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A Grave Error For Ag

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Angels Camp, CA — A Local Ag educator is putting pressure on Governor Jerry Brown to fix what he calls a “grave mistake” in Brown’s proposed budget. That budget would cut the Agricultural Career Technical Education Incentive Grant Program that funnels around $4.1 million to state schools.

“I think it was a grave mistake, an error for him to even consider removing it from the budget,” says Roy Beck the Director of Agricultural Education at Bret Harte High School. “What we do in the high schools is actually what feeds our industry with the people that run those industries. We want him to put the grant back into the budget.”

Cutting the grant is consistent with Brown’s “Local Control Funding Formula” proposal, which calls for the Ag money to go into a general fund for education. In the past, Brown has stated that local education agencies are in the best position to allocate their funding to meet local needs and priorities. Beck believes that will cause some state schools to use the money elsewhere and cut Ag programs, but he is not worried about his department.

Beck stresses, “Here at Bret Harte, I feel confident that our district would say ‘hey look, we keep supporting our Ag Department the way we’ve been supporting it because it’s important to our school, community and state.’ Now, can I guarantee that? No, but that’s the way I feel.”

The Ag incentive grant funding must be matched by school districts, which Beck says Bret Harte has been able to do every year except last year due to hard economic times. Beck has already begun his push to pressure the Governor to reinstate the grant. Yesterday, he mailed around 600 letters to Mother Lode State legislators District 14 Senator Tom Berryhill and District Five Assemblyman Frank Bigelow. The letters are from students in Bret Harte High’s Ag Education and Future Farmers of America programs, stating how vital these classes are to them.

“In some cases it’s given them a safe place to be, a home away from home. For others it’s more poignant, it’s the livelihood of their families,” says Beck.

In addition, Beck has begun to organize a road trip. March 19 is Ag Day in the state, and he wants to bring busloads of Ag supporters to the steps of the state capitol that day to demand the grant be put back into Brown’s final budget, which is due out in July.

California Agricultural Teachers’ Association is also opposed to dropping the grant. It reports over 74,000 students are currently enrolled in Ag programs offered in over 300 schools statewide in urban, suburban, and rural settings. The Association notes, the programs do reflect California’s social and ethnic diversity as 51% of the students enrolled are Hispanic and 35% are White. Beck also points out the Farm Bureau, the California Cattleman’s Association and several fair organizations are also involved in the fight.