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California lawmakers, students rally for ag ed funding

Tim Hearden
Dozens of California legislators and hundreds of FFA students are fighting for funding for the Agricultural Education Incentive Grant program, which Gov. Jerry Brown proposed to cut in his January preliminary budget.

SACRAMENTO — A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is taking it upon themselves to make sure money for FFA leadership training and other agriculture education programs is retained in the state budget.

Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, has amassed 32 cosponsors to his bill that would ensure funding for the Agriculture Education Incentive Grant program, which Gov. Jerry Brown cut in his January budget proposal.

The California Agricultural Teachers Association says that for 31 years, the grant has provided matching money for school districts that agree to undertake such projects as classroom instruction, supervised ag experience projects and FFA leadership training.

The proposed cut eliminates $4 million distributed to about 300 FFA programs statewide, California Farm Bureau Federation second vice president Jamie Johansson has said.

“With every legislator I’ve talked to, I’ve stressed how important this is to the entire state of California,” Salas told the Capital Press. “This program helps support our $43 billion ag economy. These skills are skills kids can learn for the real world.”

Salas led a rally for the grant program with hundreds of FFA members at the state Capitol as part of Ag Day on March 19, and he expects some students to return April 1 when the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education considers funding for the program in 2014-2015.

Among his cosponsors of Assembly Bill 2033 is Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, who worked on the original legislation in 1983 with then-Sen. Rose Ann Vuich, the upper chamber’s first female member who died in 2001. Nielsen was a senator from 1978-1990 and returned to the Legislature as an assemblyman in 2008.

“As the original author … I know the value of these programs,” Nielsen said. “I am a product of these programs and they are sound and excellent … For over 31 years they have been successful, and there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to remove this funding.”

A top state official has said the money would still be there for school districts but would not be earmarked specifically for ag education. The elimination of categorical funding, which is earmarked for specific purposes, is part of a larger effort to return local control to school districts, deputy state finance director H.D. Palmer told the Capital Press earlier this year.

Brown has assured districts that have received the ag education funding that the money will be available next year, too, he said. Districts shouldn’t be tempted to use the money on more pressing needs because the governor also proposes giving about $6 billion in funds deferred in previous budgets to schools, Palmer said.

However, farm groups have vowed to continue to fight for the ag-specific grants, as they did last year when the Legislature agreed to keep them as categorical for at least another year. The statewide Farm Bureau. which has led the fight for the funding, is currently analyzing Salas’ bill, legislative policy analyst Andrea Fox said in an email.

Salas said he discussed his effort with Brown during a dinner and he continues talking with the governor’s office. The discussions come after Salas and 84 other legislators sent a letter to Brown urging the funding be restored.

Salas and Nielsen are both confident the bill has enough bipartisan support to pass, they said.

“This bill has been received very well by my colleagues,” Salas said. “It’s been a bipartisan effort … We’re fighting really hard to make sure we’re successful.”

Assembly Bill 2033

Proposal: Retain funding for the 31-year-old Agricultural Education Incentive Grant program

Author: Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, http://asmdc.org/members/a32/

Read the bill: http://leginfo.ca.gov



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