Idaho ag education initiative seeks $2.24 million

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

During the 2014 Idaho legislative session, lawmakers will be asked to provide $2.24 million to help shore up the state's secondary agricultural education programs. The requested money is part of an initiative proposed by Idaho FFA supporters.

BOISE — FFA supporters will ask the 2014 Idaho Legislature for $2.24 million to help maintain and improve the state’s secondary agricultural education programs.

The Idaho FFA Association, Idaho FFA Alumni Association and Idaho FFA Foundation are backing a proposed secondary agricultural education improvement initiative, which was introduced to farm groups recently.

FFA Alumni Association member Sara Schmidt said the money is needed to “shore up the program we have and improve it as we go forward.”

The initiative includes common Idaho quality standards for all ag education programs, incentive grants based on those standards, professional development programs, $25,000 start-up grants for ag education programs, and full-time FFA personnel.

It includes a statewide professional development and mentoring program for agriculture and natural resource programs created within the last three years.

State funding for secondary agricultural education has not increased since 1998.

There are 90 ag education programs with 12,000 students in 37 of the state’s 44 counties. While student enrollment increased 20 percent over the past five years, teacher turnover is up, too. Forty-six of the state’s 126 ag education teachers left in the past two years, a 36 percent turnover rate, said Steve Wilder, an FFA instructor at Meridian High School.

Wilder said that turnover rate is alarming.

“It’s pretty obvious we can’t continue to turn over 46 teachers every two years,” he said. “We are really concerned about our pipeline and our foundation. It’s important to acknowledge the concern and start working toward addressing it.”

FFA supporters are asking Idaho’s farming groups to support the initiative, which will be presented to lawmakers after the next legislative session convenes in January.

Sen. Jim Patrick, a Republican farmer from Twin Falls, said there’s a decent chance the initiative will make some headway on funding, “but what the amount is, I don’t know. The idea is acceptable; the money is the hardest part.”

Patrick said supporting secondary ag education could help the state achieve its goal of having 60 percent of high school graduates go on to college. The go-to-college rate for students who complete professional technical education in Idaho is 63 percent, compared to 47 percent for other students.

“The ag education kids are already doing that,” he said of the 60 percent goal. “The program works. It’s just a matter of encouraging it more (and) that’s going to take more money.”

Sen. Bert Brackett, a Republican rancher from Rogerson, believes there’s a good chance initiative backers will get at least some of the money they’re asking for in 2014.

“You very seldom get anything you don’t ask for,” he said.

Brackett, who went through the FFA program, said he’s a firm believer in the program “and I think it’s worth the effort to reinvigorate it. The whole vocational technical agricultural training and FFA program is in jeopardy.”


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