Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed cuts to funding for agriculture education in school districts across the state, arguing that it should be left up to individual schools to determine if they want to support agricultural programs. He would like to see the money put toward state aid which can then be used for other projects, despite the recommendation by the Board of Education in the state that it be increased.
As of right now, school districts in the state receive a total of $1.8 million for agriculture education. The school board would like to see that amount increase to a total of $3 million by 2017, saying more is needed. As it stands, some schools must already rely on additional aid and support from community members in order to make any updates to their agriculture programs.
Andrew Bowman of the Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education reports that some states are setting aside up to $12 million in their budget for agricultural education.
Meanwhile, the governor is looking to take away all agriculture funding from schools for the next year. However, farm experts and business leaders believe this is a mistake.
"Agriculture education programs allow for our young students interested in careers in agriculture to be educated and prepared to enter that workforce. Without that funding, many school districts would completely eliminate their programs," said state senator Andy Manar, per Capitol Fax.
Agricultural business helps close to 25% of the state's economy, with one out of every four jobs in the state related to a career in agriculture. Students are learning the basics of the industry as early as kindergarten through the topics of farming, stewardship, and food production. The program Agriculture in the Classroom offers experience for children between pre-school and the eighth grade, and high school students receive college and career readiness training. Rachel Cruz of Parent Herald reports that many of the students in the state go on to become scientists, innovators or developers, researchers, lab experts, business experts, and teachers after graduation.
The funding is also put into grants for instructional resources, technology, and lab equipment, including greenhouses, iPads, incubators, and power tools. In addition, teachers receive professional development opportunities.
According to Future Farmers of America (FFA) spokesperson Tim Arnold, there are currently over 29,000 students enrolled in the over 300 agricultural education programs available throughout the state. He said making cuts to such a largely popular program would affect too many students.
The governor's office did recognize the importance of the program and the support it offered to the state's economy. A spokesperson for the office said the governor would like the money to be placed into General State Aid to offer schools "more flexibility to fund programs that they prioritize."
"Let's not have a lot of line items dictating terms of where money get spent. Let's put a lot more money into schools, and let the schools decide how they spend their money. I hope a lot of the schools in Illinois put more money into agriculture, not less," said Rauner.