Funding Cuts for State Ag programs Proposed in California

A budget proposal made by California Governor Jerry Brown has educators up in arms. If legislators approve the budget, $4 million that is currently given directly to agricultural education programs will be redistributed to public schools statewide. This could eliminate agricultural education programs like the Future Farmers of America (FFA).

"We get almost $15,000 for our school alone, and the district matches it. If we don't have it, we can't survive," said Emillee Callens, agricultural instructor at Imperial High School.

Around 280 students are enrolled in the FFA program at Imperial. The funding goes to such things as fuel, supplies, trucks and raising fair animals. Callens adds that the students recently attended a leadership conference in Louisville that would have been impossible without funding. In some cases, maintenance costs alone can be $15,000.

At Calexico High School, nearly 350 students are enrolled in FFA. According to FFA advisor Mark Severtson, last year the school's Agricultural Education Incentive Grant allocation was about $21,000. The school uses the money to buy and maintain vehicles, and to fund trips to conferences and housing for large animals on campus such goats, sheep, pigs, steer and feeder calves.

Housing for large animals is important because without it, many students in urban areas would be unable to raise and show fair animals.

Educators say that Brown's proposal will not only irreparably damage California's agricultural educational programs, but it also will further set back career and vocational educational programs.

"This isn't about dollars. This is about what those dollars do," said Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers' Association.

Schools that receive the Agricultural Education Incentive Grant funds are reviewed twice a year and must maintain certain standards. Aschwanden said that in California the standards set by the grant help drive up the quality of agricultural education.

"Before this grant program, we had less than 1,000 students participating in state AG leadership conferences. Now we have 4, 000," he said, recalling the expansion in agricultural education that the 1983 program sparked.

Thanks to the conditions and standards that came with the funding, state schools modernized their agricultural educational facilities and the programs themselves, Aschwanden said.

Before receiving the grant, much of the equipment and teaching techniques in the state's high schools dated back to World War II. If the budget proposal passes, many of the gains the state has made will be lost.

"What you're seeing is the destruction of a model grant program that has driven modern Ag education," Aschwanden said.

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