Governor leaves 'ag' in budget

editor@sierrastar.comJune 24, 2014 

When funding for high school ag programs was cut from the preliminary state budget, a statewide outcry from ag students, parents, educators, farmers, and supporting legislators, was heard loud and clear in Sacramento. The program that provides the funding, the Agricultural Education Incentive Grant program, which matches funds with school district s throughout California, was placed back in the budget.

But the program was not locked-in until Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state's 2014-2015 $156.3 billion budget June 20, 10 days before the June 30 deadline. He had the option of vetoing the funding prior to signing the budget.

In a prepared statement, Assemblyman Frank Bigelow said he was proud that the governor listened to the voices of tens of thousands of high school students who wrote letters and stood on the steps of the Capitol demanding action to save their ag education programs.

"Now, thousands of high school students throughout the state will continue to learn the early fundamentals of agriculture, including crop planning and planting. This is a victory not only for these young students, but for the future of California's agricultural industry."

Last year, Bigelow joined a bipartisan group of 23 lawmakers to sign a letter urging the governor to protect the grant, and co-authored Assembly Bill 2033 to ensure that the grant is funded next year.

"The money also helps pay for items such as shop equipment and field trips for students at relatively little cost to the state," Bigelow said. "Many students have said that being a part of such classes is one of their most positive high school experiences."

In his preliminary budget, Brown proposed the complete elimination of funding for the grant, which supports ag education in public schools.

At the time the funding was cut, Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teachers' Association, said the association was extremely disappointed that Governor Brown made the proposal to eliminate ag education funding in California, the leading agricultural-producing state in the nation, .

After the budget's approval last Friday, Aschwanden said the association was very grateful that so many students, parents, industry partners, and others took the time to let their legislators and the governor know how important Ag Education programs and FFA are in positively shaping the lives of young people.

"We appreciate the efforts of everyone who contributed to this victory," Aschwanden said.

Prior to the funds being added back into the budget, Aschwanden stressed the importance of high school ag programs throughout the state and said the elimination of such funding would be a terrible mistake.

More than 300 high schools (75,000 students) statewide, including Yosemite and Minarets, participate in ag education, and the would have been severely impacted if the grant funds were eliminated. Ag students at both Yosemite and Minarets participated in letter writing campaigns urging the governor to retain the funding.

This past school year, the program provided Yosemite with $7,000 and Minarets with $24,000.

Lauri Fringer has children in FFA and also works in the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Madera, and serves as the 4-H program representative for the county.

"It isn't just about plows and cows," Fringer said when speaking about ag classes and FFA prior to the governors approval of FFA funding. "It is a technology based world we live in, from raising livestock, producing crops, and scientific field analysis. It would be a tremendous mistake to take funding like this away from the very hands that feed the world."

Before the budget was approved, Fringer said cutting the state funding would have a huge impact on future agriculturalists.

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