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BOISE — An initiative designed to shore up the state’s ag education programs has provided significant benefits since it was approved during the 2014 Idaho Legislature, supporters say.
The Idaho Ag Education Initiative garnered more than $1 million in additional ongoing state funding for agriculture education programs.
It was backed by the Idaho FFA Association, Idaho FFA Alumni Association and Idaho FFA Foundation and was supported by the state’s farming industry.
The Legislature approved an annual $25,000 start-up grant for ag education programs and created common Idaho quality standards for all ag education programs and $10,000 incentive grants based on those standards.
Lawmakers increased “added cost” funding — money provided by the state for costs associated with certain programs that are above normal classroom costs — for ag education classes from $10,260 to $15,000 per full-time instructor.
They also approved funding for a full-time FFA Association executive director. That position had been part-time.
“There has been significant growth in the program since” the initiative passed, said Steve Wilder, an FFA instructor at Meridian High School. “The number of FFA members and teachers has gone up, there has been great reward from those grants and the full-time FFA coordinator has had some definite benefits.”
According to Idaho FFA Executive Director Clara-Leigh Evans, there were 3,965 FFA members and 81 chapters in the state in 2014 and there are now 4,708 members and 95 chapters.
During 2014, there were 120 agricultural and natural resource teachers in Idaho and there are 148 now.
There were 45 applications this year for the $10,000 incentive grants and 30 were awarded, and four new programs were started this year, said Marc Bietia, co-chair of the Idaho FFA board of directors and an ag education teacher at American Falls High School.
“The initiative has been successful. FFA membership has increased and so has overall enrollment in ag education classes,” he said.
But Bietia said the real success of the initiative, in his opinion, is increased communication with the local community and agricultural industry that has resulted from the review process that is part of the incentive program.
In his American Falls ag education program, up to 50 local businesses have input into what students are taught and the ag industry directly influences the curriculum.
“I think that the most valuable part of the whole process is the line of communication developed between the program, our administration and our stakeholders,” he said. “That was the intent of the (incentive program) all along.”
The incentive grants have helped increase the quality of ag education programs, said Shawn Dygert, who teaches ag education classes at Kuna High School.
“We’re rewarding programs for pushing toward excellence,” he said.
His program is using an incentive grant to help fund a major capital improvement on its greenhouse.
“It’s really helping,” he said of the initiative. “We’re seeing program improvement and enrollment increasing.”
Bietia said initiative supporters will meet with other stakeholders to discuss the possibility of seeking additional ag education funding.