Friday, July 02, 2010
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Agricultural education's future at stake following ISBE budget reduction

Board moves to eliminate $3 million line item that generates returns for Illinois

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[July 02, 2010]  SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois State Board of Education has voted to eliminate the agricultural education line item from its fiscal 2011 budget, putting agricultural education's future at risk. The $3 million-plus line item has been used to fund nationally acclaimed, top-quality programs that also help generate economic returns for the state of Illinois. The line item has been included within the ISBE budget since 1987.

Insurance"While ISBE board members were sympathetic to the nearly 20 line items in the budget that were eliminated and the nearly 45 line items that will experience significant reductions, they voted to make the tough budget recommendation. They also included a recommendation for the governor to find additional funds to assist some of the zero-funded line items," says Harley Hepner, ISBE principal consultant for agricultural education. "Elimination of the agricultural education line item comes despite testimony that showed the return on investment of state dollars and the fact that Illinois agricultural education is a nationally recognized and respected model.

"The result of this action will significantly affect agricultural education in a negative way across the state, from agricultural literacy efforts at the elementary levels, to classrooms at the secondary and postsecondary levels," Hepner continues. "The decision will significantly erode the ability of agricultural businesses to find an adequate supply of future employees with the skills and knowledge they need to successfully lead the industry in the future."

In testimony to the board, Jim Craft, Illinois FFA executive secretary, stressed that agricultural education is not a drain on the state’s financial resources. Rather, agricultural education actually provides a positive cash flow to the state. In fiscal 2009, the agricultural education line item was funded at $3.381 million. During the same time period, agricultural education students generated $10.5 million in net earnings from placement and entrepreneurial projects, representing a 311.5 percent return on investment and stronger tax bases in many local communities.

"For example, agricultural education has excelled in stretching state dollars by securing matching funds from corporate sources. In 2009, $180,000 was provided to 65 county coalitions wishing to establish or strengthen their agricultural literacy programs. That $180,000 was matched by $220,000 from Illinois Ag in The Classroom and another $1.92 million in local funds from participating county coalitions," says Craft. "Wonderful opportunities were provided to more than 2,000 attendance centers when state dollars grew from $180,000 to $2.3 million. About $190,000 of the funds were used for ag education improvement grants to address critical needs at the local level. That investment was matched with $269,515 locally, for a 141 percent return."

Craft pointed out to the board that the impact is not just financial, but also affects many lives:

  • More than 468,000 elementary students and 29,000 elementary teachers at more than 2,000 attendance sites

  • Roughly 30,000 secondary students and nearly 400 secondary teachers at more than 300 attendance sites

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  • Nearly 58,000 postsecondary (university and community college) students and nearly 200 university and community college instructors at 25 attendance centers

  • About 2,800 community volunteers recruited to assist local schools to develop student science, reading and mathematics skills and competencies

  • 20 field staff members assisting local programs, teachers and students by implementing various state projects

Craft ended his testimony by telling the ISBE board: "Agricultural education has a proven record of generating dollars in excess of what the state provides. It incorporates ISBE goals and initiatives fully within the projects funded by the line item; it touches the lives of students of all ages and from all corners of Illinois; and it serves an industry that employs 20 percent of the Illinois work force. The partnership that has been developed between all levels of education, with the support of the agricultural industry and parents, is too important to discard -- that level of partnership is the envy of the nation and is a model for the future."

Craft encourages Illinois agricultural education supporters to communicate with legislators to "not bite the hand" that feeds Illinois' No. 1 industry in terms of work force development, the economy and food production. Supporting documents can be downloaded from to communicate with the governor's office, state senators and representatives.

The statewide agricultural education team includes the Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education, the Illinois Committee for Agricultural Education, Illinois State Board of Education, Illinois FFA and its associated groups, Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers, Illinois Association Community College Agriculture Instructors, University Council, Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom and Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education. The team works to help ensure a successful social, economical and environmental future for the state with kindergarten to adult education programs in support of Illinois’ largest industry, agriculture. For more information, visit

[Text from Illinois Association FFA]

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