Jason Frerichs: Budget cuts and agriculture education
National FFA Week was celebrated Feb. 19-26, 2011, and for many, that meant reliving old memories spent in the famous blue corduroy jacket. Without a doubt, 4-H and FFA are influential programs for youth in agriculture, and the value these programs have for creating leaders in food production is priceless.
Looking at South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposal to cut $127 million, or 10 percent, from the state’s budget has many concerned about the future of these programs, especially the presence of Extension educators on the county level and agriculture teachers in the classroom.
Jason Frerichs, South Dakota Senate Minority Leader, said the budget cuts would impact everything from state aid to K-12 education, higher education and Medicaid providers. Education and social services account for about 85 percent of the general fund.
“If schools are cut by 10 percent, educators would have to cut programs that aren’t required, that includes the agriculture classes,” said Frerichs, who also teaches in the agriculture department at Lake Area Technical Institute. “I have talked to many supervisors that have said Careers and Technical Education (CTE) classes would be the last to go. However, if kids start opting out of these classes because they aren’t required or won’t help them get scholarships, it’s pretty hard to keep these classes around.”
Frerichs is working to put an end to House Bill 1250, which would result in a repeal of the changes that allowed agriculture education to count for the South Dakota Opportunities Scholarship, which awards $5,000 for students.
“The governor wants to repeal the changes made that I believe creates fairness and opportunities for young people wanting to take advantage of CTE and agriculture education classes,” said Frerichs. “I think we can limit the scholarship in other ways. Maybe, we could make a ceiling for ACT scores. The low is currently 24, but we could set a ceiling for those who score above 30 because those kids already have access to a great number of scholarships.”
Although Frerichs believes there will be many changes made to the proposed 10 percent cuts before it goes through, he explored what FFA, 4-H, CTE and agriculture education could look like if those cuts were pushed through.
“The worst case scenario is that agriculture education would certainly change,” affirmed Frerichs. “Teachers would be shared among school districts, which would put a teacher on the road instead of having them in the classroom or the shop. Or, another teacher, not qualified to instruct on agriculture, would be assigned to teach these courses. Reduced travel and competition opportunities would prohibit students from attending FFA conventions. 4-H would become a more volunteer-run program.”
Estimated cuts include 36 jobs lost at South Dakota State University (SDSU), as well as closing of two experiment stations, according to Barry Dunn, dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences. The job cuts alone would save $500,000, but at what cost?
“Public outrage to the proposed cuts to schools and nursing homes is very obvious, and the message is resonating with policy officials in Pierre,” said Frerichs. “If we lose the experiment stations, it will impact our local economies, especially for livestock and crop producers. We will no longer have those resources, and we will lose important data. So many young people want to be back in South Dakota and raise their families. We can’t lose these agriculture leadership courses.”
These cuts will hit rural communities the hardest because they have the lowest access to capital. Sales tax increase legislation still has a glimmer of hope and will be debated further in the State Affairs committee and possibly on the Senate floor, according to Frerichs.
“Many folks throughout the state have spoken that they want to keep our schools funded and nursing homes to stay open to take care of our family and friends,” said Frerichs.
Frerichs hopes the 10 percent cuts might take place over a three-year term, to lessen the impacts of the budget changes. Of course, there is no easy solution to solving the state’s deficit problems, and elected officials on both sides of the fence are exploring the pros and cons. Frerichs invites anyone who wants to testify on behalf of the state’s education to mark their calendars for March, 2, 2011 to come to Pierre for “Speak Up For Kids Day.”
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