Nevada students protest proposed budget cuts

By Michelle Rindels

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 21 2011 1:05 p.m. MDT

Hundreds of college and university students swarmed the Legislature in Carson City, Nev., on Monday, March 21, 2011, during a rally protesting proposed budget cuts to higher education.

Cathleen Allison, Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. — College and university students from around the state swarmed Nevada's capital city Monday, braving snow and freezing temperatures to demonstrate against deep cuts proposed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and urge state lawmakers to find funding for higher education.

The throngs of students — who came by busloads from Las Vegas, Elko and Reno — chanted, "No more cuts," and "Come out Brian," as they stood in front of the Capitol, hoping to take their message directly to the governor.

Sandoval sent a tweet welcoming the students to Carson City. "I'm glad you're participating in the political process," he posted on Twitter.

The governor's spokeswoman said he was reading to students at a local elementary school but would meet with student representatives later in the afternoon.

College students jammed the halls of the Legislature and public galleries, at times breaking into spontaneous shouts. A rough estimate put their numbers at 1,100, making it one of the largest rallies in Carson City history.

Students outside the Legislature lined the sidewalk, holding signs reading, "Shared Sacrifice?" and "Schools, Not Fools."

Though boisterous and vocal, the demonstrators were well behaved. Their choruses of slogans were quieted in the hallways, and the foot-stomping in the Senate chamber before the floor session ceased when they were advised by security to be respectful.

Sandoval has proposed cutting state support for higher education by $162 million over the next two years. Officials with the Nevada System of Higher Education said that will mean elimination of programs, layoffs and hefty tuition increases for students.

The cuts in state support amount to 16 percent for the upcoming year, and nearly 30 percent the following year, when other lost funding such as federal stimulus money is factored.

Students who crowded a hearing room Monday groaned when Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, told them the state's general fund contributions to the prison system would increase, while funds to higher education were falling.

College of Southern Nevada student Lydia Scherr criticized a streetscape project in the works, telling legislators that the state needed academic programs more than $100,000 of rocks.

"If hope were a person," Scherr said, "many of you would be locked up for murder."

Student body leaders called for bipartisan talks to raise taxes on businesses and mining. Some acknowledged the concerns of legislators who have slammed the higher education system for its low graduation rate.

"I'm not asking you to blindly write a check to NSHE. It's not a perfect system," said University of Nevada, Reno, student Brandon Bishop. "But we can work together to fix it."

One neuroscience major described waiting in a welfare line at age 14, promising her mother that someday, she would help her financially.

"Imagine my dismay when I hear my state government is doing everything it can to keep me from keeping my promise," America Acevedo said, adding that the budget was "careless, vile and degrading."

Outside the legislative building, students and adults clogged the entryway chanting, "What do we want? Education. When do we want it? Now."

Others yelled, "Gov. Sandoval, you scared?"

Associated Press writer Deb Weinstein contributed to this report.

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