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Politics and Policy

NSHE regent candidates in District 8 discuss education access for rural Nevadans

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There are six candidates vying to be a Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) regent in District 8. They spoke about funding and access to education for rural Nevada during a forum hosted by the Nevada Faculty Alliance.

The NSHE Board of Regents is a nonpartisan 13-person governing body that has the authority to set policies for public colleges in the state and hire and fire institution presidents. District 8 represents a large chunk of rural Nevada, including Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka, Lincoln, Nye and White Pine counties, along with northern Clark County. Many candidates spoke about improving broadband coverage for these areas.

Stacy Smith of Pahrump wants to seek federal funding to improve internet access. She’s the founder and CEO of a nonprofit that supports and connects people looking for jobs to the local workforce.

“Microsoft Teams doesn’t work in all of those communities because of the bandwidth that’s available in those communities,” Smith said. “The majority of phone services don’t work in Lincoln County.”

A recent state report found that tribal and rural communities in Nevada lack broadband service speed and reliability compared to their urban counterparts. The pandemic has also shown that coverage is crucial to access distance learning, telehealth, workforce training and government services.

Candidate John Rice wants to improve access to distance and in-person learning. He’s an arts and humanities professor and theater program director at Great Basin College in Elko.

“We need to really invest in brick and mortar in rural communities, too,” Rice said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Our students will take classes online.’ Well, online learning isn’t for everyone.”

Candidates also had different approaches to raising money for the Nevada System of Higher Education. A large bulk of funding comes from the state, followed by student fees and tuition. Michelee “Shelly” Crawford vowed to work with the state. She’s helped put forth a state legislative bill that aims to form a pathway for aids and tutors to become full-time teachers to address the educator shortage in K-12 schools. She’s currently the principal of a Title 1 elementary school in Las Vegas and an Air National Guard officer.

“My first thing is, we are owed money from the state,” Crawford said. “We need direct access to our legislators and our governor, but we need to prove why we need that money. We need to have regular meetings that show the impact on our community.”

Candidate Aaron Manfredi, a realtor and president of the UNLV Veterans Alumni Club, said he wants universities to stop relying on funding from the state. Instead, he suggests using their land as an asset by allowing commercial development.

“I have a lot of people in the real estate business who are investors - because I deal with it every day - who are willing to invest on our campuses if allowed,” Manfredi said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of red tape that needs to be cut through.”

Another candidate is Jonathan Baltera of Enterprise, Nevada. He’s the choir director at Sierra Vista High School. His top priority is making that funding more transparent.

“I want to make sure that every Nevadan knows exactly how money goes to each university,” Baltera said. “It should never be really any mystery of how and why each university is funded in the way that it is. Everyone should be able to explain, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ ”

Candidate Elmer Porter, the technology director for the Eureka County School District, is interested in reducing the cost of education altogether.

“I believe we can shorten specific degree programs while retaining the quality of the education while speeding up students from the classroom to the workplace,” Porter said.

Following the nonpartisan primary, two of these six candidates will move on to the general election unless one receives more than 50% of the vote. The Board of Regents meets four times a year for regular meetings and several more times for special meetings. They are paid $80 per meeting plus travel and food.

You can learn more about the NSHE Board of Regents candidates for District 8 in this questionnaire by the Nevada Faculty Alliance here or watch the forum here.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

As a note of disclosure, the Board of Regents to the Nevada System of Higher Education owns the license to this station.

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