ITT

Kirk Crawford, top, and Dan Yoder remove the sign in front of ITT Technical Institute's Madison campus on Rimrock Road after the for-profit college chain shut down last fall.

JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL

Members of the board that directs oversight of for-profit colleges in Wisconsin still have reservations about a provision in the state budget that would eliminate their office, but they said lawmakers improved the proposal by retaining the agency’s employees.

So despite lingering concerns that the plan to shift the Educational Approval Board into the Department of Safety and Professional Services could lead to less robust regulation of for-profit schools, the board voted Tuesday to support the Joint Finance Committee’s changes to the proposal.

That was in part because they saw few opportunities to change the provision further as that section of the budget moves to the full Legislature.

“Unfortunately, I think the fight is over,” board chairman Don Madelung said. “I know the political reality.”

Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 budget plan called for moving the EAB’s responsibilities for licensing and regulating for-profit schools, as well as its six-and-a-half full-time staff positions, to DSPS. That department’s secretary would become responsible for directing the agency’s work under Walker’s proposal, and the seven-member board that manages it would be eliminated by January 2018.

Lawmakers rejected a similar Walker proposal in 2015 that would have consolidated the work of the EAB’s employees into a single part-time position.

The finance committee amended Walker’s latest proposal last month to specify that the EAB’s staffers would be retained. The governor’s budget left open the possibility those employees might not be re-hired at DSPS, which board members worried could cost the agency valuable experience in regulating schools. Madelung and others said the change represented a win.

The committee kept in place Walker’s proposal to ultimately shut down the board that directs those staffers, though it delayed the end of the board until July 2018.

Board member Jo Oyama-Miller said she was concerned the EAB’s functions could “get lost” if it is folded into DSPS’s other licensing services, and asked that members lobby lawmakers to keep the board in place permanently.

“I don’t know that there is really an efficiency of governance by this transfer,” Oyama-Miller said. “I don’t believe our institutions and our students are protected in the same way.”

Other members shared her concern. But Madelung and board executive secretary David Dies noted the finance committee’s vote on the budget amendment was unanimous, saying that’s an indication it would be hard to convince lawmakers to change the proposal again.

“This is probably the best outcome” the EAB could have gotten, board member Mark Kapocius said.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.