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The decade Oklahoma’s ag jobs vanished (Guest Post: Brian Ted Jones)

by | July 14th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Economy, State Questions | Comments (0)

Corporate-FarmingBrian Ted Jones is director of education for Kirkpatrick Foundation. Data on farm employment is from census records accessed through the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.

Since 1990, the number of agricultural jobs in Oklahoma has declined by 77 percent, according to figures from the U.S. Census. This period of employment decline in the farming and ranching industry—once a pillar of the state’s job market—coincides with the expansion of corporate-industrial agriculture that began with the legalization of corporate agriculture in 1969 and accelerated with the arrival of concentrated swine and poultry production in the early 1990s.

Oklahoma is currently engaged in a heated debate over agriculture policy, as voters consider State Question 777, a controversial amendment to the state’s constitution that would provide members of the agriculture industry with a private right of action to challenge laws that restrict their technology and production practices. As director of education for Kirkpatrick Foundation, I’ve spent the last few months exploring the potential impact of SQ 777 on Oklahoma, which has led me to a deep study of Oklahoma’s agricultural economy going back to the territorial period.

continue reading The decade Oklahoma’s ag jobs vanished (Guest Post: Brian Ted Jones)

In its current form, Education Savings Accounts proposal would widen inequality (Guest post: John Lepine)

by | May 31st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (5)

John Lepine

John Lepine

John Lepine is an OK Policy Research Fellow. He is pursuing a Ph.D. 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.

With budget cuts to public schools dominating recent headlines, the political wrangling in March over Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) seems long forgotten. Rep. Jason Nelson’s HB 2949 would have allowed payments to families with students who leave public schools. These families would receive a voucher for a portion of the funding that the state would have given their public school district, which could go towards private school tuition or homeschool expenses.

While HB 2949 stalled out this legislative session, it is likely that Oklahoma will see other proposals for school vouchers in the years to come. Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman observed that due to the state budget crisis, “A lot of people that might be in favor of [ESAs] philosophically” withheld their support because the “environment [was] probably not conducive to, in their opinion, passing that bill.”

continue reading In its current form, Education Savings Accounts proposal would widen inequality (Guest post: John Lepine)

Budget cuts put unbalanced burden on places of worship (Guest Post: Dr. Mitch Randall)

by | May 16th, 2016 | Posted in Budget, Children and Families, Taxes | Comments (0)

DrMitchRandall

Dr. Mitch Randall

Dr. Mitch Randall is the Senior Pastor at NorthHaven Church in Norman. These are his remarks from a recent press conference urging lawmakers not to reduce or eliminate tax credits that benefit low-income Oklahomans. You can read the letter in defense of these credits signed by more than 150 Oklahoma clergy here. You can learn more about the credits under threat here. You can find sample language and a contact form to write your legislators here.

This afternoon, I speak from a voice born out of a Baptist heritage including John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and John Leland. I am a Jeffersonian and Madisonian disciple of complete religious liberty and upholding a wall of separation between church and state. The first sixteen words of the Bill of Rights are paramount, forever drawing a line between the institutions of the church and state.

This separation, however, does not prevent the church and state from working together to address the common good for all our citizens. Our elected officials and legislators have an enormous burden placed upon them, prompting the Apostle Paul to encourage Christians into vigilant prayer for them (1 Tim. 2:1-4). In turn, under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the state has allowed places of worship to conduct social ministries guided by their conscience without any interference from government. This separate but respectful relationship has worked well throughout the history of our democracy, but the current budget crisis Oklahoma now faces places an unbalanced burden on places of worship based upon the failure of the state.

continue reading Budget cuts put unbalanced burden on places of worship (Guest Post: Dr. Mitch Randall)

Oklahoma women can’t afford wage discrimination. This bill aims to help. (Guest post: Alexandra Bohannon)

by | May 12th, 2016 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

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. 

Women in Oklahoma are among the lowest wage earners in the US. On the whole, Oklahoma women can expect to earn $0.73 cents for every dollar paid to men, with an even wider gap for women of color. The gap exists across and within occupations, and even regardless of education level. It costs Oklahoma women employed full-time more than $6.2 billion combined in lost wages every year. This amounts to thousands of dollars that Oklahoma families don’t have to spend on food, rent, transportation, and other necessities, and it directly contributes to Oklahoma’s persistently disproportionate poverty rate for women and women-headed households. House Bill 2929, introduced by Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City) seeks to address this by enforcing equal pay for equal work in Oklahoma.

continue reading Oklahoma women can’t afford wage discrimination. This bill aims to help. (Guest post: Alexandra Bohannon)

It’s the revenue, stupid! (Guest post: Ken Miller)

by | May 6th, 2016 | Posted in Budget | Comments (10)

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 April 2016 Oklahoma Economic Report and is reprinted with permission.

This month’s Gross Receipts to the Treasury are the lowest April total in four years and mark a 12th consecutive month of falling collections. On an annualized basis, Gross Receipts to the Treasury are the lowest since June 2013 and all major revenue streams are smaller than one year ago.

The direct and indirect effects of contraction in our state’s anchor industry are, of course, driving these numbers. Monthly collections from oil and natural gas production taxes have been lower than the same month of the prior year for 16 consecutive months, including gross production collections of less than $21 million in April – the lowest monthly total in more than a decade.

Even so, some politicians are reticent to admit by word or deed the state has a revenue problem, instead defaulting to inaction and the tried and true spending problem rhetoric. For those who conveniently posture that our current crisis is rooted in spending, I have breaking news: It’s the revenue, stupid!

continue reading It’s the revenue, stupid! (Guest post: Ken Miller)

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 (1)

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)