Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Hundreds of college students in Southern Nevada walked out of classes last week to protest impending state budget cuts that could decimate higher education.
Students from UNLV, Nevada State College and the College of Southern Nevada made their feelings known to legislators in a protest at the Sawyer State Office Building in downtown Las Vegas. The Legislature is expected to meet this month in a special session to consider cuts, which at this point don’t look good.
In Gov. Jim Gibbons’ State of the State speech last week, he said that education accounts for 54 percent of the state’s general fund spending and that education funding would have to be reduced. The governor did, after all, last year propose a budget that would have cut a third of the Nevada System of Higher Education’s budget.
Gibbons has yet to release all of his recommendations to close the nearly $900 million deficit, but education officials are preparing for a major cut — on top of the ones they took last year.
To the governor, this is simple. He likes to make an analogy that state government is like a family or a business, reasoning that when families or businesses face tough times, they tighten their belts. They do, but they also look at other ways to produce income. Gibbons, of course, won’t consider raising any revenue because it would violate his no-new-taxes pledge. Raising fees any further would price many students out of education.
The governor also won’t consider what huge cuts will do to the education system in Nevada, which is reeling from years of substandard funding. Indeed, he told people to “quit whining” about funding.
University system Regent Michael Wixom noted last week in the Las Vegas Sun that the cuts will result in “dismantling much of what we have built, primarily for the sake of keeping tax rates low.”
The Millennium Scholarship program, implemented under former Gov. Kenny Guinn with money from the state’s settlement with tobacco companies, encouraged students to stay in Nevada to attend college, and students had plenty of opportunity. Nevada’s colleges and universities have grown over the decades and now include specialty training in medicine, dentistry, law, nursing and teaching, among many other areas.
With cuts threatening the quality of the schools and the programs, Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich said he is concerned about a potential “brain drain.” Arguing that students will go to other states to study because of hefty cuts, Klaich said, “We will lose some of our best citizens who will never return.”
As Emily Richmond reported last week in the Sun, cuts will affect students of all ages, from recent high school graduates to adults trying to gain new career skills. Jennifer Cruz, 31, is a mother of four and a full-time UNLV student trying to get into the school’s competitive nursing program. The budget cuts could threaten those dreams.
“I’m worried about my children’s education and my education,” she said. “How far is this going to go?”
The cuts threaten to take Nevada’s schools to a place they can’t afford to go.