Study of Nevada higher education funding formula gets under way

By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: A panel of lawmakers, educators and state officials charged with analyzing the funding formula used to support Nevada’s higher education system met for the first time today and finalized a request for proposals for a consultant to help in the review.

The 12 voting members of the Committee to Study the Funding of Higher Education have $150,000 to spend on a consultant to assist it in reviewing how the state allocates tax revenue to the eight institutions in the system, including the state’s two universities and four community colleges. The interim study was approved by the 2011 Legislature.

Six lawmakers, three appointees by Gov. Brian Sandoval and three appointees by the Board of Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education make up the voting members of the study committee. Another four governor appointees are non-voting members.

“I think when you look at the committee sometimes you think that this is a process that is about the system,” said Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas. “But in truth this is a process that is about providing access and opportunity to the students who want to pursue a higher education in the state of Nevada.”

There are those who believe there are inequities in the higher education funding formula, he said. The panel needs to protect the state’s existing institutions while at the same time, “allowing for the growth, expansion and entrepreneurial nature that we want to see out of our institutions on behalf of our students,” Horsford said.

The funding review also needs to keep in mind the new economic development strategy discussions under way in the state with the recent release of a report from the Brookings Institution and SRI International, he said. Higher education figures prominently in the diversification efforts, Horsford said.

UNLV student government representative Ricardo Cornejo told the panel the need to review higher education funding was the reason he and others from campuses around the state lobbied lawmakers this past session.

“We’re just very excited this process is getting started,” he said. “For us at UNLV, we want to make sure that our students are being adequately supported.”

The higher education funding study was authorized by Senate Bill 374 by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, who during the 2011 legislative session expressed concern about the funding formulas and whether the College of Southern Nevada was being shortchanged.

The bill as originally introduced re-directed some property taxes to the college.

At a hearing on the original bill in March, then student body President John Creedon said the college was being shortchanged by the formula. The universities get more private funding and grants, while CSN has to be low cost and accessible to those who can’t go to another institution, he said.

Lee said at the March hearing that the funding discrepancy was such that a discrimination lawsuit was a possibility.

The measure morphed into the study instead, however. Lee is not serving on the interim study committee but is expected to testify before the panel.

Today’s meeting saw a lengthy discussion on what should be included in the request for proposals to hire a consultant to provide the needed technical information to consider how the formulas might be changed. The RFP will now be advertised so the panel can select a consultant at its next meeting in mid-January.

Consultant proposals are due to the Legislature by Dec. 30.

The panel is required to forward its recommendations to the Legislative Commission prior to the start of the 2013 legislative session.

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Audio clips:

Sen. Steven Horsford says the review is about student access:

112911Horsford :17 state of Nevada.”

UNLV student government representative Ricardo Cornejo says he wants to be sure the college campuses are properly funded:

112911Cornejo :22 here in Nevada.”

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