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Oklahoma student leaders propose a realistic minimum wage (Guest Post: Andrew T. Hocutt)

by | February 2nd, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Financial Security, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Andrew T. Hocutt is a junior at Rogers State University studying Political Science and Public Administration. He was a 2015 participant in OK Policy’s Summer Policy Institute, and he serves as Chairman for the Rogers State University delegation of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature.

Poor wages in terms of peanuts.

Poor wages in terms of peanuts.

Since 2013, substantive reforms to several state and local minimum wage systems have been implemented across the United States. Advocacy groups such as Fast Food Forward  and Fight for $15  have steadily been gaining popular support and successfully driving the movement to raise the minimum wage into the political forefront. While the movement has seen notable success in U.S. cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City, other cities and rural areas are having difficulty garnering support behind the idea of the $15 livable wage.

In Oklahoma it has proven especially difficult to achieve a higher minimum wage. In 2014,  Oklahoma legislators  approved SB 1023, immediately and indefinitely ending local-control of minimum wage policies for every city and town in the state. The pretense for this policy was the fear that allowing municipalities to increase the local minimum wage would drive businesses out of communities and possibly even the state.

continue reading Oklahoma student leaders propose a realistic minimum wage (Guest Post: Andrew T. Hocutt)

To improve Oklahoma’s health, we must reduce inequality (Guest Post: Candace Smith)

by | January 20th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Candace Smith

Candace Smith

Candace Smith is an OK Policy Research Fellow and a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma’s (OU) Norman Campus. She is also a research assistant at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Office of Planning, Research and Statistics.

Chronic diseases create significant quality of life challenges to patients and families, are expensive to treat, and occur with uncomfortable frequency in Oklahoma. Given our state’s poor overall health rankings, it comes as no surprise that we have some of the highest occurrences of chronic disease in the nation. Evidence shows that social inequalities drive these troubling diseases. It is abundantly clear that improving Oklahoman’s health requires reducing inequality.

A chronic disease is a health condition that lasts at least twelve months, requires ongoing medical attention, and/or limits an individual’s daily activities. They may be brought on or worsened by certain activities or behaviors: for instance, smoking commonly triggers emphysema, and unhealthy eating can cause diabetes. Although the prevalence of chronic disease is increasing around the country, the situation is especially bad in Oklahoma. Compared to both the nation and to nearby states like Arkansas, Texas, and Kansas, Oklahoma performs poorly on most chronic disease indicators.

continue reading To improve Oklahoma’s health, we must reduce inequality (Guest Post: Candace Smith)

Women are severely underrepresented in leadership of state agencies (Guest Post: Alexandra Bohannon)

by | January 11th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Demographic Change | Comments (1)

Alexandra Bohannon

Alexandra Bohannon

Alexandra Bohannon is an OK Policy Research Fellow. She is currently a second-year student in the Master of Public Administration program with a concentration in public policy at the University of Oklahoma. Alexandra works as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Women’s Leadership Initiative at the Carl Albert Congressional Studies and Research Center. 

Having a government that is able to fully represent its citizens is a vital facet of smart policy creation. Oklahoma is falling behind in involving women in its government and policymaking. While women make up slightly more than half of the state’s total population (50.8 percent) only 13.4 percent of legislators [Update: Now 14.1 percent with the election of Cyndi Munson in HD 85] in the Oklahoma House and Senate, or less than one in seven, are women – the third lowest rate of female representation in the nation. Oklahoma is making gains in some areas of elective representation, but primarily in offices tasked with implementing policy, such as county clerks and treasurers. Women are still highly underrepresented in offices that develop policy, such as legislators or county commissioners. With the recent appointment of a female Labor Commissioner, four of eleven statewide office holders in Oklahoma are women.

continue reading Women are severely underrepresented in leadership of state agencies (Guest Post: Alexandra Bohannon)

Pre-registration can improve Oklahoma’s dismal turnout by young voters (Guest Post: Matt Hecox)

by | January 5th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (2)

Matt Hecox

Matt Hecox

Matt Hecox is an OK Policy Research Fellow in the Master of Public Administration program at the University of Oklahoma. Hecox has previously worked as a legislative assistant for the Oklahoma House of Representatives during the 2014 legislative session and in Norman Public Schools as an AVID tutor, athletics worker, and a special education teacher assistant.

Low youth voter registration and turnout for elections is problematic for the United States and Oklahoma.  In the 2014 general election, only 42.2 percent of the United States citizens ages 18-24 were registered to vote, and only 17.1 percent actually voted. In Oklahoma registration and turnout by young voters was even worse. In 2014, only 33.8 percent of eligible Oklahomans age 18-24 were registered to vote, while a miniscule 11.8 percent voted. By comparison, 74.8 percent of Oklahomans age 65 and older were registered and 52.9 percent of them voted. While the largest voting group was age 45 to 64, the voters 65 and older outnumbered all voters younger than 45.

If young people are not participating in the voting process then it can be assumed that the problems and priorities of these Oklahomans will not be a major concern for our elected officials. While there’s no single fix for getting more young people to vote, we do have one good option for reducing the disparity — allowing pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds.

continue reading Pre-registration can improve Oklahoma’s dismal turnout by young voters (Guest Post: Matt Hecox)

Oklahoma’s teacher shortage is not just about salaries (Guest Post: John Lepine)

by | December 14th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (7)

John Lepine

John Lepine

This is the first of a three-part series appearing this week on the OK Policy Blog that will examine the reasons behind Oklahoma’s teacher shortage and what we can do to fix it. You can read part two here and read part three here.

John Lepine is an OK Policy Research Fellow. He is pursuing a M.Ed. in Educational Administration, Curriculum, and Supervision at the University of Oklahoma. He is also a reading specialist and English department chair at the McLain Magnet High School for Science & Technology and a research associate with the Oklahoma Center for Education Policy.

