Financial Records and Management Information Dilemma (5/6/2022)

Some of us seasoned agricultural education veterans may be familiar with the term “Decisions & Dollars” and know a little about this project. However, many current teachers don’t. We still have some teachers scratching their heads about the changes in SAE recording keeping and FFA award applications that occurred about 30 years ago. So, to wrap up our Financial Literacy month observance, I have asked Jack Elliot to describe the events leading up to changes in financial record keeping in agricultural education during the early 1990s. Take it away Dr. Elliot.

Financial Records and Management Information Dilemma

Jack Elliot, Texas A&M University

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, agricultural business and industry leaders, participating in National FFA Proficiency and Star America FFA degree judging voiced concerns that students did not understand the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). It was apparent to these volunteer judges that FFA record keeping was a means to achieving grades and local, regional, state and national FFA awards. In fact, they noted that many record keeping systems were, in fact, in conflict with GAAP. Understanding a “total dollar management concept” was not included in most agricultural education curriculums. One industry representative observed that the FFA driven awards system and state-mandated record keeping processes were outdated and not always based on sound financial principles. He stated, “How do we remedy the fact that many of the financial principles inherent in our awards and record keeping system are not correct?” Their concerns were echoed by KayAnn Ishmail when she mentioned, “Gaps in financial records and a lack of GAAP [understanding] often keep sheep producers from receiving credit.” The dilemma went beyond awards and degrees. The agricultural industry needed producers to be savvy in managing their resources employing GAAP.

A summary statement from the agricultural business and industry leaders influenced the creation of a national curriculum and the initiation of a FFA committee to modify the awards and degree applications with questions that demonstrated GAAP knowledge, understanding, and application. The comment was, “We want to level the playing field so that a student who starts with nothing can compete with the student who is provided with vast opportunities simply because that FFA member grew up on a large farm and has immediate access to ample resources. We want to be able to evaluate enterprise growth, budget management, and overall total dollar management concept. We want the agricultural education mindset to move from income and inventory to cash flow, inventory turnover, business performance, GAAP, etc. that assesses the stability and flexibility of agricultural enterprises.” The National Council for Agricultural Education via the National FFA Foundation sought resources from these agricultural business and industry leaders with the promise that a national financial records and management information curriculum would be developed, and the FFA awards and degree applications would be edited. Support was provided by:

  • Boatmen’s First National Bank of Kansas City and The Flarsheim Trust
  • Capital Agricultural Property Company
  • Farmland Industries, Inc.
  • John Hancock Insurance Company
  • Rabobank Nederland
  • United Missouri Bank, n.a.
  • The Department of Agricultural Education, The University of Arizona
  • The Department of Agricultural and Extension Education, Michigan State University

Financial Records and Management Information Curriculum Development

For the first few years of the project, the “Financial Records Task Force” called the curriculum “Financial Records and Management Information.” Jack Elliot, at the time, was an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University and was awarded the project in 1991. He worked with the National Council for Agricultural Education and the National FFA Organization to assemble the Task Force, Writing Team, Pilot Schools, Teacher Education Testing Sites, and an Evaluator.

Task Force Members (with their 1991 locations):

Mr. Donald O. Borgman, Sr. Vice President, Boatmen’s First National Bank of Kansas City Mr. John Gunderson, Senior Credit Specialist, Farm Credit Council
Mr. Doug Butler, Regional Director National FFA Foundation Mr. Tom Heffernan, Pleasanton High School, Pleasanton, TX
Ms. Marcia Smith, Sante Fe High School, Alachua, FL Mr. Jim Kelm, Adult Teacher, Red Wing Technical College, Red Wing, MN
Mr. Jim Connors, Graduate Student, Michigan State University Mr. Joe Nunez, Righetti High School, Santa Maria, CA
Mr. Ron Crawford, Program Supervisor/FFA, State of Washington Dr. Ed Persons, University of Minnesota
Mr. Tim Daugherty, Vice President Management Information Services, Farmland Industries, Inc. Mr. Jim Riley, FBMA Coordinator, University of Missouri
Mr. William L. (Buddy) Deimler, State Supervisor/FFA, Arizona Mr. Bob Seefeldt, National FFA Center, Alexandria, VA
Mrs. Gail Sanders, Harford Area Vocational Center, White River Jct., VT

Writing Team:

Brenda Scheil, New Auburn High School, New Auburn, WI Dave Daniels, Melba High School, Melba, ID
Jim Lundberg, Charles City High School, Charles City, IA Danny Bartlett, Mayo High School, Mayo, FL

Pilot Schools:

