SALEM — Oregon FFA, an agricultural education and leadership organization, will receive funding from the state this biennium for the first time in eight years.

House Bill 2444, relating to agricultural education, flew through the Senate on June 30 by a 27-0 vote. The bill appropriates $1.43 million to the Oregon Department of Education for FFA to provide financing for enrollment, leadership development and the coordination of 24 state-level competitions.

The funding will help make fees for joining the FFA obsolete. The fees have imposed a barrier for students taking agriculture classes who can’t afford the $20 to join the FFA, said JD Cant, co-chair for Advocacy with the Oregon Agriculture Teachers’ Association.

Almost 7,000 students are already enrolled in the Oregon FFA. Cant said the funding could help as many as 5,000 additional students, who already take agriculture classes, become enrolled in the intracurricular program.

The bill also appropriates $600,000 in grant money, to extend contracts for FFA advisors into the summer.

Many advisors already provide engagement in projects and mentoring over summer break. Cant said a lot of one-on-one happens during the summer months. He, along with other agriculture teachers, wouldn’t stop working during the summer because they want to continue their programs. But the educators are doing the work for little to no compensation.

Cant, who teaches in Elgin, has worked around 60 days during the summer, only to receive compensation for 24. He said the minimal pay can make recruitment of agriculture teachers difficult.

“It’s hard to pull someone out of industry for teaching when the industry pays better,” Cant said. “We don’t get into this profession to be rich.”

Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, initially introduced the bill in collaboration with the association.

Two similar bills for public funding of the FFA were floated in 2017. The OATA procured a lobbyist to help spearhead the effort, but both failed to pass through the Legislature.

“We thought we were on the right track in the 2017 session. I love to think you can get it right the first time, but I don’t think that’s the process anymore,” Cant said.

For years, Wes Crawford, also co-chair of OATA, said there had been talk of trying to win back some state funding.

“It’s been quite a long process,” he said.

In the past, the Oregon FFA was funded by the Oregon Department of Education. But as funding declined over a period of two decades, the FFA became reliant on private funding, primarily through the FFA Foundation.

“Now that there’s state funding present, it’s not going to replace private funding, it’s to aid it,” Crawford said.

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