It’s easy, and justifiably so, to get mired down in the harsh reality of farm labor shortages and public misconceptions about agricultural careers. Though, looking at the glass half-full for a moment, you will see that the work farmers and agricultural organizations have been doing to foster support of career and technical education programs (CTE) has—over time—not only garnered attention but influenced action.
There has been a steady stream of recent activity by legislative and regulatory decision-makers to bolster CTE programs through initiatives that 1) improve the education system to allow increased student participation 2) improve teacher recruitment and retention 3) increase awareness of skilled trades among students, school administrators and staff.
Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Snyder and State Superintendent Brian Whiston announced several recommendations and directives to enhance student career readiness.
“There are three directives I believe our members will be most excited about because of their potential positive impacts on our state’s CTE programs,” said Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Legislative Counsel Rebecca Park. “The directives are a result of broader business and industry collaboration with several state agencies, but our members have been steadfast partners in communicating what agriculture, food and natural resources education (AFNRE) programs need to prepare students for careers—regardless of the post-secondary education path they choose to follow.”
“There’s unfortunately a lack of qualified individuals willing to lead some of our state’s more than 100 AFNRE and, and our member-developed policy on this issue specifically supports emergency certification programs, hiring retired ag teachers and encourage consideration be given to student loan payoff or scholarship programs to help promote AFNRE programs through private or public partnerships,” Park said. “Hopefully this initiative will help alleviate some short-term pain points while efforts are underway to recruit more teachers into the AFNRE program at Michigan State University.”
“Increasing the ability to transfer credits has the potential to increase enrollment in AFNRE classes and therefore increasing the student’s exposure to agricultural careers,” said Park. “MSU recently launched a similar program, where students receiving the Michigan FFA Association’s State Degree are eligible to receive six credits toward their bachelor’s or undergraduate certificate degree.”
MFB has long supported flexibility within the MMC and asks county Farm Bureaus to work with local school districts to increase acceptance of AFNRE classes. Though, Park added the caveat that the organization would like to see some of the recent changes to the MMC be made permanent through legislation currently under consideration by the Michigan Legislature.
Sponsored by Sen. Jim Stamas (R-Midland), Senate Bill 175 removes sunset language on students’ ability to use one credit of foreign language for either CTE classes, foreign language, or fine and performing arts.
House Bills 4315 and 4316 also remove the aforementioned sunset language and, in addition, inserts language that allows students to use three credits of any combination of foreign language, CTE, computer coding or fine and performing arts to fulfill the MMC requirements.
MFB’s Educational Reforms policy supports the legislation that would make permanent the changes members advocated for in 2014 to the MMC.
HB 4315 and HB 4316 passed the House in late March by a vote of 79-29 and 69-39, respectively, and have been referred to the Senate Education Committee for consideration. SB 175 awaits a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.
High School Guidance Counselors
House Bill 4181, introduced by Rep. Brett Roberts (R-Eaton Twp.) changes high school guidance counselor continuing education requirements to require that at least 25 of the 150 required hours be spent learning about CTE and skilled trade job opportunities and at least 25 hours must be spent in college prep and corresponding job opportunities.
The bill passed the House in late May by a vote of 100-7 and awaits a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.
Farm Bureau policy recognized the need for CTE and skilled trades careers long before it was popular. We encourage farmers and agriculture industry members to continue sharing this message with lawmakers by supporting the recommended changes and promoting passage of the above mentioned legislation.
“The tide is slowly changing in terms of recognizing skilled trades and agriculture opportunities as viable career paths,” Park said. “We have to continue the education of those in positions to make lasting changes to the educational system.”