Higher education funding formula under microscope
Nevada lawmakers began drilling into the details Friday of a new funding formula for higher education that will send more money to campuses in southern Nevada at the expense of the northern and rural areas.Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed $472 million a year for the Nevada System of Higher Education, the same as existing spending levels. But how that money is divvied up is creating angst among institutions that will lose money, especially community colleges.The governor’s recommendation is about $210 million a year less than funding approved by lawmakers in 2009 before the recession.Under a plan approved by the Board of Regents, funding will be based on how many class credits students complete. For University of Nevada, Reno and community colleges in northern Nevada, the shift will mean a loss of around $13 million that will go to schools in southern Nevada.“We recognize this may not be a perfect model … but we believe it represents a huge step forward,” Dan Klaich, chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education, told members of a Senate and Assembly subcommittee.“We come here with a broad support for this revision of the funding formula even though we’ll be talking about some significant differences,” he said.But Klaich’s pronouncement that the plan is acceptable to Nevada’s eight institutions of higher learning was met with skepticism from Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas.“Is there truly agreement among the higher institutions?” he asked. “I keep hearing that is not the case.”Klaich responded, “I believe there is, but I will tell you I don’t think anyone is thrilled.”Regents and an interim legislative committee had recommended about $20 million to “hold harmless” for two years the budgets of campuses that will lose money to give them time to adjust to the cuts.Sandoval has recommended just $1 million a year, to be prorated between Great Basin College and Western Nevada College. Those schools have campuses in rural northern communities.Assemblyman Randy Kirner, R-Incline Village, asked whether two years would be enough time for campuses to adapt.Roberson also questioned whether the budget proposal reflects the state’s goal of tying education to efforts to attract new business.“We’re trying to diversify the economy, align economic development with our research institutions,” he said, adding there are concerns “we’re not being aggressive enough I moving money to our research institutions.”But Klaich said that would mean even less money for other schools, given the governor’s criteria to hold the line on new spending.“If you shift more money to research, it would come out of the hide of community colleges and state college,” Klaich said.Bob Clifford, chairman of Restore Our College Campus Committee in Fallon, presented lawmakers with a resolution from Churchill County commissioners urging them not to make any more cuts to Western Nevada College, which has a campus in Fallon.John Carpenter, a former assemblyman from Elko, made a similar plea.“I ask the committee to pass a funding bill which holds the community colleges harmless for the next biennium,” Carpenter said, suggesting the Legislature should consider establishing a separate higher education system for rural areas.“The counties of Lincoln, Mineral, Esmeralda and Pershing have no presence of higher education,” he said. “The campus at Fallon has been decimated with budget cuts over the last few years.“With a hold harmless situation, during the next two years, it gives us time and opportunity to plan for the rural system,” he said.