Agricultural education funding in the state’s public schools has been eliminated in California Governor Gerry Brown’s recently released 2014-2015 proposed budget.
The Agricultural Education Incentive Grant provides about $4.1 million statewide to agriculture education programs that meet specific program criteria. The grant funding is based on FFA membership and other factors such as the number of Ag teachers in the program.
Oakdale High School Ag teacher and FFA advisor Troy Gravatt reported that the elimination of the Ag incentive grant could mean that some FFA chapters will shutter, as they depend on that money. He also said that some will have to cut activities so severely that they’ll lose student interest and then shut down.
“Really, the Governor’s budget decision to cut (the) Ag Incentive Grant is like using one red brick to plug the Stanislaus River,” Gravatt said. “It’s such a small fix to the budget when there are other areas of poor spending. The money is really well spent when compared to other funds allocated by the governor, giving a greater bang for the buck by supporting FFA. This also cuts funds to the State FFA Association, State FFA officers and puts in jeopardy FFA activities across the state – judging teams, leadership conferences.”
He added that the grant money helps support Ag education and the FFA in the Oakdale Joint Unified School District to the tune of about $10,000.
“This pays for FFA activities above and beyond what we are already fundraising for, which this year we are approaching $25,000 in funds raised for FFA activities. So in future years we will need to raise closer to $35,000 by this time,” Gravatt said.
He said the program needs that amount per year to cover the “bare bones.” He said that number doesn’t include new equipment such as that for the Ag welding shop, the greenhouse facilities, livestock equipment for the fair, and so on. OHS FFA students are involved in leadership trainings, public speaking, competitive judging teams, and career development.
Gravatt said that Oakdale FFA has seen an increase in the number of students wanting to participate in Ag judging teams, so many that they need a bus instead of a van to attend competitions.
“Judging teams are a big deal,” he said. “(Judging) gives students more opportunities. That’s what builds programs.”
Between Gravatt and fellow Ag teacher Ed Hartzell, they oversee 10 different four-member teams – dairy products, agronomy, poultry, Ag mechanics, farm power, dairy cattle, livestock, Ag sales and service, specialty animals, and floral. Students are only allowed to compete on one team.
Gravatt said a bus is about $1,500 per trip and they plan to attend seven judging field days. Entries are about $400 per contest. Gravatt said that the FFA approached the school site council this year and were approved to receive $4,500 toward transportation.
He also noted the expense involved in students attending FFA conventions. The state convention is about $220 per member and the national convention is around $1,000 per member. The biggest expense to the program, he said, is related to travel because there’s the transportation, entries/registration, and needing to have substitute teachers to cover their classes while the Ag teachers are with the teams or officers.
“For $10,000, the governor gets a big bang for these programs,” Gravatt said, adding that the money goes toward leadership activities and judging days, not photocopying and clerical needs. “It’s going to stuff that’s getting kids involved, giving them activities.”
OJUSD Superintendent Marc Malone said that the district is committed to the Ag program and vocational education.
“Our community can rest assured that we are putting strong emphasis on our Ag program,” he said.
Malone added that the new Common Core standards are college and career focused and there are an immense number of jobs related to the Ag industry. He noted that there are many natural career options that tie into Ag and that the district is committed to more career opportunities. He also said that he hopes the Ag Education Incentive Grant doesn’t go away, but if it does the district will “continue to prioritize that.”
In fact, OHS has plans to hire a third teacher to its Ag department to teach sciences. The job is expected to be advertised in the spring. Malone said that the school’s science classes are impacted and they need to add science sections anyway. He said it will create more opportunities for kids in science and Ag pathways.
Gravatt said it’s an exciting change to see the program grow. However, he still feels it’s important to have a plan to replace the money that could be lost if the grant goes away because he doesn’t want to see the Ag program students have to lose activities.
“One of the things I’m looking to do is establish an Oakdale FFA alumni chapter,” Gravatt shared. “…It’s recognized by the National FFA Association, we get to use their tax ID number – it’s like a boosters. We would get to raise up to $25,000 per year and use the national association’s tax ID number.”
Anyone who’s interested can be a member of the Oakdale FFA alumni chapter, which he hopes will be in place before county fair time. Alumni chapter members don’t have to be former FFA members. Alumni members can be a business, supportive individuals, parents of current or former members, or, obviously, former FFA members. It’s open to everyone except current members. There is a membership that requires dues and the national association sets the amount for those. If someone wants a lifetime membership, it’s $160. He said they’re hoping to get at least 20 alumni members.
“It’ll help us. If there was a fundraiser event everyone could get behind, I think it could be great for the community and help build the program,” Gravatt said.
He started an FFA alumni chapter when he taught at Pitman High School in Turlock. He reported that over eight years, that alumni chapter raised about $100,000. The group also decided how they would help the chapter with that money, which he said would be the case with an Oakdale alumni chapter as well. He’s doing some recruiting for the alumni chapter through word of mouth from members and the Oakdale FFA Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OAKDALE.FFA.
According to the California FFA website, there are more than 70,000 FFA members in more than 300 high schools in California. California is in the top five FFA membership states alongside Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and Missouri.