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New Nevada treasurer wants to expand focus on education plans

Zach Conine vividly remembers attending the Storey County Fair while on the campaign trail.

Not 12 feet apart, two single mothers sat with their children, waiting for an event to begin. They were in prime position to chat with a politician running for office. So Conine, who has since won his bid to become Nevada’s next treasurer, struck up a conversation, asking about the mothers’ plans for their children after high school.

The first mother, who had three young girls, was all set. She had set up 529 college savings plans and taken advantage of Nevada’s College Kickstart program.

“Those kids were going to college, no question,” Conine, a 37-year-old Democrat, said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week.

Sitting with her son just down the row, the second mother was the complete opposite. She wanted her son to go to college, but she was unaware of any of the programs offered through the state to help her start saving for tuition. That mother was a kindergarten teacher, Conine said. That age group, he said, should be the prime market for starting and having those conversations.

“In the treasurer’s office, we can help them build a picture of how they’re going to do it,” Conine said.

The main mission of the treasurer’s office is investing taxpayer money on behalf of the state, with the money often funneled into low-risk investment. The public interacts with the treasurer’s office most often on these education initiatives, which include College Kickstart, Pre-Paid Tuition, 529 college savings plans and the Millennium Scholarship.

Conine envisions creating a customer service-oriented office, reallocating funds to create awareness and engagement on the valuable programs.

He said he’d like to have “navigators” who will work with a family to help them cut through the red tape and the forms to get signed up, similar to the process used when the Affordable Care Act launched and people received personal assistance to sign up for health insurance.

“We can walk people through the process instead of a broad marketing effort,” he said.

It’s a refreshing idea, said Grant Hewitt, chief of staff for outgoing Treasurer Dan Schwartz.

“I’m absolutely excited,” he said. “We’re always looking in this office to better focus that.”

Hewitt said Schwartz and the rest of the office also are working with Conine on amending some bill draft requests and laying out other particulars of the office because the transition happens so close to the legislative session. Conine will be sworn in Jan. 2 and the session begins Feb. 4.

Conine also wants to create a permanent, stable funding source for the Millennium Scholarship. That would include cutting out the “middle man,” or the Legislature, which has to re-allocate funding for the scholarship every two years. Conine said he would like to see some of the money made in the treasurer’s office from investing go directly to the scholarship instead of sending it to the general fund and then having it come back to the scholarship anyway.

In non-education initiatives, Conine said he’d like to start a pilot program, within his office at first, where some of his deputies and analysts can provide more than just the spending cost on bills debated in the Legislature. The cost of the program still would be included, but Conine hopes to provide a broader context to help lawmakers make sense of the expenditure.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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