Tackle big idea about education

Leaders from across the state — across businesses, governments and educational systems — will assemble this week to talk about the future of Wisconsin education.

Long-term changes in demographics and technologies and challenges in the recent past, including the Great Recession, levy limits and state funding cuts inspired a series of nonpartisan forums which will take place in Wausau and near Appleton this week.

“It’s all that stuff boiling up, and no one’s asking these big questions around the state. The last time it was done was 1969,” said Noel Radomski one of the forum organizers and a researcher with the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Why do that now? Because no one else is doing it,” he said.

In the late 1960s then-Gov. Warren Knowles formed a commission on education that ultimately led to the consolidation of the University of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State University Systems, Radomski said.

Gov. Scott Walker’s current budget proposal, with $300 million in cuts to the UW System over the next two years, intensified the need for stakeholders to consider the future of the system, he said.

“This is not the university mounting some kind of campaign. We just felt as though, rather than put major policy items in the budget bill, that the state should be having conversations to address some of these questions more fully,” said Linda Ware, a board member for the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service and board president for the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters — both nonpartisan entities.

Those organizations, the Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education and Wisconsin League of Women Voters are sponsoring the forums. The Wausau forum will take place at the Jefferson Street Inn from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m on Thursday.

Organizers invited business leaders, government officials and representatives from education spheres including K12, technical colleges and the UW System.

The event is open to members of the public who sign up in advance. Interested people must register by 10 a.m. Monday by calling Connie Nikolai at 715-261-6368 or emailing connie.nikolai@uwc.edu.

Daily Herald Media will stream all or part of the event at WausauDailyHerald.com.

“We will share a summary of what has emerged and try to encourage continuing civil discourse on this that is not highly polarized,” Ware said.

Future forums will be scheduled near Milwaukee, Madison and other parts of the state.

Nora G. Hertel can be reached at 715-845-0665. Find her on Twitter as @nghertel.