Eastern Region Southern Region Western Region Central Region
Mary E. Hewitt, Coe-Brown Northwood Academy, Northwood, NH Russel Watson, McMinnville High School, McMinnville, TN Dick Rightmire, Ferndale High School, Ferndale, WA Greg Hicks, Carthage High School, Carthage, MO
Edward A. White, Essex Agricultural High School, Hathorne, MA Bruce Miller, South Rowan High School, China Grove, NC Jack D. Smith, Kersey High School, Kersey CO James J. Green, Riceville Community School District, Riceville, IA
V. Jacque Roszel, Allen High School, Allentown, NJ Derek F. Hallum, Lone Grove, OK Milt Osgood, Middleton High School, Middleton, ID Mark Schmidt, Walhalla High School, Walhalla, ND
Ron Frederick, Twin Valley High School, Elverson, PA Lathen Walton, Nettleton, MS Les Purcella, Goddard High School, Roswell, NM Lonny D. Harts, Oak Hill High School, Converse, IN
Ken Johnson, Gilbert High School, Gilbert, AZ Ken Bollinger, Lenawee Vo-Tech Center, Adrian, MI

Teacher Education Testing Sites:

Dr. Gary Briers, Texas A&M University

Dr. Susie Whittington, University of Idaho


Dr. David Doerfert, State Supervisor of Agriculture and State FFA Advisor in Wisconsin

The Task Force met for the first time in October 1991 with a conference call to plan for the November meeting. Zoom wasn’t a thing in 1991. In fact, most correspondence involved the US Postal Service, fax machines, and phone calls – long-distance calls and faxes were expenses that today’s organizations don’t have to include in their budgets. E-mail was in its infancy and cellular phones were bulky and quite expensive to use.

The Financial Records and Management Information Curriculum Development purpose was to develop an instructional program to upgrade instruction in financial records for secondary agricultural education. The goal was to provide a set of skills for all students, regardless of agricultural, socio-economic, or cultural background.

The plan involved:

  • developing lesson plans to assist agricultural education teachers to utilize GAAP;
  • preparing student self-study guides, videotapes, and software;
  • encouraging states to update their record books to be consistent with GAAP; and
  • updating the National FFA awards, degrees, and activities “financial record reporting” sections with GAAP.

A list of curriculum/unit topics and a proposed lesson plan format were established along with an ambitious timeline to disseminate the product using the “Together We Can (TWC)” system during the summer of 1994. From 1991 until early 1994, thousands of edits and suggestions were incorporated into the curriculum and dissemination process. The following 11 topics emerged as unit topics:

  1. Developing Personal Life Skills
  2. Inventory
  3. Balance Sheet
  4. Income Statement
  5. Statement of Cash Flows
  6. Statement of Owner Equity
  7. Analyzing Financial Performance
  8. Planning and Decisions Making
  9. Business Borrowing/Investing
  10. Taxes
  11. Management Information System

Financial Records and Management Information becomes Decisions & Dollars

It was during one of the final Task Force meetings in 1993 that a big discussion about the name occurred. Simplicity and eye-catching was the challenge. Ultimately, the group decided on “Decisions & Dollars.” The actual paper copy of the curriculum was assembled in a Wisconsin prison as they were the low bidder. Decisions & Dollars appeared to be a large daunting 550-page curriculum. However, there were only 30 pages of actual financial record keeping and management information content. The remaining 520 pages were color-coded support materials which included:

  • Student activities
  • Quizzes with answer keys
  • Glossaries
  • Transparency masters (every classroom had an overhead project back then)
  • Student reference sections.

The student activities included horticulture, work experience, natural resources, and production with three levels of difficulty: exploratory, preparatory, and entry. This strategy allowed agricultural education teachers to customize how they would use the curriculum within their classrooms. Some comments from the pilot testing included:

  • Provides diversified problem-solving examples
  • Incorporates entrepreneurship as a viable option
  • Teaches life skills that benefit all students
  • Emphasizes a practical approach to GAAP
  • Includes all material for instructors
  • Diversifies and strengthens secondary agricultural education curriculum
  • Contains 12 activities with answer keys for each unit
  • Applies to all students
  • Prepares students for all careers
  • Improves SAE records and FFA degrees, scholarships, and awards

Decisions & Dollars Dissemination

Due to the two-year national pilot school and university involvement, most of the profession was aware that D&D was being created. The final splash was to publish information in The Agricultural Education Magazine. The March 1994 Agricultural Education Magazine (Volume 66, Number 9) was devoted to Decisions & Dollars. Dr. Ed Osborne, Editor wrote, “. . . agricultural business management is a very important part of the curriculum. . . The D&D curriculum should be extremely helpful as teachers work to bring that area of their curriculum up to date.“ The Task Force supported a dissemination process (TWC) that would immerse teachers into the world of financial records and management information. A week-long process was designed as the minimum level of time needed to ensure that teachers were competent in the content and the curriculum. However, this level of curriculum dissemination never materialized due to a lack of resources.

Curator’s Closing Remarks

When I read this manuscript, it seemed to abruptly end. There was no fairy tale ending – “And they lived happily ever after.” “And that was because the project ended prematurely as Dr. Elliot mentioned. This reminds me of a baseball game where you get a runner to third base and the inning ends because the batter at the plate strikes out.

However, all is not lost. The Decisions and Dollars curriculum materials still exist. For your own professional development, you should check them out. The materials contain many helpful teaching aids and activities. You certainly should explore them. They can be accessed for free at Note: The Table of Contents is on page 2 of the files.

Thank you Jack Elliot for this Footnote.