National FFA Week has been around for 67 years and starts on the birthday of George Washington, a diligent and exemplary farmer and agriculturist in Virginia.

FFA members learn about Washington during chapter ceremonies, when the FFA treasurer says, “I keep a record of receipts and disbursements just as Washington kept his farm accounts, carefully and accurately. I encourage thrift among the members and strive to build up our financial standing through savings and investments. George Washington was better able to serve his country because he was financially independent.”

And it was one of Washington’s colleagues, Benjamin Franklin, to whom is attributed a short ditty that has a lot to do with FFA and the way that agricultural education is headed today in Illinois.

Franklin penned: “For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For the want of a horse the rider was lost,

For the want of a rider the battle was lost,

For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.”

These brief history and literature lessons are important because Governor Rauner’s effort to follow the tenets of Washington has pulled the nail out of the shoe of Franklin’s horse in his attempt to balance the budget.

He is not balancing it on the back of a workhorse, but on the back of agricultural education thanks to the elimination of its $1.8 million in funding from the Illinois State Board of Education budget.

The elimination of that line item in his proposed budget apparently was made because his staff could see no need for agricultural education, despite the recommendation by the State Board of Education that the line item be raised to $3 million in the next fiscal year. So called “shared sacrifice” might diminish $1.8 million by several thousand, but it should not lead to total elimination.

The $1.8 million line item stimulates over $11.8 million in net earnings of agriculture education students in their yearly, work-based learning and agri-science projects. It generates another $2.1 million in partial matches from a statewide partnership. It spawns $1.7. million in funds and volunteer hours generated for local school vocational-agriculture programs. It pays for curriculum development that is used by over 50 percent of vocational agriculture teachers nationally. And it provides a pipeline for students to enter agricultural careers.

Elimination of the funds would mean deterioration of the agriculture education network which provides the structure to one of the top vocational programs in the nation. Data collection of programs, teacher information and student achievement will be lost. Professional education opportunities for vocational-agriculture teachers would be eliminated. Program growth would stagnate and would no longer provide employees for an important part of the Illinois economy.

The loss of the agriculture education line item would eliminate $620,000 in incentive grants that go to 321 local agriculture programs taught by 381 teachers at the secondary level. That money provides local programs with funds to meet goals for success and continuation of their program. While a local vocational agriculture program may not close in a school district due to the loss of the incentive grants, it would negatively affect program quality and the number of programs would deteriorate and decline.

When local vocational-agriculture programs are lost, the flow of students into agricultural programs at Illinois universities also declines, whether they desire to be researchers, or go back home and be the next ag teacher at their old high school. When those losses occur, so lost is the battle, and the kingdom (agriculture) that Governor Rauner says is key to the Illinois economy.

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Stu Ellis is an observer of the Central Illinois agriculture scene.


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