The Oklahoma teacher shortage is well documented; reports describing the crisis have made news for nearly two years. The state began the school year with over 1,000 unfilled teaching positions, and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister recently announced that nearly 1,000 emergency teaching certificates* had been issued for the 2015-16 school year — over 25 times the number of emergency certified teachers approved just four years ago.

Oklahoma’s teacher pay undoubtedly contributes to the ever-deepening teacher shortage. Even after adjusting for the state’s relatively low cost of living, Oklahoma teachers are paid almost 15 percent less per year than their counterparts in other states, with an average public school teacher salary ranked 49th out of the 50 states and DC. However, teacher pay is not the only issue behind the shortage. Research shows that improving teacher working conditions — via state law, district policy, and building-level leadership — is equally important to retaining a stable, high-quality workforce in Oklahoma schools.

continue reading Oklahoma’s teacher shortage is not just about salaries (Guest Post: John Lepine)

Until the state proves it can live within its means, it really should stop reducing them (Guest post: Ken Miller)

by | December 8th, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (2)

State Treasurer Ken Miller

State Treasurer Ken Miller

Ken Miller, PhD, is the Oklahoma State Treasurer and an economics professor at Oklahoma Christian University.  This post originally appeared as an article in the November 2015 Oklahoma Economic Report and is reprinted with permission.

The billion dollar question that has persisted for months around the state Capitol is soon to be answered. On December 21, fiscal policymakers will have their first official estimate of funds available for fiscal 2017 appropriations. Until November revenues are baked into the projection, no one is certain of the estimate – but we do know it will be less than last year and that much of the problem is self-inflicted.

Throughout the Great Recession, suboptimal financial practices, like using one-time revenue sources, had to be employed to deliver cores services to our citizens. Unfortunately, reliance on nonrecurring revenue to balance the budget did not subside when the economy recovered to full employment. In fact, the appetite has only grown, resulting in state budgets that are constitutionally balanced, yet structurally imbalanced.

continue reading Until the state proves it can live within its means, it really should stop reducing them (Guest post: Ken Miller)

Together, we can stop HIV/AIDS (Guest Post: Shannon Hall)

by | December 1st, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Shannon Hall is the Executive Director of Tulsa CARES, a social services agency for people living with HIV/AIDS. 

World AIDS Day is December 1st: a day of remembrance for the millions who have lost their lives to the disease, a day to support those who are in its grasp, and a day to commemorate the advances we have made to manage it. Each year brings news of more progress and more hope.  And yet, as we wait for medical breakthroughs, we have the power to stop its reach. 

Though conditions on the ground are much different in the United States and other developed countries than those in other places like Africa, the methods can work anywhere. Treatment is prevention. This is a mantra to those working in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention, management, and care. It underlies our model of outreach and connection.  But what does it mean?

continue reading Together, we can stop HIV/AIDS (Guest Post: Shannon Hall)

We’re asking the wrong question (Guest post: Abby J. Leibman)

by | November 16th, 2015 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

bread lineAbby J. Leibman is President and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a national nonprofit organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. MAZON helps to fund OK Policy’s policy work around hunger and food security. This article was previously published at mazon.org.

Most of our response to hunger in America is wrong. The programs and policies we employ are, by and large, misdirected, misguided and missing the mark entirely. That shameful fact is the result of one simple problem: When we ask the wrong question, the answer is inevitably wrong, too.

The question we ask routinely is “How do we manage hunger in America?”

continue reading We’re asking the wrong question (Guest post: Abby J. Leibman)

More ballot access reform is the best way to address historic low voter turnout (Guest post: Chris Powell)

by | November 10th, 2015 | Posted in Elections | Comments (1)

Chris Powell is past chair of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party.

Fewer people voted in the 2014 Oklahoma gubernatorial election than have participated in any election for governor in this state since 1978, when the population was about 900,000 people smaller. Our state has seen low voter turnout before, but this especially dramatic collapse in participation got the attention of the Legislature. State Senator David Holt, among others, led efforts to make voting easier by allowing online registration and consolidating local elections. However, only one bill — HB 2181 by House Speaker Jeff Hickman — began to address the underlying problem that many individuals have no motivation to go to the polls because the candidate they prefer isn’t on the ballot.

Election law expert Richard Winger described Oklahoma’s ballot access laws as “absurd and the worst in the nation.” For a new party to get on the ballot, they must collect signatures equal to at least 5 percent of the total vote count in the last statewide election. Since these rules went into effect in 1974, no third party has ever qualified to be on the ballot for mid-term elections when the state chooses a governor. Additionally, no Oklahoman has been able to vote for someone other than a Republican or a Democrat for president since 2000.

continue reading More ballot access reform is the best way to address historic low voter turnout (Guest post: Chris Powell)

With the right strategies, Oklahomans can overcome unprecedented drought (Guest post: Martin Koch)

by | October 6th, 2015 | Posted in Blog | Comments (1)

Martin Koch is an M.A. student at the University of Kansas’s Department of Geography.  He recently earned a B.A. in Environmental Sustainability from the University of Oklahoma. 

Oklahoma has struggled under severe drought conditions for most of the decade. Conditions have been even drier than during the notorious Dust Bowl of the 1930s. While the current drought is still challenging, especially for Oklahoma’s agricultural communities, we aren’t seeing the same kind of catastrophe as in the Dust Bowl because of soil conservation strategies put in place since then.

History has proven that the resourcefulness and fortitude of Oklahomans is stronger than any adverse climate or weather event. However, we still face a difficult task to improve our conservation of water supplies that are under more stress than ever before.

continue reading With the right strategies, Oklahomans can overcome unprecedented drought (Guest post: Martin Koch)