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Senator: Higher ed budget cuts could spark backlash
by Associated Press
Mar 03, 2011 | 1451 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval’s call to roll back public university funding faced sharp criticism Thursday as legislative money committees reviewed budgets for Nevada’s cash-strapped higher education system.

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich said the proposed cuts could discourage private philanthropy at the schools, while Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, framed the budget situation of community colleges as a civil rights issue and said cuts could spark public backlash.

He told legislators that Nevadans turned away or priced out of the College of Southern Nevada would soon turn to the streets in protest “as they did in Egypt.”

“This is a gross example of discrimination,” Lee said, citing CSN’s high minority population and low per-pupil funding. “This is totally wrong what we’re doing.”

The governor’s budget also would continue a 9 percent property tax diversion in Washoe and Clark counties, a provision scheduled to sunset June 30. The property tax money goes directly to colleges and universities in the county where it originated.

Sandoval has recommended using the funds only for the universities, but the Board of Regents will have the authority to apply the money to community colleges as well.

Andrew Clinger, the governor’s budget director, said staff considered diverting property tax from the other 15 counties too, but decided to hold back in light of the many other programs the budget will shift to those counties.

“We’re simply continuing the same models,” Clinger said. “We didn’t want to push down any more than they could handle.”

But some senators said mining-rich rural counties are getting a free ride while the larger counties unfairly shoulder the budgetary burden.

“If higher education is good for everyone, all counties should participate,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas.

Klaich said he worried that when property tax revenue recovered, the state would pull back even more general fund money and let the property tax fill the gap. If the state invests less in the core services of the schools, he said, private donors would likely pull back the investments they make to specific projects and programs.

Donors, he said, contribute “because they want to provide margins of excellence to what the state already provides,” Klaich said. “Private philanthropy is a measure of confidence.”

But Klaich added that regardless of cuts, the system was committed to an aggressive reform plan that includes moving to a “market-based” fee structure, reforming curriculum, pushing students to graduate in a timely fashion, and aligning programs more closely with the needs of the business community.

The system has been criticized for its low graduation rates.

“We’re not holding these reforms hostage,” Klaich said. “They will instill in you the trust and confidence that your tax dollars should be used in the Nevada System of Higher Education.”
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