MERIDIAN, Idaho — Idaho’s farming community is rallying around a proposal that seeks $2.24 million annually in state money to help maintain and improve the state’s FFA and agricultural education programs.
Farmers, industry leaders and FFA teachers and students have packed meetings across the state that are being held to drum up support for the agricultural education improvement initiative, which will be presented as a bill during the 2014 legislative session.
The farm industry needs the skilled laborers that the state’s secondary agricultural education programs provide, said Caldwell farmer Sid Freeman, president-elect of the Idaho FFA Alumni Foundation.
“You can’t say enough about how important this effort is,” he said. “These are the programs that are going to teach these kids the skills that they need to work in (the ag industry).”
The initiative was created by the Idaho FFA Association, Idaho FFA Alumni Association and Idaho FFA Foundation.
It 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.
Much of the initiative is designed around attracting and keeping qualified teachers.
Enrollment in ag education programs in Idaho has increased 20 percent during the past five years, but 46 of the state’s 126 ag education teachers have left over the past two years.
“That’s 36 percent turnover and it’s not sustainable,” said Steve Wilder, an FFA instructor at Meridian High School.
State funding for ag education has not increased since 1998.
While funding is stagnant, “The numbers have gone up and the needs are greater,” Wilder said. “We better do something before we can’t sustain what we already have.”
A $12,500 grant from J.R. Simplot Co. has enabled initiative supporters to hold nine educational meetings around the state, one in each FFA district.
Information from all the meetings will be compiled into a summary statement that will accompany the legislative bill.
The meetings are part of an outreach effort being conducted by Idaho’s farm community and FFA groups heading into the next legislative session, which begins in January.
Freeman said one of the main purposes of the outreach effort is to get legislators “to recognize the potential of these programs and what they can do for the economic foundation of this state.”
Several state lawmakers have attended the meetings. “We want the legislators to see first-hand who is in support of this and to hear what they’re saying,” Freeman said.
Shane Stevenson, an FFA adviser and ag science technology teacher in Meridian, said agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Idaho, accounting for one out of every eight jobs in the state.
“It’s important that we have students who can be trained correctly inside and outside the classroom,” he said. “Agricultural education is one of the most important investments we can make in our state.”