It is true that most of the population in Nevada live in the state’s metropolitan areas. It follows that most of the state’s funding goes back to these big cities in supplying for the ample and complex needs that exist there. But that does not mean that there is no one else in the state with needs. More than 270,000 people live in small pockets across the vast rural landscape of Nevada; and they have important needs as well.
For the most part, Nevada’s rural folk have grown accustomed to doing more with less from their government. And indeed, they are generally content to do so. Rural residents are used to the fact that there will be less public services available to them: less in education, less in healthcare, less in social services, less in transportation, less in recreation, less in economic development and tourism funding, less in community infrastructure funding – all in all, just less across the board. But these folks understand that living in remote areas just means having less of these things, and they are willing to make that trade-off for the rural quality of life.
Even so, the few crumbs of public funding that do filter down to these small communities are precious to them. The programming that these funds brings is usually carefully planned, well organized and efficiently managed to stretch as far as possible. What’s more it is absolutely vital to the fabric of the communities.
Nevertheless as urban areas of the state have grown, so has their ability to drain away what little funding was left for rural areas. No matter how small the trough, the urban hog will edge out the hungry rurals every time. Nowhere is this more evident than with Assembly Bill 407 which is currently working its way through the Legislature.
AB 407 proposes to make a major change in the administration of the state’s Cooperative Extension funding. It would do away with a system that is over a century old and replace it with a hastily conceived plan that can only hurt the rurals.
The Cooperative Extension budget has never amount to a lot of money, relatively speaking; just enough to fund important rural programs. Chief among these is 4-H clubs that serve thousands of kids and adults throughout the state, both rural and urban. But in smaller towns these dollars also fund desperately needed programs for health and fitness, small business development, economic development, community beautification, education in gardening and agriculture, parenting skills, family life training, household financial management skills and much more. These programs are vital to rural residents who have very few other avenues available to receive them.
Furthermore, Cooperative Extension programs have traditionally been custom-made to fit unique needs of each rural community. Each local Extension office has its own resident education expert who knows the community inside and out. A detailed needs assessment is completed for each community to determine areas of greatest need. There is no cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach like one might find in high-volume urban-centric programs. And, of course, there is not nearly as much waste.
But with AB 407, here comes the carnivorous urban-interests licking their lips and lusting after the few scraps of funds that have traditionally fallen to the rurals. Urban-centered UNLV officials have apparently caught the scent of education funding being used in southern Nevada rural areas outside of their control; and they hunger for it.
The proposal laid out in AB 407 would funnel Cooperative Extension funding meant for southern Nevada through another layer of UNLV administrators. From there the school would pass it on to a variety of urban nonprofits and foundations, most of which really have little to do with the agriculture-based principles originally intended by the Cooperative Extension program. In short, these precious scraps of funding which have sustained the rural communities for so long, would be suddenly gobbled up by the urban monster; without even putting a dent in its voracious hunger.
What would happen to those precious rural programs currently being propped by these funds? That is a good question. And you won’t find addressed in the UNLV proposal, or answered in AB 407. There is no mention anywhere of the southern 4-H programs; no mention of any dedication to the fulfillment of current rural needs assessments; no mention of reaching out to, or working with southern Nevada rural Cooperative Extension educators in any way.
Now it is possible that this was just an oversight, and that there is every intention to continue to meet the current rural needs should the bill be passed. But you would never know it from the public dialog coming from legislators or from UNLV policy wonks on the subject. And given the fact that UNLV has never had an Agriculture program; and that UNLV administrators show little signs of awareness that there are any human outposts in existence north of the Craig Road offramp; it is highly unlikely that rural programs in southern Nevada will be anywhere on their agenda.
AB 407 is a bad idea. It is bad for the rural areas of the state, both north and south. It is just another money grab, taking scarce rural resources away and funnelling them to ever-hungry urban interests.
The urban jungles of Nevada have already commandeered an overwhelming share of the available public funding. What little funding that the rurals traditionally have held should be left to there to continue the meager, but essential, programs in those areas.
Just because money is spent in rural areas, doesn’t mean it is wasted, as the city-dwelling creators of this bill seem to be implying. On the contrary, these few Cooperative Extension dollars, spent in rural towns throughout the state, may be the most effectively-spent and carefully focused public dollars in the entire state budget. They should be left alone!