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Wisconsin Covenant proponents hope for replacement

Gov. Scott Walker's budget will end program, but continue to aid students who signed pledges

Mar. 7, 2011
 

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Proponents of the Wisconsin Covenant program are pleased with Gov. Scott Walker's plan for the state to fulfill its commitment to students enrolled.

But with the program ending under the proposed budget with this year's eighth-graders, educators and those involved in Wisconsin Covenant hope to see a replacement program that meets its goals.

Walker said Tuesday the state would provide financial assistance and place in a Wisconsin college the 71,000 students who signed a pledge in eighth grade to maintain a B grade average and stay out of trouble.

However, under the proposed budget, the offer will end with eighth-graders who sign the pledge before Sept. 30. The move will prevent cuts to need-based financial aid and consolidate resources, according to Walker's administration.

"You just have to consolidate some of those programs moving forward," said Cullen Werwie, Walker's spokesman. "Obviously you have to prioritize spending. He was able to keep the current level of financial aid and assistance funding."

The first students enrolled in the program, which was crafted by former Gov. Jim Doyle and implemented in 2007, will begin college this fall.

"The good news is the program continues for the students that are already in it and those who sign up this fall," said University of Wisconsin System spokesman David Giroux. "The bad news is I think it creates a gap, and that's in our precollege pipeline, which we do need to address."

Students from low-income families are targeted for the most aid under the covenant, which sets aside $25 million annually to prepare students while they're still in middle school.

If students meet the pledge requirements upon high school graduation, they're guaranteed a place in a UW System college or one of the state's private or technical colleges.

The program's emphasis on nurturing college aspirations and preparing students before high school is an essential function that will need to be addressed by the state, Giroux said.

"We need something that does that. Whether it's the covenant or something else, sometime in the future, we as a state need to make some commitment, some concerted, coordinated effort to support that," Giroux said. "We as a state do not have enough college-educated workers to compete in today's knowledge economy."

Molly Vidal, interim-director of the Wisconsin Covenant Foundation —the nonprofit public charity that administers the program — predicted the program would continue through its partners, which include Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. and other businesses and philanthropists.

"This doesn't mean somewhere down the line the Wisconsin Covenant partners will stop supporting students and preparing them for college," Vidal said. "The essence of the Wisconsin Covenant is going to continue forward."

UW-Green Bay Chancellor Thomas Harden doesn't know how many of the school's students will be supported by the covenant, but he could see it affecting some students' decisions to attend in the future.

"Some of them will choose perhaps not to come as a result," Harden said. "The Wisconsin Covenant was one (program) that might have made the difference in some cases."

UW-Green Bay's Phuture Phoenix program, which began in 2002 and was used by former-Gov. Jim Doyle as a model for the Wisconsin Covenant program, will continue to offer scholarships to students who attend UW-Green Bay, with an emphasis on low-income families.

Read the state budget summary

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