All articles by David Blatt

Mandatory retention law down to 11th hour

by | April 23rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

test_stressEarlier this month, some 50,000 Oklahoma third-graders came head-to-head with high-stakes testing. These 8- and 9-year old children took the state standardized reading test known as the OCCT.  Under revisions to the Reading Sufficiency Act passed in 2011, beginning this year, children who score ‘unsatisfactory’ on the OCCT and do not qualify for one of the law’s ‘good cause exemptions’ must be retained in third grade next fall.

The high-stakes test has been causing high levels of stress for third-graders and their families all year.  One young girl, who is on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, told her mom the night before the test, “‘Mommy, I don’t want to take the test. What if I get them all wrong? I always get them all wrong.”  Most students with special needs, including dyslexia and other learning disorders, can be exempted from mandatory retention only if they have already been retained once and have received two years of intensive reading remediation (those with severe cognitive disabilities may also be exempt).  OK Policy has calculated that more than one-quarter of students on IEPs, or some 2,000 students, could be held back this year, even if they are making progress on their IEP goals. Students with limited English proficiency are also at high risk for being retained.

This session, Oklahoma legislators have launched an eleventh-hour attempt to modify the RSA before its mandatory retention provisions kick in. While many bills were never heard or died along the way, several significant bills are still alive.

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What the horizontal drilling tax break is costing your kids’ school

by | April 22nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education, Featured Home Page, Taxes | Comments (0)

drilling-educationFor Oklahoma’s elected officials looking to increase funding for education, the sensible solution can be found right under our feet. By doing away with what has become an increasingly unnecessary and unaffordable tax break, every school district and every school child in Oklahoma would benefit

A new set of fact sheets released today by Together Oklahoma, based on data from OK Policy, shows how much additional funding each school district in Oklahoma could receive if the increasingly costly and unjustified tax break for horizontal drilling was eliminated and the money was used instead to boost public education.

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Medicaid on the chopping block

by | April 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Featured Health Care, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Download the TogetherOK fact sheet: SoonerCare Cuts Threaten Oklahoma’s Health

Photo by Eric Tastad used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Eric Tastad used under a Creative Commons license.

Just prior to the start of the legislative session we ran a blog  post titled “Avoiding devastating health care cuts will require hard choices.” Two-and-a-half  months later, as legislative leaders begin to look in earnest at crafting a budget deal, the budget outlook for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services continues to look grim. Lawmakers have not yet done anything to stave off cuts that would create serious hardship for Oklahomans.

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Sex, forecasting and fiscal planning (okay, no sex)

by | April 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

crystal ballTwice a year,  the seven members of the State Board of Equalization – six statewide elected officers and the Secretary of Agriculture – get together to certify how much revenue the legislature will have to appropriate for the upcoming fiscal year. The Board is presented with revenue estimates that come from the Oklahoma Tax Commission based largely on a forecasting model operated by Oklahoma State University economic professor Dan Rickman.  The Board certifies an initial estimate in December, which is used to develop the Governor’s Executive Budget. They make a revised estimate in February that becomes binding on the legislature.

This year, it had been widely expected that the February estimates would see an increase from December. Instead, the estimates were down, due to a steep drop in projected collections from the corporate income tax. After prolonged questioning of Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, Attorney General Scott Pruitt voted against certifying the revised estimates, while Treasurer Ken Miller made clear that he was voting yes with great reluctance.

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Education follows the ROADS to guaranteed funding growth

by | April 9th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education | Comments (0)

school children roadA decade ago, following the overwhelming defeat of a referendum to boost state taxes on motor fuels, supporters of increased transportation funding hit on a new approach.  In 2005, the legislature approved HB 1078,  creating the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund dedicated for maintenance and repair of state highways and bridges. State dollars would be allocated directly to the ROADS fund “off the top” from  income tax collections without going through the appropriations process, and the fund would be guaranteed an automatic annual increase until it reached an overall cap.

The idea worked. The ROADS fund reached $357 million this year and is slated to grow an additional $59.7 million annually until it hits $575 million. The increased funding has allowed the Department of Transportation to bring about significant infrastructure improvements and adopt a succession of 8-year construction work plans.

