Md. ag education sector hopeful for $500,000 boost
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (March 13, 2018) — Agricultural education across the state could see a bump in support next year if the General Assembly squeezes extra money for teachers and students into the state budget.
The Maryland Farm Bureau is lobbying legislators to slip an extra half million dollars into next year’s budget to boost compensation and training for agricultural teachers and cover extra costs that may be keeping some students from a more complete agricultural education, said Colby Ferguson, the Farm Bureau’s government relations director.
Promoting agricultural education has been the Farm Bureau’s top priority this year as the number of farm operations across Maryland slowly declines and the average age of its farmers continues to rise well over 60 years old, he said.
However, strong interest for farming remains among students — despite the fact that the average Marylander is four generations removed from the field.
“These young people don’t even know the opportunities that are out there for them,” Ferguson said. “But we’re finding that a lot of (urban and suburban) kids want to get into agriculture.”
The Farm Bureau would like to see the state pay for a grant-like program that would allow some agricultural teachers to be paid over the summer. Most ag teachers work under 10-month contracts and cover costs related to after-school agricultural programs, leadership training and summertime conventions out of their own pockets, Ferguson said.
Additional money would allow them to earn an extra 20 days worth of pay and expand instruction for their students.
The Farm Bureau also wants the state to help cover the cost of an FFA membership.
Of the state’s 5,600 students in agricultural classes, only 2,400 have joined FFA, sometimes because they can’t afford to membership costs, Ferguson said, so they miss out on opportunities with the popular student group.
Farm Burea is also trying to get the state to pay for more professional development for agricultural teachers, some of who lack the background in programs like FFA and decline available summer training that can cost hundreds of dollars.
Funding for all three pieces would cost about $510,000, Ferguson said.
The money works in tandem with a bill recently passed by the House and under consideration in the Senate that encourages school districts to create agricultural education programs that prepare students for careers and opportunities in agriculture-related employment by providing instruction in subjects such as science, math, technology, communications, leadership and management.
The bill emphasizes that those programs include classroom and lab instruction, supervised farming experiences and involvement in student organizations such as FFA.
All but three school systems in the state currently have agricultural education programs, though some are limited only to one high school or instructional center.
The bill encourages districts to expand on that.
“It’s another stepping stone,” said George Mayo, executive director of the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation. “Our ultimate goal is that we would love to see every student in Maryland have access to agriculture in education.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925