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School agriculture departments face budget cuts

Educators say school district “Ag” departments across the North Coast are in jeopardy because of budget cuts. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirms the Golden State is the number one producer of agriculture in the country.  But the budget proposed by Governor Brown puts an end to the Agriculture Incentive Grant for the 20-4 school year.  Agriculture educators say programs across the state will not be the same starting next year.

Tuesday night, agriculture teachers and department heads from Humboldt and Del Norte counties met at Eureka High School to discuss the likely end of the Agriculture Incentive Grant.  Since 1983, that grant has been given to California schools meeting certain agriculture curriculum requirements since 1983.

"We won't have the money that we need to run our programs.  We rely on our grants to fund our programs.  The districts can really not provide the funds that it takes to run our classes.  Some of our classes are career technical education classes such as shop, ‘ag’ welding, and mechanics and power mechanics, and we just will not have the funds to run those," said Sandy Lovfald, an Agriculture Education Instructor at Eureka High School.

Without the more than $4,000,000 given to agriculture departments throughout the state, hands-on classes that students say can be life changing, could be reduced or eliminated.

"I just love the hands-on experience of getting to see the results of the hard work you put into these animals and the rewarding feeling it is to sell them and see other people that just congratulate you for all your hard work," said Kara Kline, an agriculture student at Eureka High School.

The Eureka High School Agriculture program normally receives more than $20,000 from the grant, but the proposed budget would give the school less than $800, according to school officials. They say that money wouldn’t necessarily have to go to the agriculture department. 

Teachers say this likely cut is especially harmful in California.

"Our state really feeds the nation.  We're the number one ‘ag’ state and we provide a diversity of products that we enjoy every day in the stores and from stores and we have to have people that are marketing and producing and supporting the industry in order to continue that," said Lindsey Kleiner, an Agriculture Education Instructor for Fortuna High School.

Hundreds of letters have been written to local and state officials by students and teachers explaining why the agriculture incentive grant must stay. 

"I wish there was something personally I could do besides just writing letters because I feel like every student should have the opportunity to experience what I have because it really has changed my life personally," Kline said.

"There won't be the opportunities for them to travel with us to get out and see the opportunities they have, to have the experience they would have from maybe meeting a student from Fresno, and making a connection there, and saying, 'Oh, I didn't realize that career was in agriculture.  I can do that in Humboldt County,'" said Lovfald.

State officials say each school district will receive the same amount of money next year, but there will not be categories where the schools have to spend the money.  The proposed budget is likely to be accepted in June.  There are about 74,000 students in agriculture departments throughout California, and educators say they will continue to try to get students, alumni and parents to write letters to lawmakers to try and keep the agriculture incentive budget from disappearing.