By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: The chairman of a panel created by the Legislature to assess Nevada’s long-term future had some bleak words today for lawmakers unless action is taken to develop a skilled workforce and improve public education.
“I think the bigger fear, in summation here, is that there’s been a kind of sense from the group that Nevada is becoming the sort of Mississippi of the West, essentially,” said Robert Lang in a report to the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.
Mississippi frequently ranks at the bottom in many quality of life indicators.
Nevada is lucky there is a state like Mississippi, “to keep us from being 50th,” said Lang, who is affiliated with the Department of Sociology at UNLV. He was a non-voting member of the panel.
Lang was in Carson City to present a report to the committee on the work of the Nevada Vision Stakeholder Group, a panel of 20-appointees charged with assessing the state’s future over the long term. The group completed its work this past summer, looking at ways to improve the economy and overall quality of life in the coming decade.
“These minimums are something that it is difficult to imagine us going lower than, but it is possible that we could go lower than,” Lang said. “It would be disconcerting to go any lower than some of these indicators, especially things like the high school graduation rate, which looks like really, out of the 1920s or 30s for the national level indicators on that.”
Sen. Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the committee, said the report will be reviewed by the panel a second time in January with more testimony from other members of the group.
The report will be used by the Legislature as it crafts a budget for the next two years. The panel itself has disbanded upon completion of the document.
But the dismal picture of Nevada’s future quality of life is unlikely to see much improvement in at least the coming two years, where the state faces the largest-in-the-nation general fund budget gap as reported last week by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Gov.-elect Brian Sandoval said after the revenue projections were finalized by the Economic Forum on Dec. 1 that agencies will have to cut another $1.2 billion out of already reduced budgets for the next two years.
The Vision Stakeholder report shows that Nevada’s high school graduation rate has been declining in recent years and was at 53.6 percent in 2007, the most recent data in the report provided by the U.S. Department of Education.
The report says Nevada has a drop-out crisis and that it needs to dramatically increase graduation rates.
“Tight state and local budgets notwithstanding, now is the time to make the structural changes and investments Nevada needs, lest its obstacles become insurmountable in the years ahead,” the report says.
Vision Stakeholder Chairman Robert Lang says Nevada could become Mississippi of West:
Lang says measures of Nevada performance are lagging: