Oklahoma Schools Receive Funding for STEM Education

The Oklahoma Energy Resources Board is distributing $2 million to every public school system in the state, and is allocating the cash based upon each district's enrollment and its percentage of low income students.

by Jack Money, The Oklahoman / December 19, 2017

(TNS) — Science, technology, engineering and math students and their teachers in Oklahoma are about to benefit from $2 million the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board is distributing.

The organization said it is making the money available to every public school system in the state, and it is allocating the cash based upon each district's enrollment and its percentage of low income students.

In general, districts will be able to use the cash to obtain materials and equipment they need to further STEM offerings for their students.

The money comes as a welcome boost, in districts both large and small.

School leaders who've been living through a fiscal nightmare from a funding standpoint are ecstatic about the gift, they said Monday.

"Right now, with the state of funding in Oklahoma, we really struggle to provide those extras when we are trying to do STEM activities," said Shirley Simmons, assistant superintendent of educational services for Norman Public Schools. "There are lots of equipment costs.

"Although our local community supports us with our bond elections and we've had a big influx in technology, there is a lot more that really would enrich" STEM offerings for the district's students, she said.

Jeff Patterson, the district's science curriculum coordinator, added that Norman intends to use some of its share of the money to provide professional training for its teachers to better prepare them to present STEM-related curriculum in their classrooms.

Patterson said he expects each Oklahoma school district will use its allocation of OERB money just a little differently, but added that he expects STEM students will benefit in each case.

In Norman, the district gets its students interested in STEM curriculum at a young age and encourages parents to enroll their children in advanced science and math courses by the time they are in middle school.

Along the way, the students are encouraged to build, program and operate robots, work with optics, lenses and mirrors and to do all kinds of other fun, science and math-related activities.

"Every time we can show them something and they can experience it (versus just learning about it from a textbook), it is much more meaningful for them," he said. "We want kids to get excited ... it fosters their curiosity."

The amount of money OERB set aside for Norman is $32,329. Other allocations include $161,892 for Oklahoma City, $63,052 for Putnam City, $45,582 for Moore, $27,175 for Edmond, $41,280 for Midwest City-Del City, $15,744 for Yukon and $17,460 for Mustang.

Money for the grant was generated by a voluntary one-tenth of 1 percent assessment on the sale of oil and natural gas in Oklahoma that's paid by oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners.

Assessment dollars typically are used by the board to support both its environmental cleanup efforts and the educational programs it offers both to members of the public and to students to help them inform them about the oil and gas industry and its positive impact on the state.

This money, board officials said, comes from additional assessment revenues generated by better-than-anticipated oil and natural gas prices that weren't originally budgeted by the organization.

The last time the board distributed excess assessment revenues to schools was in 2003, when it awarded them $1 million.

Board officials said each district will be sent an application in January that district officials will need to complete to receive their share of the funding.

Checks will be sent out as the forms are submitted, officials said, and more information about the grant program can be found at OERB.com.

“The OERB has been dedicated to providing quality STEM-related educational resources and classroom materials for more than 20 years,” said OERB Executive Director Mindy Stitt.

“We hear from teachers about how much supplies are needed, and the grant will allow us to further our mission to provide educational resources to Oklahoma schools.”

OERB Chairman Danny Morgan agreed.

“After hearing feedback from the hundreds of teachers who attend our workshops, we felt that now is the time we find room in our budget for another grant of this nature,” Morgan said. “The OERB has always supported teachers and for the oil and natural gas industry's future, it's important we get students interested in math and science.”

©2017 The Oklahoman Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.