Some proposals will also be introduced as separate legislation Monday.

“Our goal is to help our state and our workers become among the most prosperous and innovative in the country,” Walker said in a statement Sunday. “The plan is designed to help workers get the skills necessary for jobs available across the state today.”

There is likely to be bipartisan support for many proposals, but some won’t placate Democrats, who have been critical of Walker’s higher-education cuts including roughly $300 million over two years to the University of Wisconsin system.

Budget committee member Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said Walker’s education and working-training cuts “widened our skills gap and resulted in waiting lists (at technical colleges) of up to three years in some high-demand professions.”

The governor’s sweeping proposal would take in millions in federal dollars to train people in high-demand fields such as welding, nursing and rural medicine, and it includes $7.4 million to expand the Medical College of Wisconsin to Green Bay and Wausau.

One idea that could be contentious would require able-bodied food stamp recipients who have no dependent children to enroll in job-training programs. Those who don’t would have limits placed on their benefits. The training would cost $17 million a year, and won’t directly save money on the federally funded food benefits, the newspaper reported.

“I want to provide a hand up, not a permanent handout. … We’re willing to put our money where our mouth is and say we’ll train you,” Walker told the Journal Sentinel in an interview.

Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee, was skeptical.

“There’s this huge bureaucracy to get people to do the work and make sure they’ve done it. It ends up costing more to mandate the work than the good you get. … You’re trying to take away people’s food to get them to get a job,” she said.

Other details of the governor’s plan include:

Starting in 2014, 10 percent of general state aid to technical colleges would be awarded based on job placement. By 2020, all state funds would be allocated on a performance basis.

Technical colleges would also see a $5 million increase in general state aid, bringing it to $88.5 million a year. That’s a 5.9 percent boost, but isn’t close to replacing cuts made in 2011, when funding dropped by 30 percent.

$20 million would be awarded to state universities for programs that help the economy, develop a skilled workforce and make higher education more affordable.

Put $4 million toward rural hospitals to receive national accreditation and take on medical residents.

$3 million over two years would help the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine expand training for doctors who will serve in rural areas and inner cities.

Provide $11.5 million over two years to expand testing in schools so teachers can identify students by the 11th grade who are ready for college or a career. By the fall of 2013, teachers would also screen students in 4-year-old kindergarten and first grade for reading readiness.

The legislation being introduced Monday would create an Office of Skills Development to coordinate job training and make sure it meets needs of employers. It also would include about $5 million to develop a system that would link unemployed workers to openings for which they are qualified. The Journal Sentinel reports that if the proposed system gets people back to work even a week sooner, it could save tens of millions of dollars.

Walker has struggled to meet his pledge to create 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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