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Ballot Question 1 Could Fundamentally Change Nevada's System Of Higher Ed

Nevadans will have to vote “yes” or “no” on five ballot questions this Election Day. 

The first on that list deals with removing the constitutional status of the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Board of Regents. 

This would give state lawmakers more power over the regents, allowing them to review and change the organization.

Elliot Anderson is a former Democratic member of the Nevada State Assembly and supports a Yes vote on Question 1.

“I think it is so important for everyone to understand that Question 1 does not at all change the day to day of higher education,” Anderson said, “What it does is it ensures that the board of regents are accountable, transparent and have independent oversight from the Legislature just like every other state agency.”

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Anderson said the ballot question would not take control of the university system away from the board of regents. Instead, it would allow the Legislature to make laws to govern the regents.

He said right now the State Legislature cannot pass laws that directly impact the management and control of the state's colleges and universities.

“This would just give the Legislature the ability to pass laws, which is basic American government,” he said.

One of the biggest concerns about the ballot question is whether it would lead to an appointed board instead of an elected board. Nevada is the only state that has an entirely elected board of regents.

Anderson said the question would not move Nevada to an appointed system, but he admits the Legislature in the future could change the laws to allow for appointed regents.

However, he said that multiple efforts in the past to change the regents from elected to appointed have failed. He believes even if lawmakers tried to change to an appointed board it would be "an uphill battle."

“I think that is an important point to note because there’s a lot of fear and misinformation being put out by the board of regents to avoid the accountability that every other state agency has,” Anderson said.

Anderson argues Question 1 will allow legislators to better oversee the board of regents and address some of the problems that have happened in the past.

For instance, in 2012, the then-NSHE chancellor was accused of misleading lawmakers about efforts to change the higher ed funding formula. Anderson said the board of regents was trying to control the process, while lawmakers were trying to keep politics out of it.

Anderson said that is just one example but there are other examples of a lack of transparency and accountability in the higher education system over the years.

“The board of regents acted as though they didn’t need legislative buy-in or approval for anything," he said, "They acted as though they were a fourth branch of government.”

Anderson said, in the past, the board of regents has said it is not part of the executive branch of state government, and in the 90s, it refused several executive branch audits.

“The system has acted in a way that is contrary to what the framers of the Constitution intended. They said that the board of regents should not have absolute control, but that’s the way that they’ve acted,” Anderson said.

The fiscal note on the question, which outlines any financial impact a ballot question might have, shows it will not have an impact on the state's finances. 

Anderson said while it might not have a direct impact it will have repercussions because lawmakers will have better oversight of the regents and the higher-ed systems' budget.

“It will impact taxpayers dollars by simply making the board of regents more accountable for its $1.2 billion budget every two years,” he said.

Right now, Nevada's higher ed system is 16th in the nation in per capita per-pupil spending but the state continues to be 46th in the nation in college degree attainment, Anderson said. 

The former lawmaker admits the system is doing well in some aspects, including the research status of both UNLV and UNR but he said the board of regents has been woefully short in educating a workforce to help diversify Nevada's economy.

“This gives the Legislature more ability to ensure that those funds go to the classroom where they belong,” he said.

Those opposed to the ballot question have concerns about whether it will mean the Legislature will now take more control of the system. Anderson told KNPR's State of Nevada that separation of powers between the legislative and the executive branch will keep lawmakers from taking over direct control.

Instead, he believes the ballot question will allow lawmakers to keep a closer eye on the system. 

“Question 1 is desperately needed for checks and balances to basic American government, and without it, the Legislature doesn’t have the power to ensure that the $1.2 billion they get every two years is wisely spent. They can only say here’s your blank check or here’s no check,” Anderson said.

If the measure is passed, Anderson said it doesn't mean things will immediately change. Instead, he said it would let the legislature step in if it thought the regents were moving in the wrong direction.

He hopes it will lead to better self-policing by the board of regents.

“If the board of regents had self-policed better, and if the board of regents had controlled the higher education bureaucracy and stopped the misleading of the Legislature and a number of other scandals in the time that I was in the Legislature, we wouldn’t be here,” Anderson said.

Amy Carvalho is on the board of regents and supports a No vote on the ballot measure. She said one of her biggest problem with the measure is its lack of detail.

“It’s not clear what that oversight entails,” she said.

Carvalho said supporters say the measure is about transparency and accountability but, “this ballot question, as stated, doesn’t tell me as a voter exactly what that means.”

Carvalho is concerned that the measure could lead to an appointed instead of an elected board.

“There are several states that have appointed boards where politics and ideology behind politics have become real issues in terms of higher education governance,” she said.

She said it is the elective system that provides the checks and balances needed. Carvalho encouraged voters to reach out to regents and follow their meetings to see what decisions are being made.

In addition to voters making a decision about the board, state lawmakers decide the system's budget. Carvalho believes those two aspects of the system are enough to keep the board accountable.

“I would say to voters you have your legislators that pull the purse strings, essentially, and you also vote for the regents, who make sure that that money is spent responsibly and that produce good policy and make sure that the higher education system in Nevada moves in a direction that we would like to see for our future,” she said.

As far as concerns about past problems, Carvalho said if there are players who don't play by the rules you don't change the whole system. Instead, those players should be replaced.

“I think it’s important that we play by the rules of the system and not just change everything around. There are bad actors in every level of government and we don’t change the government because those people didn’t do the right things," she said.

Carvalho says she cannot see how passing Question 1 will benefit students. 

"I can’t see that voting 'yes' on this is going to do anything for the future of education in Nevada,” she said, “Voting 'no' and having that additional layer of transparency and accountability with regents being voted by the voters I think is a good check and balance for our students and for our future in Nevada.”

She believes part of the reason people might support the ballot question is they don't really understand how the system works. Carvalho believes it is up to the regents and lawmakers to do a better job of explaining how the system works and the checks and balances already in place.

“We’re not a rogue bunch of people who just spend money willy-nilly. We are beholden to the Legislature and to the voters,” she said.

Carvalho said she takes the stewardship of taxpayer dollars very seriously. She said the board's focus is on creating institutions of higher learning that will create an educated and well-prepared workforce. 

Guests

Elliot Anderson, former State Assemblyman; Amy Carvalho, Nevada Board of Regents, Nevada System of Higher Education

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