BOISE — Supporters of the Idaho Ag Education Initiative credit the state’s farming industry for helping convince lawmakers to approve most of the $2.24 million proposal.
“The entire agricultural industry came on in support of this and backed it and that carried a lot of weight here in the legislature,” said Shawn Dygert, legislative liaison for the Idaho Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association.
The initiative was put together too late in the year to be included in the governor’s proposed budget and as a result it struggled early in the legislative session.
“There were moments where we were concerned about its survival,” Gov. Butch Otter said March 18 shortly before he signed a bill that implements part of the proposal. “It was on life support a couple of times.”
Idaho FFA Foundation Chairman Kevin Barker said dozens of ag-related businesses stepped up to tell legislators how important secondary agricultural education programs are to the state’s farming industry.
“Their support through the legislature is what brought this to fruition,” he said.
The initiative was divided into several parts that were approved separately, either in bill form or through greater appropriations.
The bill that Otter signed creates common Idaho quality standards for all ag education programs, $10,000 annual incentive grants based on those standards, and $25,000 start-up grants for ag education programs.
Steve Wilder, an FFA instructor at Meridian High School, said proposal supporters estimate about 40 percent of Idaho’s 126 ag education instructors will qualify for the incentive grant the first year.
Lawmakers also increased “added cost” funding — money provided by the state for costs associated with certain programs that are above normal classroom costs — for ag education classes from $10,260 to $15,000 per full-time instructor.
“We haven’t had a change (in added cost funding) since 1998 so we were due and I think they realized that,” Wilder said.
Legislators also approved funding for a full-time FFA Association executive director.
The only part of the plan lawmakers didn’t approve was a statewide professional development and mentoring program for agriculture and natural resource programs created within the last three years.
Wilder said the money provided through the various pieces of the proposal is critical to help maintain and improve the state’s secondary agricultural education and FFA programs.
Enrollment in Idaho ag education programs has increased 20 percent over the past five years but teacher turnover is up, too. Forty-six of the state’s 126 ag education teachers left in the past two years.
Idaho FFA Alumni Foundation President Sid Freeman pointed out that 63 percent of students who take ag education classes in Idaho go on to college, much higher than the statewide rate of 47 percent for other students.
“I believe the state of Idaho will see greater returns on their investment on this endeavor than any of the other endeavors that they have funded so far this year,” he said.