Every Tuesday morning, since I have been here at the Capitol, rural legislators gather for a 7:30am meeting to talk about issues affecting rural Minnesota. Senator Stumpf, a member of the Minnesota legislature since 1980, typically directs our discussion. Sometimes we talk about individual bills we are carrying related to greater Minnesota. Often times, committee chairs (rural or not) are brought in to talk about larger budget or policy bills that have broader implications for out-state Minnesota. Last week the Governor stopped by and took questions from the dozen or so Senators in attendance. Today, Jerry Schoenfeld, former legislator and lobbyist for several ag groups stopped by to talk to us about several ag related issues. One of those issues was the need to expand and retain agricultural education in Minnesota.
This issue has come up in several conversations I have had recently. This past Saturday I met with folks in New Prague who represented several groups, including Corn and Soybean Growers, Farm Bureau, Turkey Growers, along with Bruce Mathiowetz, an agriculture teacher from Belle Plaine High School. Concerns about the shortage of qualified agricultural educators, the impact it is having on high school vocational education programs and co-curricular activities and long-term impacts on agriculture were shared.
We should consider expanding the routes to obtain an agricultural education license. University ag entrance requirements are rigorous. Until recently, only the Univ. of Minnesota offers such a program and while 120 students applied to get in, they only accepted 12 students. Those 12-15 students who graduate from the program annually do not typically end up teaching. They are lured away by higher paying jobs in big agriculture, such as Monsanto or Cargill. Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall just launched a new Bachelor’s degree program in Agriculture Education. This is a welcome addition to our MNSCU offerings.
Senate File 820 (Senator Sparks) does offer some assistance on this this issue. It would pump almost $30 million into rebuilding our commitment to ag research and another $4.8 million for ag education including the Education Leadership Council, farm business management, mentoring programs, graduate debt forgiveness, and high school programs. I am also co-authoring a bill (Senator Jensen is chief author) that would establish education grants to further expand and retain agricultural education in Minnesota.
Today, the education committee, on which I serve, talked about the need for robust Career Technical Education (CTE) in our schools. Ag education was frequently mentioned as a necessary part of the CTE curriculum. Some other offerings include architecture and construction, business management, family and consumer sciences. We also are well aware of the challenges in maintaining these programs due to funding, teacher supply, lack of equipment, lack of flexibility in the student school day, or lack of flexibility in regard to class choice option or dual credit option related to post-secondary education. These are all areas we need to address as we consider long term planning to ensure our students and our workforce get what they need.