Funding for Cooperative Extension- and How That Funding is Delivered- Was Examined by Lawmakers at the State CapitolFri, 20 Sep 2019 05:28:07 CDT
A pair of House interim study requests were joined together at the State Capitol on Thursday, with the focus on the state of the Extension Service in Oklahoma. The Interim Studies, requested by Representatives John Pfeiffer and Tommy Hardin, were chaired by Representative Dell Kerbs, Chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Dr. Tom Coon, Dean and Vice President of the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Oklahoma State University told Lawmakers that the state funding for Ag Extension and the Ag Experiment Station has trended down over the last decade- along the way- that meant many times not replacing key state and area staff as positions were vacated- and trying to maintain County positions when possible. Some years back, the funding model was to have two full time professional positions in each county, and one administrative assistant. More recently, funding downturns by the state has meant that the model became 1.5 full time professional positions in each county along with one full time Administrative Assistant.
However, Head of the Extension Service in Oklahoma, Dr. Damona Doye, told lawmakers that as she reviewed the financials- the money is not there at this time to actually have 1.5 positions funded- that the money available can actually provide one full timer per county. Dr. Doye assured lawmakers that the plan in Oklahoma, unlike some other states across the midwest, is to keep Extension services in all 77 Oklahoma Counties. Dr. Doye also explained that several counties have made the choice to share people resources with adjacent counties- and that has worked well in multiple situations.
Former State Senator Ron Justice made the case to State Lawmakers that Extension- as well as the Research component of the Land Grant model- is still relevant in being able to do non biased research on the problems of the day- and then deliver that information to stakeholders. He recalled a group of Russians that were visiting Extension offices in Oklahoma when he was working in Extension- and the observation that one of those guests made to him- "we do a of research in Russia- a lot of research- but we have no way to get that information out to our farmers."
Lawmakers seemed to be interested in finding resources to make sure that Extension and Research have monies to accomplish their mission. The discussion then turned to how those monies are appropriated. The traditional way in Oklahoma that monies are pushed out to these two agencies that fall under the Division of Ag at Oklahoma State University is to put it in the overall money handed to the Regents of Higher Education. The conversation in the Interim Study meeting- should money for Extension and the Ag Experiment Station be subject to review of the Regents of Higher Education or appropriated more directly by the Legislature? Several lawmakers seem ready to explore it, including one of the Representatives who requested one of the interim studies, Tommy Hardin of Madill. Hardin told fellow lawmakers maybe this is the time to make a change. "Members, we got to make the decisions- we can't depend on the Board of Regents and everybody else to make the right decisions that affect our counties...hopefully we can come up with some legislation to direct money in a more precise way."
Back in the spring, Representative Hardin filed a Concurrent Resolution in the legislature to request the Oklahoma State University Board of Regents and the Extension Service halt their current plans to reduce extension agents in Oklahoma counties until certain information is submitted to state officials.
"The Oklahoma Constitution prohibits the Legislature from telling the Board of Regents where to spend the money appropriated each year," Hardin said. "County extension programs are valuable services to their communities and a huge economic boost that is difficult to measure. Extension service is an investment in our children's future and a valuable resource for our farmers and ranchers with a large economic impact on our state."
Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays has produced a special audio overview of the meeting held at the State Capitol- you can hear this in depth audio look of the meeting by clicking on the Listen Bar below. (long but worth your time if you are interested about the future of extension in the state of Oklahoma)
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