Farm Horizons, February 2000

Funding for high school agriculture programs at risk

The Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council (MAELC) named reinstatement of high school agricultural education funding as its top priority for the year 2000 Legislative session said MAELC Executive Director Patrick Plonski.

Minnesota currently has 195 high school agricultural programs receiving approximately $3 million annually in State of Minnesota funding. That funding is scheduled to sunset effective July 1, with the funds rolled into the general education funding formula.

"We were especially concerned at our meeting to see data indicating that those school districts that have provided high school agriculture programs will take a tremendous loss in funding, while those districts that have not had high school agriculture programs will see a significant increase in funding," said MAELC co-chair Sen. Dallas Sams, Staples.

"Eliminating high school agriculture education funding will effectively penalize those school districts that have provided these programs, and reward those programs that have not provided any agricultural education. We object to that," Sams said.

Currently high school agricultural education programs are funded in part by the career and technical categorical funding program. This funding block provides roughly $12.5 million in funding for career and technical education programs, including approximately $3 million for Minnesota's high school agricultural programs.

"It is critically important that we find a way to make sure that adequate funding remains in place for Minnesota's high school agricultural programs, whether through the career and technical categorical funding program or some other mechanism," Sams said.

"Now ­ in the middle of a huge budget surplus in Minnesota ­ is not the time to completely dismantle our high school agricultural education programs," said MAELC member Rep. Steve Wenzel, Little Falls.

"Minnesota remains a state where agriculture is the number one industry, and we have been working hard in recent years to revitalize our agricultural education programs. Many of these high school agriculture programs will not be able to survive the tremendous cuts in funding that are scheduled to go into effect this Summer," Wenzel said.

"It is important that people know where food comes from," Plonski said. "Strong agricultural education programs at all levels help ensure that as fewer and fewer people have the opportunity to grow up on farms, there remains a basic level of knowledge about the food chain and what it takes to put food on the table.

"As we experience some of the lowest farm prices ever, it is even more important that our society understand a little of why it is important to have farmers and a strong farm economy in Minnesota ­ in this way, we can help build support for good agricultural policies and a better agricultural economy in Minnesota," Plonski concluded.

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