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Indiana lawmaker wants all state schools to require ag education

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — An Indiana lawmaker and farmer is working to require agriculture be taught to some degree in all state schools

State Rep. Don Lehe (R-Brookston) has presented a bill that keeps school corporations from attaining the highest possible ranking unless they offer at least one agriculture science course. He feels agriculture should be part of the growing effort to inform students about the jobs available and have them more workforce-ready after graduating.

“It’s just something I felt would fit in, and have a discussion about,” said Lehe, who also raises grain and livestock.

Currently, House Bill 1636 is before the House Committee on Education. He has presented similar measures to promote the teaching of agriculture in more schools the past few years, but his legislation never made it out of committee or was given a hearing.

Under this year’s bill, a school corporation or any charter and accredited private school may not be placed into the highest category or designation for school improvement unless they provide at least one agriculture science course.

“If you want to be evaluated as a top-rated school in Indiana, you would have to at least offer some classes in agriculture,” Lehe explained, adding the intent is not to force schools to overhaul their curriculum. Schools could simply work agriculture into current teaching about science.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunities they can create to satisfy that requirement.”

Lehe said he might amend the measure so the requirement can also be met by integrating agriculture into a school’s career technical education program. He plans to promote the legislation harder this year and is open to other changes to give it a better chance of getting a hearing and possibly advancing out of committee to the full House for a vote before this year’s legislative session ends April 30.

He has recently talked about the measure with Jeffrey Cummins, general counsel and director of public affairs with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA). Cummins said instruction on agriculture and career technical education in more schools is part of the ISDA’s strategic plan, adopted in 2017.

He’s not sure yet if the bill fits into the strategic plan because of what could be viewed as too strong a requirement for schools to teach agriculture. “It’s an interesting concept and one we probably need to explore further,” Cummins noted.

He said ISDA is already active in providing more exposure to agriculture where it doesn’t have much, if any, presence now, especially in urban areas along with charter and non-public schools. Students from Gary and Evansville, for example, accepted an invitation from ISDA last year to attend the Indiana State Fair to provide them with a glimpse of agriculture.

Getting more students from highly populated areas interested in agriculture could help make sure there’s an ample supply of workers for the growing urban farming sector of the industry, he said.

Cummins said exposure to agriculture in more schools will require involvement from other agencies such as the Indiana Department of Education and the offices of both the governor and lieutenant governor. If not this year, he said maybe the language in H.B. 1636 can be tweaked during the 2020 session “to make it look less than a mandate.”

The bill also calls for students to receive an excused absence from school to take part in a 4-H or FFA event and help a parent with the planting or harvesting of crops, if they’re at least 14-years of age. Lehe said schools already do a good job of accommodating the ag-related needs of those students, and that could be another part of the bill he might change to help further the measure during the legislative process.