Nevada must restore university budgets to get education stimulus cash | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada must restore university budgets to get education stimulus cash

Unless lawmakers find a way to restore most of the governor’s cuts to higher education, the state probably can’t qualify for any of the education funding in the federal stimulus package.

The stimulus contains a total of $395 million in education funding for K-12 education and the university system in Nevada. But to get that money, the state has to meet “maintenance of effort” requirements that say its funding for education must be at least as much as it was in fiscal 2006.

Superintendent of Education Keith Rheault said Friday the governor’s proposed K-12 budget meets that requirement. It contains $2.22 billion in fiscal 2010 and $2.25 billion in 2011, well above the $1.89 billion budgeted in 2006.

But Budget Director Andrew Clinger said the proposed System of Higher Education budget for the coming biennium is more than $130 million a year short of what it was in 2006.

And the stimulus bill ties K-12 and the university system together for that pot of money.

Gibbons cut state funding to the university system by 35.9 percent in his proposed budget ” more than $400 million. The stimulus would make the state restore more than half of that to qualify for any of the education funding.

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, said that means putting $265 million back into university system budgets.

“Obviously the Legislature has to come up with solutions,” she said. “But regardless of the stimulus, we couldn’t cut UNR, UNLV and the other colleges by that level.”

She added that having to spend $265 million to get $395 million means education’s net profit from the stimulus is $140 million in one-time cash.

“The governor proposed to decimate and dismantle the higher education system,” said Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. 

He said not only do lawmakers in both parties and citizens disagree with what Gov. Jim Gibbons did to higher education budgets, “Congress disagrees that we should de-invest in higher education.”

“We will have to find a solution to fund higher education at those 2006 levels,” he said.

Assembly Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, R-Reno, said higher education took the biggest cut of any part of the budget.

“So it seems reasonable to me that we would need to replace that money,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said the state will “have to get it from somewhere.”

If not, he said another possible solution is language in the stimulus allowing states to seek a waiver.

“My initial thought is we should be applying for a waiver,” he said.

But Raggio admitted the language is designed to make that waiver difficult to obtain.

If the state can get the education money, Rheault said, it would be divided proportionally between K-12 and higher education.

Horsford pointed out, however, that because the stimulus is one-time funding, it just puts off the difficult choices for funding education.

“It creates a revenue problem for us two years from now,” he said.

Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.