Sarah Julian is the Director of Communications for the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center, a non-profit that provides support and resources to the state’s public schools.
Oklahoma’s public schools continue to face difficult financial challenges—this is neither new nor surprising. The state lags behind the nation in education funding, yet it currently allocates 50 percent of its budget to education. While efforts can and should be made to identify additional funding for Oklahoma’s public schools, it is incumbent on the state to also find ways to incentivize innovation in our public school system.
In addition to the funding crisis, much attention has been given over the past few years to the difficulty American companies are experiencing in filling highly technical positions with qualified applicants. The numbers of graduates with knowledge in advanced levels of science, math and complex analysis just aren’t at the levels needed to support these companies’ requirements, and it puts them in the position of having to hire from an international pool.
With this reality in mind, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center (OPSRC) has launched the Catalyst Education Fund (CEF) as one strategy to invest in innovation in Oklahoma’s rural public schools. The Catalyst Education Fund was created from legislation passed in 2011 that established Educational Improvement Granting Organizations (EIGO). The OPSRC has been designated as an EIGO, and this designation allows donors to receive tax credits for their contributions. In turn, the CEF will provide grants to rural public schools in the areas of arts, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and technology. It’s an opportunity for Oklahomans—businesses and individuals—to invest in innovation and provide much needed resources where they are currently scarce.
- Arts: Awards in this area may be used to purchase materials and equipment to reinforce arts integration throughout all disciplines. Oklahoma A+ Schools® is partnering with us to provide educators with ongoing professional development and coaching for creating and sustaining an educational environment that fosters an excitement for learning in the arts.
- STEM: As schools continue to increase their instruction of STEM, these grants will help schools bolster existing STEM programs and provide additional funding to support expansion, both in additional curriculum resources and equipment. We are partnering with Project Lead the Way to bring their K-12 STEM programs and teacher professional development model into schools to help students develop the necessary skills to succeed in our global economy.
- Technology: Technology is an essential component in today’s classrooms. Awards given in this area will help schools provide a digital learning environment that enhances instruction and engages students’ minds. These grants will aid in a variety of projects, including 1:1 initiatives, Khan Academy pilots, as well as replacing outdated infrastructure.
Along with recruiting and retaining teachers with a thorough knowledge of STEM who want to teach in rural schools, smaller districts often struggle in their instruction of STEM and technology programs due to a lack of funding to support facilities and specialized equipment. By providing assistance to rural districts with both the tools to help students learn as well as the training teachers need, the CEF will aid in leveling the playing field and help students from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds ignite and advance their passion for technology, science and the arts. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that an education that integrates art programs helps children develop stronger analytical skills, increases their depths of knowledge across the curriculum and helps them attain overall higher academic success. This is where the CEF can help, and this is why we feel compelled to focus on these programs.
Even though the CEF is in its infancy, the potential impact these dollars can have on both educators and students throughout the years is immense. Further, because the funds raised come directly from Oklahoma organizations and private citizens, we anticipate that this project will help continue to increase community awareness of and active engagement in our state’s rural schools. Every district in Oklahoma, no matter the location or student population, represents the future of our state, and we need to ensure they all receive access to quality resources to help them succeed.
The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.