Ag education funding faces plow



Agriculture is a way of life in San Luis Obispo and area ag products from broccoli to wine to cattle are also big moneymakers: SLO crop values topped $653 million in 2007 alone. It’s no wonder Central Coast kids pursue farming. And no wonder Californians get a little peeved when Governor Schwarzenegger rocks the tractor.

San Luis Obispo High School students may lose some agricultural education programs come January if the governor’s latest budget proposal is approved by the California Legislature. The threat comes much to the dismay of the SLO High School Agriculture Department and the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association.

Schwarzenegger is proposing a nearly 11 percent reduction to the Agricultural Education Incentive Grant funding for California schools next year, compared to the original allocation contained in the January budget, according to the teachers’ association. An additional provision in the proposal would allow local districts to redirect up to half of the funds from the Agricultural Education Incentive Grant to other programs such as Home-to-School Transportation and Gifted and Talented Education and vice-versa, forcing a competition for funds.

According to Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the teachers’ association, this could be especially detrimental to agricultural education programs because an application for Incentive Grant funds requires a matching effort by local districts.

So what does all this mean in layman’s terms? Basically, the budget would mean a definite loss of $592,000 for California school agriculture education programs and a potential loss of an additional $2.42 million. According to Aschwanden, cuts like those are troubling because conducting agricultural classes costs more than conducting standard education classes like math and English.

Despite funding reductions in other career-technology education programs over the years, agricultural education has “held its own,” Aschwanden said. “Agricultural education for the past 20 years has been recognized as one of the models for delivering career-tech education in California,”

SLO High School has helped to maintain this standard. Agriculture teacher Anna Bates is worried about the governor’s proposal. “This [cut] would be devastating to our funding,” she said.

Principle Will Jones isn’t overly concerned, though. “Most of our district’s funding comes from local property taxes,” he said, and noted that the school has already submitted its Agricultural Incentive Grant applications for the coming year. Jones said that if SLO High does face funding cutbacks, staffing won’t be affected, but student programs and supplies will be.

According to Aschwanden, both the state Senate and Assembly have declined Schwarzenegger’s proposed plan and are currently in negotiations with the governor. Aschwanden and the teachers’ association are urging citizens interested in protecting agricultural education funding in California schools to contact their local representatives and express their concerns.

“I think it would be very valuable for people to reinforce with [the legislature] the important role that agricultural education plays in producing leadership for an industry that will remain vital. California has a very vibrant economy–a very diverse economy, but one of the foundation industries that really drives economic growth in California has been the agricultural industry. It’s an important part of not only the business environment, but also the social fabric of California –who we are, what we are.”

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