Initially, this extension program concentrated its efforts on working with farmers and farm families to improve their quality of life and standard of living in rural Missouri. This was done in part by researching better agricultural methods and by working together with rural Missourians to help bring about other major improvements, such as rural electric cooperatives. This year, Missouri rural electric cooperatives are celebrating 75 years of service to the state.
In 1927, 4-H became a part of the Missouri Extension. Today, one in five Missouri youths participate in 4-H programs. The University of Missouri Center for Youth Development provides education in leadership, citizenship, and community service through 1,100 4-H clubs, school enrichment programs, special activities, conferences, and summer camps.
As Missouri’s population began shifting to the cities, University Extension expanded its instruction to include urban areas. Today, some of these involve after school youth leadership programs in federal housing developments. Other urban educational efforts address topics such as health, foods, and nutrition. In 1955, state legislation established county extension councils to advise the university on educational programs. Currently over 2,000 citizen volunteers donate their time and efforts to assist in these local needs.
I had the opportunity of working closely with the University of Missouri Extension Council when I served as vice-chairman of the Committee on Agriculture Policy during my first term in the Missouri House. This year, as chairman, I was privileged to sponsor the legislation—otherwise known as House Bill 202— for Missouri University’s proposal for creating cooperating extension districts. This bill overwhelmingly passed in the Missouri House this week, having previously passed in the Senate. It will now go to a conference committee to work out a minor difference.
Statutorily, local county extension councils do not have ways to work across county lines in order to share resources. HB 202 will provide two new tools for them to help meet some shared growing county or multi-county needs. First, it will allow county extension councils to form a single county or multi-county district, permitting them to combine local programs, consolidate services, and increase efficiency, as well as providing them with a greater ability to meet both current and future needs. This will enable county councils to take better advantage of technology and services, while reducing costs. The second tool will allow county councils to seek a vote of the citizens for a property tax to help fund extension programs, should the financial need arise. This option would assist in supplementing or replacing the funding currently provided by county commissions. It would provide relief where funding challenges already exist or might exist in the future. Approximately twenty-six other states have enacted some form of this type of local option, and it has proven to be very successful.
HB 202 is about local control and providing county extension councils options to meet future needs during challenging economic times. These options will help ensure that local county extension councils have the ability to support programs administratively by providing office spaces and staffs, travel dollars, and supplies and equipment in order to offer better educational opportunities across the state.
This legislation was drafted and requested by the University of Missouri State Extension Council following months of discussion in which they sought ways to ensure future funding for the program. It promises to help strengthen MU Extension and continue to provide Missouri citizens with essential services.