SACRAMENTO — Farm groups are voicing concerns that Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget apparently cuts a grant program that schools rely on for agriculture education.
A top state official says the money would still be there for districts but would not be earmarked specifically for that purpose.
The Agriculture Education Incentive 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, explains the California Agricultural Teachers Association.
The proposed cut eliminates $4 million distributed to about 300 FFA programs in California, said Jamie Johansson, second vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.
“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,” the teachers’ group’s director, Jim Aschwanden, said in a statement.
He said the cut “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.”
However, the money is included in Brown’s budget for schools but isn’t considered a categorical program, explained H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the state Department of Finance. Categorical funding must be used for a specific purpose.
In addition, Brown is assuring districts that have received the ag education funding that the money will be available next year, too, Palmer told the Capital Press.
“If school districts believe this is a high priority program, the state will continue to have the money to fund it,” 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.
The elimination of categorical funding is part of a larger effort to return local control to school districts, he said.
However, farm groups vow 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 ag teachers’ association, which includes about 700 instructors from the middle school to university levels, notes that 51 percent of students enrolled in ag education programs are Hispanic.
Johansson urged Farm Bureau members at a dinner meeting recently to send letters to Brown and lawmakers urging that the grants be kept in the budget. He also urged members to make sure local school boards remain committed to the programs.
“It’s going to become more important for county Farm Bureaus to be involved at the school board level,” he said.
California Agricultural Teachers Association: http://www.calagteachers.org
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://cfbf.com
California Department of Finance: http://www.dof.ca.gov