Ag ed bills aimed at saving programs

May 30, 2014

High school agriculture programs are getting a boost in some of the Corn Belt states, while other states have legislators fighting to keep programs going.

Despite farming and ranching numbers declining, thousands of ag-based jobs open up each year and the curriculum being offered prepares students for careers in a variety of ag-based areas, including genetic engineering, forestry, renewable resources and more.

About 15 percent of the U.S. workforce is employed in agriculture-related careers, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, and more than 54,000 jobs for college graduates in the agricultural, food and renewable natural resources sectors are expected to be created annually from 2010-2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On May 16, the Missouri Senate passed HB 1189 with a bipartisan 29 to 0 vote. The legislation requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to develop a high school graduation policy that allows agricultural or career and technical education courses to satisfy certain subject-specific graduation requirements.

Missouri Cattlemen’s Association (MCA) President Jim McCann said this is yet another bill supported by MCA to strengthen agricultural education in Missouri and empower youth interested in agriculture.

“Last year, MCA supported legislation that embraces youth working on farms and ranches and another bill that helps to keep career and technical education vibrant in Missouri. This bill is another step in the right direction,” said McCann. “Agricultural courses incorporate science, math and other subject matters into practical and technical application.”

In California, Assembly Member Frank Bigelow, chair of the California Legislative Rural Caucus, is fighting to keep the state’s agriculture programs alive.

“Agriculture is critical to California’s economy because of the jobs, tax revenue and food it provides for our state. It makes sense then to teach ag in our public schools so we can prepare students who want to pursue ag-related careers,” Bigelow said.

But California Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal doesn’t have ag education high on the priority list, despite a rise in enrollment of the programs. Brown’s proposal eliminates $4.1 million earmark for agricultural education.

In his 2014-15 budget plan, the governor appears to eliminate the Agricultural Career Technical Education Incentive Program, more commonly known as the Agriculture Incentive Grant.

The number of California students enrolled in agricultural programs has more than doubled in the past 20 years, according to Bob Heuvel, Manager of Agricultural Education for the California Department of Education. Future Farmers of America (FFA) now has 76,407 students in 314 chapters across the state, according to FFA data.

Brown’s budget plan rolls that money into a new school funding formula that allows districts to decide whether to continue spending money for that purpose.

“Depriving the agricultural industry of enough well-trained and homegrown leaders would endanger the tremendous output it produces each year, which totaled $44.7 billion in 2012,” Bigelow said.

Bigelow has co-authored Assembly Bill 2033, with Assembly Member Rudy Salas, to ensure that the agricultural grant is funded next year.

“Maybe it is just the rancher in me, but I cannot imagine an educational system that does not give our youth hands-on experience on how our food is grown. I am hopeful that the governor will ultimately agree that the programs are worth preserving,” Bigelow added.

“These dynamic programs give students and teachers the technical skills needed to meet local industry demands through welding, husbandry, agriscience, mechanics, and a variety of other vocational programs,” said Assembly Member Salas. “In my district, we have seen the partnership between these students and local businesses produce mechanized hydraulic trailers or even trained service dogs for the blind.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor