Fate of Idaho ag education proposal unclear
BOISE — A proposal to use an additional $2.24 million in state money annually to help improve the state’s FFA and agricultural education programs faces an uncertain road in the Idaho Legislature this year.
The Idaho Ag Education Initiative was put together too late in the year to be included in the governor’s proposed budget. Supporters acknowledge that means it will have a tougher time being approved by the joint-finance appropriations committee, which sets funding levels.
While presenting the proposal to members of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee recently, supporters were asked some tough questions, including what they would do with only $500,000 this year.
“What are the detriments of delaying it a year?” asked Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs.
Andrus, the committee chairman and a rancher, told the Capital Press later that the main objection he has heard is that the proposal wasn’t included in the governor’s budget.
Since that meeting, supporters say there are encouraging signs that show the legislative body may be more receptive to approving much of the proposal this session.
“I’m confident we’ll get something this year,” said Sen. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, who is carrying the bill in the Senate. “We have a lot of support.”
The initiative would include common Idaho quality standards for all ag education programs, $10,000 incentive grants based on those standards, professional development programs, $25,000 start-up grants for ag education programs and a full-time Idaho FFA Association executive director position.
It also seeks $600,000 more annually to cover the costs associated with ag education programs that are above normal classroom costs.
Patrick, a farmer, introduced a bill Feb. 3 that would create and fund the incentive and start-up grant programs.
The rest of the proposal’s components already exist in state statute so JFAC only needs to approve more funding for them.
There are 4,200 FFA members in Idaho and almost 12,000 students are enrolled in ag education programs in Idaho, said Shawn Dygert, legislative liaison for the Idaho Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association.
Dygert told lawmakers that enrollment in secondary ag education programs has increased 25 percent in the past 10 years but state funding levels for those programs haven’t increased since 1998.
“As we continue to grow, the money just doesn’t go as far,” he said.
He also noted that Idaho ag education students go on to college at a 63 percent rate, far greater than the statewide rate of 47 percent for other students.
“Ag education is proven and effective,” he said.
Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, chairman of the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee, said committee members will lobby for the proposal during an upcoming JFAC hearing.
“I feel quite comfortable about this initiative,” he said. “I think the outcome will be good.”
Patrick said it’s possible the legislative body might only approve some of the proposal this year.
“We know this may be a long-term project to get the money we need,” he said.