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Oklahoma’s costly lack of foresight in not funding mental health care (Guest post: Tiara Blue)

by | April 27th, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Healthcare | Comments (5)

Tiara Blue is an instructor at Murray State College in Tishomingo and a contributing writer for NonDoc.

Tiara Blue

Tiara Blue

Foresight. I underlined this word twice in my notes for the late Professor J. Rufus Fears’ “Ancient Rome” course. I was just a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, but in that lecture, Fears said something that has resonated with me all my life: The difference between a mediocre leader and a leader of true greatness is not money, prestige, or charisma. It’s foresight, the ability to recognize problems on the horizon and create solutions that are good, not only in the short term, but in the long term as well.

In the midst of Oklahoma’s budgetary crisis, it seems that Professor Fears’ hallmark of leadership is lacking at our state capitol.

This was never more clear to me then March 25, when the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health announced that its already anemic budget had been reduced by $22.8 million, or figuring in the loss of federally matched funds, a total of $40 million. Overnight, 73,000 Oklahomans found their access to mental health service reduced or eliminated.

Oklahoma has a long history of not caring enough to invest in mental health treatment. Mentally ill people are lower on the totem pole because politicians don’t view mental health as a politically expedient cause. Politicians do not care because they believe the public does not care.

I am here to tell you why you should.

continue reading Oklahoma’s costly lack of foresight in not funding mental health care (Guest post: Tiara Blue)

Cuts to education spending hurt more than just our children (Guest post: Christiaan Mitchell)

by | April 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Economy, Education | Comments (0)

Christiaan Mitchell is a lawyer who holds masters degrees in philosophy and education. He lives and works in Bartlesville.

stack of books and apple stabbed by knife to represent education cuts

A couple of weeks ago Williams announced that it was cutting approximately 100 jobs in Tulsa. This announcement was front-page news and sent ripples of anxiety through the entire community.

Can you imagine the uproar from the business community if these jobs had been lost due to a policy decision at the state Legislature? If the folks down in Oklahoma City had passed a bill that would, on its own, destroy 100 decent middle-class jobs in Tulsa, we could expect a full court press attack by the Chamber of Commerce. And any legislator who had his or her fingerprints on the measure would not be long for the statehouse.

Ten days after the Williams cuts hit the news, the Oklahoma City Public School System announced that it would be cutting 208 teaching positions due to state funding shortfalls. Over 200 decent middle-class jobs have been lost in Oklahoma City alone as a direct result of the Legislature’s unwillingness to pay its bills. More districts are now following suit in announcing layoffs of administrative staff and teachers. Yet the response from the business community has been muted, at best.

continue reading Cuts to education spending hurt more than just our children (Guest post: Christiaan Mitchell)

Worker benefit denials are keeping Oklahoma’s unemployment rate artificially low (Guest post: Jimmy Curry)

by | April 19th, 2016 | Posted in Economy, Financial Security | Comments (2)

Jimmy Curry is President of the Oklahoma AFL-CIO (www.okaflcio.org).

Denied Concept with Word on Folder.Believe it or not, sometimes the State of Oklahoma gets it right.  The Oklahoma Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is one of the healthiest funds in the Country with over $1 billion in it. This didn’t happen by accident. Many years ago the Oklahoma Legislature developed a formula that would raise employers’ unemployment insurance rate and lower the unemployed workers’ weekly benefit if the Trust Fund’s monies were low.  The opposite is true when the trust fund monies were high — employers’ unemployment insurance rate would drop and unemployed workers’ weekly benefit would increase.

This formula has worked so well that Oklahoma was one of only a handful of states that did not have to borrow money from the federal government to shore up their Unemployment Insurance Trust Funds during the years after the Great Recession. This is great news since the Oklahoma economy has been taking it on the chin with the falling oil prices, layoffs in the energy sector, state hiring freezes, and severe budget cuts.

continue reading Worker benefit denials are keeping Oklahoma’s unemployment rate artificially low (Guest post: Jimmy Curry)

Why charter schools get an outsize share of mid-year State Aid funding (Guest Post: Shannon Meeks)

by | April 4th, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (6)

School FinancingShannon Meeks is the Chief Financial Officer for Putnam City Schools.

Each year in late December, state aid payments to public schools are adjusted based on changes in student enrollment and local tax revenues during the first part of the school year. This December, at a time when all of Oklahoma’s public schools are desperately hurting for funds, a staggering 69 percent of the state aid released at midyear ($17.7 million out of $25.7 million) went to charter schools rather than traditional public schools. Charters received more than two-thirds of this state aid adjustment even though they account for only 2.8 percent of public school enrollment.

