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Monday, March 8, 2021

NEWSPAPER PUBLISHED WEEKLY ON THURSDAY


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Victory for Ag Education Governor signs state budget 
$4.1 Million for Ag Incentive Grant Preserved

California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed a balanced, on-time state budget that pays down debt, shores up the teachers’ retirement system, builds a solid Rainy Day Fund, directs additional funding for local schools and health care, and continues funding for the Ag Incentive Grant.

In his initial 2014-15 State Budget draft, Governor Brown proposed the complete elimination of funding for the Agricultural Education Incentive Grant, which supports high quality Agricultural Education standards in our public schools. This grant program is designed to provide matching funds for districts who commit to meeting state-approved program standards in Ag Education, including classroom instruction, supervised agricultural experience projects, and leadership training through the Future Farmers of America (FFA) student organization.

California Assembly-member Rudy Salas was joined by FFA students from the 32nd Assembly District and across the state to testify before the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education where they urged that $4.1 million in funding be restored to the Agriculture Education Incentive Grant Program for 2014-2015. Later, Assembly-member Salas also testified before the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education about the importance of funding this program. Both Subcommittees voted in favor of restoring $4.1 million in funding to the program in this year’s fiscal budget.

“Victory would not have been possible without the countless students, farmers, business owners, educators, community members, and fellow legislators who stood by FFA and fought with me to preserve Ag Education,” said Salas, “Funding is now secured for this next budget cycle to invest in our students and give them the vocational skills and leadership development necessary to advance California and meet local industry demands.”

Salas authored Assembly Bill (AB) 2033 which calls for dedicated future funding to the Ag Education Incentive Grant Program, and which recently passed the Assembly floor. AB 2033 is currently being considered in the Senate and will later go to the Governor.

Assembly-member Frank Bigelow commented: “I am proud that Governor Brown listened to the voices of tens of thousands of high school students who wrote letters and stood on the steps of the Capitol demanding action to save their ag education programs. Now, thousands of California FFA students throughout the state will continue to learn the early fundamentals of agriculture, including crop planning and planting. This is a victory not only for these young students, but for the future of California’s agricultural industry.”

Programs funded by the Agriculture Education Incentive Grant Program give students and teachers the technical skills needed to meet local industry demands through welding, husbandry, agriscience, mechanics, and a variety of other vocational programs. The Ag Incentive Grant services nearly every region in the state – over 75,000 students.

In addition to the AG Incentive Grant, the 2014-15 State Budget includes a plan of shared responsibility among the state, school districts and teachers to shore up the State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS). The first year’s contributions from all three entities total approximately $276 million, growing in subsequent years to more than $5 billion annually. This is projected to eliminate the unfunded liability in the system by 2046.

“This on-time budget provides for today and saves for the future,” said Governor Brown. “We’re paying off the state’s credit card, saving for the next rainy day and fixing the broken teachers’ retirement system.”

The budget also directs $1.6 billion into the state Rainy Day Fund – the first deposit into the fund since 2007. The fund is expected to grow to $4.6 billion by 2017-18, if voters approve of the measure on the November ballot that was proposed by the Governor and passed by the Legislature.

When Governor Brown took office, the state faced a massive $26.6 billion budget deficit and estimated annual shortfalls of roughly $20 billion. These deficits, built up over a decade, have now been eliminated by a combination of budget cuts, temporary taxes approved by voters and the recovering economy.

The budget continues the state’s reinvestment in local schools, providing more than $10 billion this year alone in new Proposition 98 funding. This includes $4.7 billion for the second year of implementation for the Local Control Funding Formula, which directs new education revenues to districts serving English language learners, students from low-income families and foster youth. The budget also expands the number of low-income preschool students served, increases the rates paid to preschool providers and provides grants to improve the quality of these programs.

In health care, last year the state adopted the optional expansion of Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act, providing millions of Californians with affordable health coverage. Enrollment is now expected to rise from 7.9 million in 2012-13 to 11.5 million in 2014-15, for a total cost increase of $2.4 billion.

Additional details on the 2014-15 budget, including line-item vetoes, can be found at www.ebudget.ca.gov. ■

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