Established with great fanfare in 2007 by Gov. Jim Doyle, it was a pact between eighth-graders and the state.
In return, the state promised to give them a spot in a state public or private university or a state technical college and a financial aid package — grants, loans and work study — based on their family’s need, to pay for it.
Eighth-graders did sign up — and more than 20,000 have completed the program. But the Wisconsin Covenant was phased out, starting with Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-13 budget. The 2010-11 group of eighthgraders — this year’s seniors — were the last class to be allowed to sign up.
While it may be logical to blame Walker and the Legislature at the time for ending the program, the bigger share of the blame belongs to Doyle.
He made a promise he couldn’t keep — and had no idea if the state could keep.
The problem started with the initial cost. There wasn’t one, beyond the $360,000 to set up the office. Doyle estimated the price at $10 million a year but admitted it would be up to future Legislatures to pay for it.
At the time, we wrote: ‘‘There is no guarantee $10 million is the right figure. No one knows for sure. There is no guarantee how much extra financial help these ‘Covenant Scholars’ will get, compared to what they might get anyway. The Wisconsin Covenant, at this point, can make no guarantee about anything. But eighth-graders are going to sign up because ‘Gov. Doyle promised me I can go to college.’’’ In 2010, Doyle angered many parents when he announced that students of families making more than $80,000 would only receive $250 grants, as a way to make the now-$25 million yearly budget work.
Then came Walker’s election, followed by the Covenant’s dismantling.
At least the state will see through the program for all the kids who signed the pledge. But Doyle was irresponsible in making a commitment he didn’t have the power to keep.
As we wrote in 2011, with news of its demise, the Wisconsin Covenant was an empty promise from the start.
— Post-Crescent, Appleton