NSHE Notes
by Chancellor Dan Klaich
July 20, 2015


In January, I wrote about our hopes and goals for the 2015 legislative session. Now that the session is over and the new biennium is underway, I wanted to provide you with a brief recap of the 78th Session of the Nevada Legislature. 

This was a session of great forward movement for education in Nevada. Without doubt, this session will be remembered as one where Governor Brian Sandoval and a bipartisan group of legislators came together around the importance of public education, the necessity to fund education, and measures to ensure accountability and reform in education. While there were varying solutions proposed by legislators and the Governor, all agreed there was a dire need to invest in Nevada's education system. In the end, there was remarkable, bipartisan consensus on an historic budget.

For higher education, the Legislature approved, and the Governor signed into law, a budget that included a significant increase over general fund operating appropriations from last biennium, and some landmark legislation and appropriations.

Let me review some of the highlights from the session.

The requirement to take six days of furloughs has ended. This restores approximately 2.3% to the salaries of our full-time employees. NSHE classified employees will see annual step increases over the biennium. Pay increases of one percent in the first year of the biennium and another two percent in the second year of the biennium were also approved for our employees. We are grateful for these benefits to our employees, and will continue to press for merit pay in future sessions.

The Governor recommended, and the Legislature approved, using the performance and completion based formula that was first recommended by the Legislature's interim study committee in 2012. The formula is now fully phased in and we can clearly examine how it works throughout the System. Importantly, the Governor and Legislature recognized and funded the growth of the System. Performance, completion, and alignment with the state's goals for economic development continue to be the key metrics for funding.

With full implementation of the formula to fund our institutions, several institutions needed critical bridge funding for a biennium to move to sustainable business models. The final budget provided those critical funds for Western Nevada College, Great Basin College, and the Desert Research Institute. In addition, $3 million dollars over the biennium was added to the budget of Boyd Law School at UNLV to maintain the school's excellence and ranking in the face of declining national and local enrollment trends.

The Legislature made an historic appropriation to expand public medical education in the state. Following a blueprint adopted by the Board of Regents, a new School of Medicine at UNLV was funded and is scheduled to enroll its first class in 2017. Funds were also appropriated to the existing School of Medicine to fund its transition to a school primarily located outside of Las Vegas, where it has had a longtime presence. The Legislature also funded a program advanced by the Governor to create more residencies in the state. This will help meet the needs of Nevadans and retain more of our doctors in the state. While these funds will not be going directly to medical schools, NSHE will be actively engaged in partnerships supported by these funds, and we expect that NSHE residencies and fellowships will be strong candidates to receive funding.

The 78th Session of the Legislature also saw tremendous movement aimed directly at helping Nevada's students:

  • Funding for the Millennium Scholarship was increased to cover 15 credits per semester instead of 12. This is a vital step in helping our students complete college on time.
  • For the first time in Nevada history, we now have a state funded need-based financial aid program. SB 227 created the Silver State Opportunity Grant with $5 million ($2.5 million each year of the biennium) to help our state's neediest students attain a college education. The funds allocated over the next biennium will be earmarked for the community colleges and state college within the Nevada System of Higher Education. 
  • SB 511 funded a critical program to help alleviate our state's teacher shortage. The Teach Nevada Scholarship Program allows, among other things, our institutions to award scholarships to future teachers who will stay and teach in Nevada. 
  • The Governor recommended and the Legislature approved $8 million to help students become college- and career-ready by the time they graduate high school. These funds will be administered by the Department of Education. 

This session also saw continued emphasis on the critical link between higher education and economic development and diversification. Three million dollars were appropriated for the STEM Workforce Challenge Grant. This initiative was recommended in the Executive Budget and will be administered in the Science, Innovation and Technology Office within the Governor's office.

The Knowledge Fund, first created in 2011 and funded in 2013, was continued with a $10 million budget allocation. The fund is aimed to spur research, innovation and commercialization in areas which Nevada has targeted for economic growth. Importantly, this appropriation is now contained in the base budget of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

While there were very limited funds available for capital construction this biennium, the Governor recommended and the Legislature approved two items for NSHE in the 2015 Capital Improvement Program.

  • The Legislature approved $24.4 million in funding to cover approximately one half of the estimated cost to complete construction of the Hotel College Academic Building on the UNLV campus. The remaining one half of the cost of construction is an institutional match to be provided by UNLV. Construction on this long awaited building should begin early next year for an opening in late 2017. Within the Hotel College, the Legislature allocated $500,000 in each year of the biennium to the acclaimed UNLV International Center for Excellence in Gaming Regulation. This appropriation will allow the Center to fund a director, the new director's operating expenses, and two other full-time staff, insuring that this program continues its international prominence.
  • The Governor also recommended and the Legislature approved the continuation of the $15 million/biennium allocation from slot tax funds to NSHE deferred maintenance, as requested by the Board. 

I will continue to keep you updated as these new programs start changing the lives of our students. In the meantime, you can find a more detailed summary of the 2015 legislative session in our online report.

I want to close with sincere thanks to the Governor for the vision of his legislative agenda and the tenacity with which he pursued it. The courageous bipartisan leadership in both houses and the overwhelming majority of our legislators was critical in passing an historic education budget. I also want to thank our many community partners who have continued to support the goals and efforts of our state's public education system. Certainly, more work remains to be done, but without doubt the 78th Session of the Nevada Legislature has pointed our state in a new and exciting direction.