What enabled charter schools to receive the lion’s share of midyear state aid? The answer is found in Oklahoma’s complex funding formula for schools that was created before charter schools were even a gleam in the eye of Oklahoma legislators. In particular, you need to understand one concept in the state’s formula for funding public schools: equalization.

continue reading Why charter schools get an outsize share of mid-year State Aid funding (Guest Post: Shannon Meeks)

What I didn’t get from my tax cut (Guest post: Erin Taylor, PhD)

by | March 23rd, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Taxes | Comments (6)

money funnelErin Taylor, PhD, is a mother to five children and a disability advocate.

This year I will receive my lavish savings from Oklahoma’s latest tax cut.  It’s likely in the vicinity of $90. What I did not receive, thanks to slashed state services, costs my family a great deal more. My youngest child, who has a developmental disability, is on his sixth year on the Waiting List for the Home and Community Based Waiver. We’re likely to wait at least another six years, because Oklahoma legislators will not fund the state match for available federal Medicaid dollars.  Our $90 largesse from the state is not going to provide him with a safe home, personal care, or vocational support.

I lost funding for my second job teaching at a university because they’ve had their budgets cut. This was a second job that I needed to pay medical bills and college tuition. At my younger children’s school, there is no money for paraprofessionals, textbooks, or paper.  As I wrote this article, the Western Heights School District called to inform me that budget cuts will eliminate the after-school bus program. For the children in my community, this means little ones go home to empty houses. What are we going to ask Oklahomans — especially our poor, elderly, children, and those with disabilities — to sacrifice next?

continue reading What I didn’t get from my tax cut (Guest post: Erin Taylor, PhD)

Oklahoma’s Proposed Medicaid Cut Won’t Pass Federal Muster (Guest Post: Jesse Cross-Call)

by | March 15th, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (3)

Jesse Cross-Call is a Policy Analyst in the Health Policy division of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This post previously appeared on the Center’s Off the Charts blog.

Jesse Cross-Call

Jesse Cross-Call

Oklahoma’s Senate is considering legislation, which its House passed last week, to end Medicaid coverage for 110,000 very low-income parents.  But even if Oklahoma enacts the legislation, federal officials almost certainly won’t grant the needed federal approval to move forward.

By federal law, states must provide Medicaid coverage to parents who would have been eligible for cash assistance in 1996 under the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, which the welfare law of that year replaced with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.  Accordingly, Oklahoma limits Medicaid coverage to parents with incomes below about 41 percent of the poverty line, or about $8,270 a year for a family of three.  Under the proposal that Oklahoma is considering, they’d all lose Medicaid coverage.  (Non-elderly childless adults who aren’t disabled are already ineligible for Medicaid in Oklahoma, regardless of income.)

continue reading Oklahoma’s Proposed Medicaid Cut Won’t Pass Federal Muster (Guest Post: Jesse Cross-Call)

Private charity is no replacement for the public safety net (Guest post: Chris Moore)

by | February 24th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (4)

Chris Moore is the senior minister at Fellowship Congregational United Church of Christ in Tulsa. Chris serves on the boards of JustHope, a non-profit that works to combat extreme poverty, and the Tulsa Sponsoring Committee, a community organizing effort.

Chris Moore

Chris Moore

Having just come through the season of Christmas I have witnessed how, more than any other time of the year, churches gather together to give charity to the poor, to hand out gift boxes and backpacks, serve meals and buy presents for families that can’t afford them during this holiday.  The generosity machine is in fifth gear as communities of Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus.  As a pastor, I have figured out two things.  First, this is unsustainable.  Such an outpouring does not last far beyond the holiday season, despite appeals to compassion, faithful practice, or even guilt.  And, second, all of this generosity is a drop in the bucket of what is actually needed.

Hunger is a huge problem in Oklahoma.  The statistics say that 1 in 4 Oklahoma children don’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.  Those statistics are equal to the rates of death by cancer in the nation.  No one, of course, suggests that churches should take on the task of dealing with cancer, which is probably because they are not equipped to handle such a crisis.  Neither, I would argue, are they equipped to effectively deal with the crisis of hunger, or poverty or homelessness.

continue reading Private charity is no replacement for the public safety net (Guest post: Chris Moore)

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)