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Race-based higher education programs face potential changes, new bill proposes

If Senate Bill 596 passes, it would ban admissions and financial aid programs from using race, gender and sexual orientation when defining what is considered “disadvantaged.”
Wisconsin State Capitol
Posted at 9:56 AM, Feb 01, 2024

MADISON — Wisconsin state legislators are looking at a Republican-led bill that could change how colleges and universities address race-based matters.

“This bill that we have is hopefully to turn the ship a little bit “… Back to a more noble effort of trying to be race-neutral, colorblind and focusing more on individual merit and achievement,” said Sen. Eric Wimburger, (R) 30th District.

If it passes, it would ban admissions and financial aid programs from using race, gender, and sexual orientation when defining what is considered “disadvantaged.”

“The way the criteria is set up now, you're pitting individuals against each other,” said Rep. Nik Rettinger, (R) 83rd District.

This comes less than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that universities can’t use race in the admissions process.

While it didn’t directly address or apply to financial aid, it has been brought up as a way to justify eliminating it there as well.

“To reaffirm and re-entrench all of the fundamental principles of racism by talking about how one person deserves one thing or another, based on their race, will never solve the problem,” said Sen. Wimburger.

Some lawmakers see the move as underlining the policy decisions that have disenfranchised different groups throughout history.

“What should we do to address it, if not having educational opportunity and funding be available for people who have been discriminated against, not just because of their wealth but because of their race?” said Sen. Kelda Roys, (D) 26th District.

Those in favor, like the bill’s sponsor Rep. Nik Rettinger of Mukwonago, say the current structure isolates and discourages people from trying and makes it harder to find common ground.

“By eliminating race as a factor in admissions and aid programs, we would actually align with the principles of equality and fairness,” said Rep. Rettinger.

Right now, the bill sits in the state Senate’s Universities and Revenue Committee.

While more discussions are expected to take place in the coming weeks and months, if it makes it to Gov. Evers’ desk, he is expected to veto it.