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New Poll: Voters favor end to drilling tax break

by | April 8th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

A new poll finds that Oklahoma voters strongly support eliminating tax breaks for horizontal drilling in order to  provide more funding for education, public safety, highways, and other state needs.

2014-poll-breaksNearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) oppose providing tax breaks to oil and gas companies that use the horizontal drilling process, while less than a third support the tax break (28 percent) after hearing short arguments in favor of and against them.  Ending the horizontal drilling tax break is a popular idea across party lines, with a majority of Democrats (73 percent), independents (75 percent), and Republicans (51 percent) all opposed to the tax break.

Oklahoma currently taxes horizontal wells at only 1 percent for the first 48 months of production, compared to 7 percent for traditional production. The tax break cost the state $164 million last year and is projected to increase to $251 million this year.

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That’s a Whopper: Total revenue is a false measure of school funding

by | April 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

WhopperIn making the case against additional funding for public schools, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has recently asserted that “Oklahoma’s per-pupil revenues — – a whopping $12,206 in fiscal year 2013 — – are at record levels.”  The $12,206 figure has been cited in numerous editorials and articles, and was a common talking point among some legislators at last week’s education rally.

In looking at the actual numbers used by OCPA, one sees that they generated their “whopping” $12,206 per-pupil average by considering the lump-sum total of all school revenues, include revenues that have little or no bearing on school operating budgets. Most importantly, the lump-sum total includes all money in school bond funds,  sinking funds, building funds, and municipal levy funds, as well as dedicated taxes, such as the MAPS fund. It also includes money for school lunch programs paid for by students out-of-pocket and through the federal Free- and Reduced-Lunch Program, and all revenues generated locally by fundraising and ticket sales for school activities, such as athletics and band trips.

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With the right choices, we can restore education funding

by | March 31st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education, Taxes | Comments (0)

okedrallyThese are the prepared remarks delivered by David Blatt at the Oklahoma Education Rally on March 31st

It’s amazing to see such a huge crowd standing up for public education and Oklahoma’s children. Thank you all for being here.

My name is David Blatt. I’m the Executive Director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, a non-partisan think-tank that works on education and other state policy issues. We lead a coalition called Together Oklahoma, and if you want to find our information and join with us in the work that we do, please visit TogetherOk.org and okpolicy.org 

When you leave the rally this morning to go talk to legislators, many of them will express sympathy for boosting funding for education, but they may tell you that the money just isn’t there.  Don’t believe them. We have options, and I’m going to tell you what they are.

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Filling the Hole: Options for a balanced approach to the state budget shortfall

by | March 25th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Appropriations-08-15-CPIadjusted

The Board of Equalization has certified that legislators will have $188 million less for next year’s budget compared to this year.  In her FY 2015 Executive Budget, Governor Fallin proposed an overall cut of 1.9 percent across all of state government and cuts of 5 percent to most agency budgets. In a new issue brief, OK Policy argues that responding to budget shortfalls by imposing deeper budget cuts is not an inevitable outcome.

The prospect of a new round of budget cuts is of grave concern for two main reasons:

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Graph of the Day: State tax rates and drilling activity show no correlation

by | March 20th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

In recent years there has been a tremendous growth of horizontal drilling for oil and gas across the United States.  In Oklahoma, this has led to growing concern that the state’s tax breaks for horizontal drilling are growing out of control at the expense of adequate funding for our schools and other critical services.

Oklahoma taxes traditional production at 7 percent but provides for a lower tax rate to support certain kinds of production seen as especially risky or costly. As the result of a tax break first enacted in the 1990′s, horizontal production is taxed at only 1 percent for the first four years of production. The state is now forsaking some $250 million in revenue from this tax break.

Some proponents of the tax break for horizontal drilling claim that it is working just as it supposed to by encouraging drilling activity that benefits that state’s economy and treasury. They assert that state tax policy is an important factor in determining where energy companies chose to invest. If that were true, we’d expect that states with the lowest tax rates would see more growth in horizontal drilling while states with the highest tax rates would see less. Instead, no such correlation seems to exist.

continue reading Graph of the Day: State tax rates and drilling activity show no correlation