Ag Ed supporters seek legislative funding fix

Ag Ed supporters seek legislative funding fix

 (Calif.) Lawmakers will have to intervene – again – to save the state’s century-old agricultural education program after Gov. Jerry Brown has ignored appeals to fund it separately.

Mirroring his action from a year ago, Brown did not set aside in his recently-released 2014-15 budget the $4.1 million needed to pay for the Agriculture Career Technical Education Incentive Grant program. Instead, the money is absorbed into the governor’s new Local Control Funding Formula, designed to remove most state-mandated restrictions on how local schools spend their funding.

Supporters maintain that if the funds are not designated for the program in the budget, it faces elimination.

“Schools will do what they’re required to do, what they’re measured to do and what they get money to do,” said Jim Aschwanden, a lifelong educator and executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association. “There’s no future for Career Technical Education in California because there’s no longer a driver behind it.”

The agriculture incentive program, which subsidizes educational agencies that provide farm-based curriculum to some 74,000 students in 315 high schools statewide, is actually facing a nearly $8 million cut since local districts must match state funding, according to Aschwanden, a former member of the California State Board of Education under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Legislators were successful last year in passing a state budget that maintained separate funding for the program but advocates fear that without intervention again this year, Brown’s emphasis on consolidating funds and turning spending decisions over to local administrators could win out.

Defunding farm education in the nation’s leading agricultural-producing state makes no sense, said Aschwanden, and would foreshadow a lack of leaders who understand one of California’s most dynamic industries.

“It is inconceivable that any school district could organize the leadership continuum that this program has developed over the years,” Aschwanden said, noting that it is students from the agriculture program who will be making future decisions about key state issues such as water storage and conveyance, pesticide use and animal health practices. “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.”

With more than 1,300 courses that meet college-prep standards, the ag education program offers career pathways for ninth through 12th graders that support both workforce readiness and/or post-secondary study.

Hispanic students currently account for 51 percent of ag education enrollment, while 35 percent are White.

Aschwanden also said program administrators have been tracking its graduates since 1983 and they have a 76 percent college attendance rate – higher, he said, than that of grads from the traditional academic track.

Funding for the grant program is an outgrowth of the Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act of 1917, which provided federal support for agricultural education programs.

The Agricultural Education Unit of the California Department of Education has since 1928 been an official sponsor of the California Association of Future Farmers of America – which, in turn, serves as a key participant in agricultural education for grades nine through 12.

The California Agricultural Teachers’ Association was formed in 1920 to promote and improve the teaching of agriculture in California and to foster the welfare of those engaged in this work.

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