Governor cuts 4-H funding

Governor Rick Scott has cut state funding to the Florida 4-H program, vetoing the $1 million that had been allocated for the youth development program by the Florida Legistature.

This funding was the base of the program, recurring funding which paid salaries as well as many state level initiatives that help the local county programs.

What does this mean to the local county programs?

Sarah Hensley, UFIFAS Extension, Florida 4-H Youth Development Curriculum and Evaluation explains:

“What does the governor’s veto mean to my local 4-H program?

“It means that your 4-H agent who works tirelessly to mentor children for 60 hours a week, even at the sacrifice of his or her own family, will not receive the support they deserve.

“It means that the team of regional 4-H agents who keep your agent, volunteers, and youth current on new research and curriculum in project areas like technology, childhood obesity, and how to be an engaged citizen will cease to exist leaving your already exhausted and over-committed agent without support.

“It means that those 4-H agents who are leading statewide programs that provide opportunities for your local 4-Hers to participate in programs outside of their club; which promotes the likelihood that that child will excel in their subject matter and go on to do great things will no longer exist.

“It means that the professional development your 4-H agent needs in order to stay employed in a competitive tenure system at the University of Florida IFAS, the state’s premier institution for research, will be drastically reduced.

“It means that if your 4-H agent leaves due to unbearable stress because the foundation of support that we rely on has been removed; they will not be replaced due to the current hiring freeze.“

Hendry County Extension Director Gene McAvoy said it is too early to know excatly what the cuts mean for the county’s 4-H programs.

“These budget cuts are deep, and will impact IFAS and 4-H, but it is too early to speculate what specific impacts will occur at state and local levels. UF/IFAS administrators are currently reviewing and analyzing this unfortunate situation. Currently it is too early to say anything with any degree of accuracy,” he said.

Hendry County has 29 4-H Clubs which serve 350 children.

While disappointed that the flood of phone calls and emails sent to Tallahassee last week in support of 4-H funding did not convince the Legislature to override the governor’s veto, an IFAS spokes person vowed to fight to keep the 4-H program going.

“We will rebuild!” vowed an email from University of Florida/IFAS on Monday.

“It is with a heavy heart that I report to you that we were not successful in getting an override of the IFAS vetoes.

“There were over $400 million in cuts to the budget and Higher Education took a huge hit, including IFAS. During the special session, the legislature overrode $60 million in cuts to higher education but we could not get IFAS included.

“I know our IFAS employees are anxious, concerned… ok, in reality we’re a bit freaked out. There is all kinds of information coming out in the news, Facebook, word of mouth and many include rumors that as rumors do, are just getting worse. I wish I could give you information that would calm your fears as I know many of you have much at stake.

“What I can tell you is that IFAS takes care of our own and the IFAS leadership will be looking at all avenues to try to mitigate the impacts. We will exhaust every avenue because at IFAS, we don’t quit until there is nothing left to quit.

“We knew that a veto override was a really long shot. We would have been that one snowball in… well you know where. However, we went after it anyway. Face book, newsletters, industry action alerts, etc., helped us to light up the phones and emails in the Capitol. We had legislators talking to legislative leaders on our behalf because even though it was a long shot, we were willing to take a shot.

“We want to send out a big-huge thank you to all of you who supported IFAS during the special session. There are too many to mention, but one example was the 4-H parents and students who loaded up and came to Tallahassee with less than 24-hour notice. You would have been so proud to see our students represent, not only 4-H but IFAS as a whole as well as programs in jeopardy with grace and passion. They were impressive!

You would have been humbled to see how many people jumped in to show their support in any way they could.

“We will get through this challenge. We will do our best to take care of our people as well as continue to provide the services to our stakeholders that demonstrate the utmost value IFAS serves to the citizens of Florida.
………and make no mistake, we will rebuild!

A statement issued last week by the University of Florida/IFAS explained, “state funding is only one source of funding for the 4-H program and the loss of these resources will certainly not be the end of 4-H. With the loss of these resources, we will face some significant challenges, which will include a reduction in the amount of students we can serve. But, with your help, we commit to working to build the program back up and even stronger.

“We would like to thank the industry groups, the 4-H students, parents, and volunteers and others who have an interest in UF/IFAS, for your continued grassroots support.”

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization. Over 230,000 members in the State of Florida help to make up the community of more than 6.5 million young people across America. 4-H is a non-formal, practical educational program for youth. Florida 4-H is the youth development program of Florida Cooperative Extension, a part of the University of Florida IFAS.

Katrina can be reached at keleken@newszap.com

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