(Gov. Jim Gibbons) – Throughout my years in public service, above all, my philosophy has been shaped by one overriding principle – Education First.
As a graduate of Nevada public schools and universities, I am committed to ensuring quality education in our K-12 and higher education systems. Education is the intellectual infrastructure of Nevada’s future.
It is difficult to balance my commitment to education with my duty as Governor to recommend budget reductions to all state agencies, including education, in these unprecedented and challenging fiscal times. However, consistent with my fundamental beliefs I am proposing reforms that will help build a more solid base for our education system as we emerge from this crisis.
I have previously released my plan for education reform in our K-12 public schools, and today, I ask the Legislature and Nevadans to consider a new plan — indeed, an entirely new way of thinking about higher education funding.
I believe in the years to come that this state will ask higher education to become more self-sustaining, that is, less dependent on state resources. If, as a state, we ask higher education to be more self-sufficient, it is right and reasonable that we give them the tools to effectively meet that challenge. Today I am proposing a series of reforms that will allow the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) to function in a more autonomous, flexible, and entrepreneurial manner.
1. Control over Student Fees and Tuition. Higher education in Nevada today is not only excellent, but it is a bargain. In the future, it is fair to ask our students to bear a greater share of the cost of education through increased tuition and fees. However, as we do that, it is also reasonable for them to see their dollars return to the campus. I propose that control over 100% of future increases in registration fees and out-of-state tuition be retained on the campus generating that revenue.
2. Staffing. Classified employees within NSHE, the non-teaching positions who contribute so greatly to its success, should be integrated completely into the System. I propose that all such classified employees be moved directly under the System and out of the state classified personnel system.
3. Capital Projects. Higher education should be exempted immediately from the supervision and control of the State Public Works Board. The Board should continue to accept buildings upon completion, but need not impose another layer of bureaucracy and cost during the design and construction of our public higher education buildings. The State Public Works Board will retain audit authority over the project upon completion.
4. Flexibility. This will be a tough one for some, but we must give the Board of Regents and its officers the ability to spend the state dollars we appropriate in the manner in which they see fit. This means that we should stay out of their business.
Autonomy requires accountability, and the System should be required to maintain transparent procedures and fully account to the Governor and the Legislature for the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Accountability must extend beyond finances, and it is my expectation with this greater autonomy that each campus will set measurable goals for improvement in quality, and in particular, an increase in the number of graduates.
5. Efficiency and Effectiveness. The System should be encouraged to spend the money we appropriate wisely. That is not the case now, where dollars saved are simply reverted to the state general fund at the end of each fiscal year.
I propose that the System be allowed to retain 25% of unspent general funds each year. I also encourage the System to immediately undertake a process much like the SAGE Commission I appointed for state government to review its structure and processes, to eliminate waste and redundancy, and to reinvest those savings into providing higher quality education for Nevadans.
6. Stability. We are all suffering from the fatigue of the declining economy and the continual adjustments that we have had to make to our budgets. I want higher education to look inward, to plan diligently, and to serve this state to the best of its ability. This cannot be accomplished with fluctuating state appropriations.
It is my recommendation that we guarantee a certain appropriation to higher education for the remainder of this biennium and for the upcoming biennium. I realize that one legislature cannot bind another, nor can I. But we can set this as our goal. I pledge to do my best as we emerge from this recovery to return higher education funding back to its historical level.
I would like to stand before you today as Governor and tell you that I can and will increase funding to higher education, which I believe is critical to our future and our economy. Unfortunately, we simply do not have the revenues today to allow me to make that promise.
However, just as I worked with the Legislature in this past Special Session, I pledge to continue that work with the Legislature to maintain funding to education as high as is reasonably possible. Working together as we develop an agenda for the next Session of the Legislature in 2011, the Legislature and I have the power to undertake the actions outlined above, and we should move forward on these reform initiatives.
I am asking my staff to work with the Board of Regents and legislative staff to identify necessary bill drafts to effect these changes.
(Mr. Gibbons is Governor of the State of Nevada)