Brian Crain – STEM Education Funding
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Brian Crain – STEM Education Funding


Andy Barth: Well, Sen. Brian Crain is a Tulsa-based
lawmaker and the author of proposed legislation that would inject more money into STEM education
and he joins me now in the studio. Senator, thank you so much for being here.
Brian Crain: Well, thank you for having me. Andy: Well, this is a pretty big undertaking
– to start off, talk to me about these bond issues and why you feel they’re important.
Crain: We have two proposals that we’re gonna put before the legislature. Each are for $2.5
billion for trust funds. The first trust fund would go for common education. It would be
for two purposes. One would be to supplement teacher salaries to whatever extent the legislature
is able or not able to fully fund that. And then secondly, we are trying to get additional
monies for teachers who are in the STEM areas – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
So that would be some way to supplement and encourage individuals not only to teach in
Oklahoma, but to teach those subjects where we are sorely in need. The other one is for
a higher ed bond issue. Forty percent of the money would go to the University of Oklahoma,
40 percent would go to Oklahoma State University, and the other 20 percent would go to the regional
colleges and universities here in Oklahoma. The money would be used for three purposes.
One would be to recruit and retain faculty and staff, including to help on the Endowed
Chairs Program in order to attract the faculty that we want to bring to Oklahoma in the STEM
areas. The second would be for tuition assistance for students that are going to one of those
universities in a STEM subject, a discipline, as long as they agree to stay in Oklahoma
for five years after graduation. The third point, money would possibly go towards research
foundations that are working with the universities in order to assist them with any type of research
programs that they’re doing that would help not only that university but the state of
Oklahoma. Andy: Well, talk to me about kind of the logistics
behind this. How long will these bonds last and how long will it take to pay them back?
Crain: The money from the bonds would be perennial. They would last as long as the state of Oklahoma
would. What we would do is form a trust, and that money would go into that trust, and all
the money spent would be off of the interest that was accrued over the past year. The bond
issues would be 30-year bond issues. We’re seeking a vote of the people to let the people
decide whether or not this is something that they are interested in. It would go for 30
years, and they would be paid for out of our general revenue. One of the challenges that
I’ve had these past 10 years is trying to figure out how we go about funding education
more fully and at the same time honoring the commitments that we have in other areas – Medicaid,
which is for low-income children — how do we take care of our mental health requirements,
public safety, corrections? We’ve got a number of requirements, and we’ve got a very restricted
budget. I’ve reached the point where out of frustration, we need to be thinking outside
the box. We need to be thinking what is it that we can present to the people of Oklahoma,
and let them decide it is imperative that we fund education. Or to say, “No, we do not
want to fund education to the point that we are going to sacrifice these other issues.”
Either way, by the people, it would allow the legislature to know how can we be good
stewards of your money. There are no frivolous, unneeded areas where most of our money goes
to. And what we need to do if we’re going to honor the commitment to the people to put
education first, we need to figure out just how far they want us to go in meeting that
commitment. Andy: You know we’ve seen the “Today” shows
that STEM education helps create high paying jobs, they help build and grow Oklahoma’s
economy, and they also help create those jobs for the future workforce where the jobs haven’t
even been created yet. In your opinion, how do you ensure with these bond issues that
we’re covering all of our bases for everything, not just for those with Ph.D.s, but also for
our people like our technicians and our workers? Crain: Well, what we’re talking about is a
technician and a worker will certainly start out going through high school – our common
education. What we will do is we will provide greater funding for teachers as a supplement
to the general appropriation, and then we will also have an additional amount of money
to recruit and retain teachers in the STEM subjects in the high school area. There will
be some workers that decide that they are not gonna go to college, that they’re gonna
enter the workforce. The hope would be as well as the expectation that if you taken
STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, mathematics – that you are better trained,
better prepared to enter into an education or an occupation that utilizes those disciplines.
The other group that would be graduating from high school are those that are gonna be going
to college. What would we do? We’d have probably the best-trained faculty and staff that could
possibly be attracted to Oklahoma, and also we would be providing tuition assistance for
them so that if they’re trying to have wonder whether or not they can go to a college or
if they need to go somewhere out of state, we can say, “Look, you’re interested in a
STEM program. Come to whatever university you’re looking at and we will assist you.
But the commitment, the return that we’re asking is that you stay in Oklahoma for five
years after you graduate so that we get the benefit of your training, your knowledge and
your expertise.” Andy: All right. Sen. Crain, thank you so
much for being here. Crain: Well, thank you very much for having
me.

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