Employees of the small state agency that regulates Wisconsin’s for-profit colleges will find out over the next month whether they will stay with their office as it moves under another department, or if they will be laid off in favor of new employees.
The uncertainty at the soon-to-be-eliminated Educational Approval Board is a result of Gov. Scott Walker’s partial vetoes of the state budget he signed Thursday.
The governor’s changes shortened the time frame for moving the board’s work into the Department of Safety and Professional Services from several months to a few days.
The 2017-19 budget passed by the Legislature called for shifting the EAB’s authority for authorizing for-profit colleges — and its equivalent of 6.5 full-time staff positions — to DSPS on Jan. 1, 2018, while retaining the agency’s governing board through July. Officials from both agencies have been working for months on the transition.
Walker vetoed budget language keeping the governing board intact through the transition, meaning the board will be eliminated immediately.
He also removed language, which was inserted by the Legislature, that would have guaranteed EAB staffers stay in their jobs once DSPS takes over.
As a result, DSPS will assume the board’s duties on Monday, said David Dies, the board’s executive director.
The agency’s staff members — who work at the governing board’s direction — learned Thursday afternoon that they will receive layoff notices on Monday, and will have up to 30 days of pay and benefits while department officials decide who will fill the new roles at DSPS, Dies said.
“We will have to compete for the positions,” he said.
Walker wrote in a veto message that the department needs flexibility in its staffing decisions; a spokesman for the governor referred questions about the board’s future to DSPS.
Department spokeswoman Nicole Anspach said officials are working “as quickly as possible” to fill their new regulatory positions.
“If current EAB employees choose to apply for the new positions, their expertise and experience will be of great benefit and would be weighed heavily in the recruitment process,” Anspach said. “Ensuring a continuation of oversight and a smooth transition of responsibilities is a top priority for our department.”
EAB officials have warned that laying off the board’s staffers risks losing their specialized knowledge of the industry and ultimately weakening oversight of for-profit institutions. The change comes as higher education experts expect the Trump administration to relax what had been mounting federal scrutiny of for-profit colleges under Barack Obama.