Agricultural education funding in the state’s public schools has been eliminated in California Governor Jerry Brown’s recently released 2014-2015 proposed budget.
The Agricultural Education Incentive Grant provides about $4.1 million statewide to agriculture education programs that meet specific program criteria. The grant funding is based on FFA membership and other factors such as the number of Ag teachers in the program.
Riverbank High School Ag teacher and FFA advisor Isaac Robles expressed that if they didn’t have the district’s support losing this grant would affect them significantly.
The biggest problem that Robles expressed is losing the guidelines that every Ag department must follow to be approved for the Agriculture Education Incentive Grant.
“In order to get the Ag Incentive Grant you have to meet all of the criteria on the check list,” said Robles. “It is really interesting because it is what makes Ag programs successful and good.”
Robles explained that the “Incentive Grant Checklist” has specifics that must be completed on curriculum, instruction, leadership, citizenship development, practical application of agricultural skills, qualified and professional personnel, facilities, equipment, materials, community, business, industry involvement, career guidance, program promotion, program accountability and planning.
“Basically the grant mandated different things with the ag programs in schools,” said Robles. “If the incentive grant goes away that baseline goes away as well.”
The RHS Ag department does some fundraising on their own like a poinsettia sale, selling beef jerky on campus, a plant sale, and they will be having a pancake breakfast at Applebees in March.
“And even with all that fundraising kids are still spending money out of pocket,” said Robles. “Then when we can’t fundraise and the kids can’t spend out of pocket, we will use that Ag incentive grant money because it is an appropriate expense whether it’s entries into a contest or a field day or transportation or equipment in the shop.”
The money that the RUSD receives from this Ag incentive grant is over $9,000.
“It would be pretty unfortunate if it was gone,” stated Robles.
Robles explained that there are students that cannot afford to pay for lunch on a daily basis that will have the opportunity to participate on the field trips and visit a University, stay in a hotel and compete because of the Ag incentive funding.
“The two years that I have been here the district (RUSD) has been great,” said Robles. “They care about these programs and they value what we are doing.”
Neighboring Oakdale High School Ag teacher and FFA advisor Troy Gravatt reported that the elimination of the Ag incentive grant could mean that some FFA chapters will shutter, as they depend on that money. He also said that some will have to cut activities so severely that they’ll lose student interest and then shut down.
“Really, the Governor’s budget decision to cut (the) Ag Incentive Grant is like using one red brick to plug the Stanislaus River,” Gravatt said. “It’s such a small fix to the budget when there are other areas of poor spending. The money is really well spent when compared to other funds allocated by the governor, giving a greater bang for the buck by supporting FFA. This also cuts funds to the State FFA Association, State FFA officers and puts in jeopardy FFA activities across the state – judging teams, leadership conferences.”
He added that the grant money helps support Ag education and the FFA in the Oakdale Joint Unified School District to the tune of about $10,000.
“This pays for FFA activities above and beyond what we are already fundraising for, which this year we are approaching $25,000 in funds raised for FFA activities. So in future years we will need to raise closer to $35,000 by this time,” Gravatt said.
According to the California FFA website, there are more than 70,000 FFA members in more than 300 high schools in California. California is in the top five FFA membership states alongside Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and Missouri.
“We are extremely disappointed that Governor Brown has proposed eliminating Ag Education funding in California, the leading agricultural-producing state in the nation,” said Jim Aschwanden, Executive Director of the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association. “These programs are vital if we expect to attract bright, talented, and innovative students to help meet the many challenges facing both agriculture and the state of California over the next several decades.
“The elimination of support for high quality, rigorous program standards sends a clear message to schools that agriculture and these programs are not important for the future of our state economy.
“We think this is a terrible mistake.”
Reporter Dawn M. Henley contributed to this story.