Keep Your Priorities Straight and Your Eyes on Carson City

The Legislature is considering two distinct, but related bills right now that have gone all but unnoticed by the public at large. It’s that lack of scrutiny that tells us something about what we should expect of government, and where our priorities for it lie:

• AB 150 would create the Legislative Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability. It appears to have ample support in the legislature. Unfortunately, some government agencies such as the Nevada System of Higher Education wish to be excluded from being overseen and accountable, and representatives from those agencies have argued this to the Legislature. It will be interesting to see whether lawmakers are as interested in eliminating government waste and corruption as they always have claimed.

• The Senate Education Committee heard SB 391 and didn’t seem all that favorably inclined to pass it now, although the members asked plenty of questions. It’s quite a bill. It would move the state’s community colleges from under the control of the Nevada System of Higher Education (see above, accountability) to the Department of Education, with a separate chancellor. The board of education wouldn’t control the colleges, which is too bad for me, since Elaine Wynn is on the board now and I always wanted to work for her.

More important, during testimony on the bill, business groups displayed unhappiness with how higher education is governed in Nevada. They complained that regents don’t seem able to run both universities and community colleges. Some registered displeasure with how the state’s community colleges operate and groused that they aren’t responsive enough to community needs.

The two community college presidents who testified tried to make the issue about lack of funding, but that’s not what irked the business folks. None of them disputed that higher ed has taken several whacks from the budget cleaver. They just couldn’t figure out why that would translate into not going after available federal workforce training grants or keeping the lines of communication open with them. Ideally, this discussion will keep going through the session and possibly through the interim to get to the bottom of what’s going on.

So, let us stop and think. These bills have received little media attention—certainly, far less than State Senator Michael Roberson’s effort to gain legislative oversight over the Southern Nevada Water Authority. If you say, well, that’s understandable, since it’s the SNWA and water, then why isn’t education—or eliminating government waste–just as important or worthy of attention?