Jim Wheeler: Vote for Question 1, reform higher education
As a staunch conservative, I take great pride in guarding the U.S. and Nevada constitutions. I do not think that constitutions should be lightly changed.
However, I’m joining other conservative and business leaders across Nevada and recommending a yes vote on Question 1, which enacts the Nevada Higher Education Reform, Accountability, and Oversight Amendment.
Ballot Question 1 restores accountability, transparency, and oversight to higher education by reinvigorating the original intent of the framers of the Nevada Constitution. Question 1 simply makes the Board of Regents a statutory body, subject to checks and balances—an important American principle.
The Board of Regents, not the governor or the Legislature, would control higher education under NRS 396.020. And despite false claims from the Regents, NRS 396.040 would still require the Board of Regents to be elected by the voters.
Ballot Question 1 passed the Nevada Legislature with near-unanimous bipartisan support from legislators representing all parts of the state in two sessions — 2017 and 2019. It passed with such near unanimous support for three big reasons: taxpayer accountability, lawsuits by the Board of Regents to negate the original intent of the framers, and the failure of the regents to wisely spend taxpayer dollars.
First, the Legislature does not have the tools to keep the Board of Regents accountable, as a practical matter, for the $1.2 billion it receives every two years from Nevada taxpayers.
For example, we learned that higher education bureaucrats conspired to mislead legislators about how the Board of Regents proposed to spend all of these taxpayer dollars. The Board of Regents rewarded the system official that misled the Legislature by paying out his entire contract, hundreds of thousands of dollars, as a golden parachute — with zero accountability and without admitting they misled the Legislature. Question 1 will give the people’s branch of government more opportunity to correct this malfeasance and mismanagement—and to hold system officials accountable like we can with every other state agency.
Second, legislative testimony and research revealed that the Board of Regents sued to negate the original intent of the framers and text of the Nevada Constitution. The Nevada Constitution states the Board of Regents was subject to laws passed by the people’s branch of government. And a delegate to the 1864 Nevada State Constitutional Convention, from Northern Nevada, got this language added so that the Board of Regents would not have “absolute control.”
But then the Board of Regents repeatedly sued to stop the people’s branch of government from holding them accountable. The Board of Regents even argued that they have “virtual autonomy” and “immunity” from the law in court: that is, absolute control. The Board of Regents further argued they had the constitutional right to engage in age discrimination against seniors.
The Board of Regents wasn’t always successful, but did successfully sue to stop the original intent of the framers. Question 1 will restore the original intent of the framers — to make sure the Board of Regents cannot have absolute control over the $1.2 billion higher education budget.
Third, the Board of Regents has continually put the interests of big research universities over our local community colleges. The Board of Regents continually suggests they have done a good job — but they only ever mention the universities in Las Vegas and Reno. Not once have the regents highlighted their community colleges record. And for good reason: the Board of Regents is far more concerned with spending their money on expensive salaries and meals for bureaucrats, rather than investing dollars in the classroom to build a new career-ready workforce for small businesses.
The Board of Regents has the wrong priorities, with devasting results. As many have noted, Nevada ranks 16th in per pupil higher ed funding, but only 46th in college attainment. That is why former community college presidents from Truckee Meadows Community College and Western Nevada College here in Northern Nevada both support Question 1. And most every major business organization supports Question 1 for this reason as well: including EDAWN, the NFIB, the Nevada Contractors Association, the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, the Nevada Retail Association, and multiple chambers of commerce. Question 1 will give the people’s branch of government more tools to hold the Regents accountable when dollars do not go to the classroom.
Nevada taxpayers deserve accountability, transparency, and oversight from the Board of Regents in exchange for the $1.2 billion the taxpayers give higher education. I urge you to join our large bipartisan, multi-regional, and multi-faceted coalition (including business, labor, republicans, democrats, faculty, and students) in favor of Question 1.
For information, visit http://www.yeson1forhighereducation.com.
Assemblyman Jim Wheeler represents the 39th district in the Nevada Legislature.