Farm Beat: Agriculture educators fight for grant program

jholland@modbee.comJanuary 20, 2014 

High school ag teachers do not like how Gov. Jerry Brown wielded the pruning shears in one part of his proposed budget.

He has proposed eliminating the Agricultural Career Technical Education Incentive Grant Program, which is providing $4.1 million to schools in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

The proposal is part of an effort by Brown and other leaders to greatly increase the pot of money over which local school boards have discretion. That idea has won praise in general, but the ag teachers think cutting out the grants is shortsighted.

“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,” said Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers Association, in a news release.

“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,” Aschwanden said.

Ag education would go on without the grants, because the teacher salaries and other costs are covered by other sources of money. But advocates say the grants, which schools must match, would help a healthy part of the state economy stay that way.

Part of the teachers’ job is honing skills in crop and livestock production for students who plan careers in farming or ranching. But the classes, and the Future Farmers of America activities closely tied to them, also teach engine repair, public speaking and many other skills that other students could use.

The teachers group, based in Elk Grove, notes that many of the state’s 74,000 or so FFA members live in cities or suburbs. Fifty-one percent are Latino, 35 percent non-Latino white and the rest are from other backgrounds.

Brown proposed the cut in his initial budget last week and is being urged to drop it in the revised budget due out in May.

Here’s a way to help FFA without waiting on the governor: Buy a special license plate that celebrates agriculture in the state.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles launched the plates in March as a way to raise money for FFA, 4-H and other ag education programs. The plate features a yellow sunburst over green row crops, with the words “Food, fiber, fuel, flora.”

The cost is $50 upfront and $40 a year to renew for plates with random license numbers. Personalized plates are $98 upfront and $78 a year to renew. The charges are on top of vehicle registration fees.

More information is at www.dmv.ca.gov.

Modesto Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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