History of the Smith-Lever Act
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 codified into federal law, and provided funding for, outreach endeavors at the Land-Grant Universities founded by the Morrill Act of 1862. The act was introduced by Senator Hoke Smith of Georgia and Representative A. F. Lever of South Carolina to expand the vocational, agricultural, and home demonstration programs in rural America. Specifically, the Act stated as its purpose, “In order to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture, uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy, and to encourage the application of the same, there may be continued or inaugurated in connection with the college of colleges in each State, Territory, or possession . . .”
The appropriation for Cooperative Extension as established by Smith-Lever was unique in that it set up a shared partnership among the Federal, State, and County levels of government. A formula funding mechanism was designed to insure that there was support from each of the levels to help the fledgling system achieve stability and leverage resources. The funding would flow from Congress to the United States Department of Agriculture and then out to the Land-Grant Universities to be matched with monies from the states and counties receiving programs.
The original formula called federal funding to be divided in the following manner:
- 20% shared by all States in equal proportions;
- 40% shared in the proportion that the rural population of each bears to the total rural population of the several States as determined by the census;
- 40% shared in the proportion that the farm population of each bears to the total farm population of the several States as determined by the census.
The unique nature of the Smith-Lever Act brought a systemic process for funding the on-going Extension education work that had been started in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by educators such as Seaman A. Knapp, A. B. Graham, Jane McKimmon, and Booker T. Washington. The ideals exposed by these educators were transformative in the manner in which the Land-Grant Universities saw their role in their state. The move toward a model of cooperative extension education allowed for professional educators to be placed in local communities in order to improve lives.
Although the original Smith-Lever Act was far reaching, it was later amended to be more inclusive of schools beyond the original funding for 1862 Land Grant Institutions. In 1971, Rep. Frank E. Evans from Colorado presented a proposal to USDA that amended the funding formula and gave an appropriation in the amount of $12.6 million directly to the 1890 Land-Grant Universities for research and Extension. Additionally, in 1994, there was a second revision to the language which added the Tribal Colleges in order to increase the system’s ability to serve Native American communities.
Current information regarding the Act and its applications in contemporary society can be found on USDA’s website.