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Four-day school week is a consequence of unwillingness to fund public schools (Capitol Updates)

by | November 25th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Education | Comments (2)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister

Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has taken a quick, strong stand against a 4-day school week that is being considered by some school districts. The legislature passed a bill a few years ago to allow for longer, fewer days, mainly to make it easier for schools to make up “bad weather” days toward the end of the school year. That probably wasn’t a great idea at the time, but at least you could understand the rationale. It’s pretty hard to keep students on task for makeup days at the end of the year anyway. But now some schools are considering going to a 4-day week as a recruitment tool for teachers and to save money on such things as transportation and utilities.

This just seems to be another unanticipated consequence of our state’s unwillingness to responsibly fund our public schools. Since the great recession we have cut school funding more than any other state despite that part of that time included an oil boom with prices over $100 per barrel. At the same time we cut taxes, including a huge gift to the oil and gas industry with a cut from 7 percent to 2 percent in the gross production tax. So now that teachers are voting with their feet and abandoning Oklahoma classrooms, either for teaching jobs in other states or jobs outside their chosen profession, schools are scrounging for ways to make a poor-paying teaching job more attractive and to pinch pennies on the gasoline and utility bills.

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Fact sheet: Hunger in Oklahoma

by | November 24th, 2015 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

The holiday season is a time when many of use will share feasts with our loved ones. Yet hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma still don’t always know where their next meal will come from. Not having enough to eat impacts Oklahomans of all ages, but it especially affects children. In addition, thousands of Oklahomans rely on the food security safety net, including SNAP, WIC, school meals, and other programs. 

About 654,640 Oklahomans are food-insecure.

This 2013 statistic means that a large number of Oklahomans don’t have consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. Oklahomans are more likely to be food-insecure than most Americans. Our state outpaces the national average for both low food security and very low food security.

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In The Know: Superintendent Hofmeister weighs in against four-day school weeks

by | November 24th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Districts weighing four-day school weeks, but Superintendent Hofmeister says it’s bad for kids: A sudden surge in public schools looking to entice teachers and squeeze more out of limited budgets by moving to a four-day week could change the way thousands of Oklahoma students learn. But State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister isn’t pulling punches on the subject — she says any benefits are questionable at best and believes the scheme is detrimental to academic instruction. According to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, at least 35 school districts are already shortening their school weeks year-round [Tulsa World].

Sales tax increase for education not a good solution, some say: Tulsa’s mayor and others have concerns about the impact of a proposed state sales tax increase to fund education improvements. But all say more money should be found for education, particularly teacher pay. Click here! Mayor Dewey Bartlett said he opposes the proposal because an increase would push Tulsa toward the top among cities for sales taxes [Tulsa World]. While some critics say Oklahoma teacher pay can be increased without any new taxes, their plan doesn’t add up [OK Policy].

Does state need a boom-and-bust fund?: Oklahoma has a Rainy Day Fund that can be used to close budget holes when state tax revenues decline. But that fund alone will not be enough to solve state budget problems caused by lagging oil prices. Oklahoma faced a $600 million budget hole this year, and a gap at least that large is expected next year. Although the state’s economy is more diverse than it once was, the energy industry still dominates. It is prone to boom and bust cycles, and when it is down, ripple effects are felt in other sectors [NewsOK].

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Song for my father (Neglected Oklahoma)

Camille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

Head east on I-40. Go past Midwest City and Tinker, out to where the hills roll down to creeks lined with trees and the land is green. Get off at the Prague exit and follow the signs to Boley. Stop by the Dairy Queen. Five miles out of town, turn right down a long gravel road and park near the barn. Give your dad a hug and unload the groceries you brought.

Your dad smiles. You’ve been his lifeline for years now. Social Security barely covers utilities, medicine and doctor visits. Your dad made a good living as an auto mechanic but he has no pension and his savings are about gone, eaten up by your mom’s medical  expenses before she passed. SNAP benefits help but the end of the month, when food stamps are gone, is always lean.

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In The Know: State agencies add earthquakes to disaster drill

by | November 23rd, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today In The News

Oklahoma state agencies prepare for disaster with drill: In an underground bunker on the Capitol grounds, dozens of state and local emergency workers prepared for disaster. The annual “Earth, Wind and Fire” drill began at 10 a.m. Wednesday, with staged natural disasters and weather emergencies hitting towns, cities and counties. As emergency responders worked through their protocols, state agencies were alerted to the fictional emergencies unfurling across the state [The Oklahoman].

Oklahoma Contractors say road construction work plan may be in jeopardy: In 2016, the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors (AOGC) and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation are preparing to continue the Eight-Year Construction Work Plan designed to improve state and U.S. highways, interstates, roads, and bridges amid state funding uncertainty. Amidst state government budget challenges, the top executive at AOGC says the long-term stability of the methodical plan to improve and maintain transportation infrastructure could be at risk [City Sentinel].

Oklahoma higher education institutions cutting costs, sharing resources: Higher education officials across Oklahoma are taking steps to cut costs as they brace for a huge state budget shortfall next fiscal year. “We are making plans today — and we have the past two months — to be prepared to deal with what will be a very significant budget deficit,” higher education Chancellor Glen Johnson said Wednesday at the first of a series of meetings at campuses across the state [The Oklahoman].

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The Weekly Wonk: The wrong question on hunger, rolling back health care gains, and more…

by | November 22nd, 2015 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly W onk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

This week on the OK Policy Blog, Policy Director Gene Perry explained that an alternative for funding teacher pay raises proves it can be done without new taxes. Executive Director David Blatt wrote that lawmakers should resist raiding the tobacco settlement trust fund in the next legislative session. In his Journal Record column, Blatt commented on a proposal that legislation not dealing with the budget or revenue be considered only every other year.

Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update warned that budget troubles are rolling back health care gains in Oklahoma. A guest post from the executive director of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger pointed out that we’re asking the wrong questions on hunger in America. 

Weekly What’s That

Food insecurity

Food security is defined as “ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.” The measure was introduced by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1996 to assess households’ ability to consistently obtain three nutritionally adequate meals a day. Households can be rated as being food secure, low food secure, or very low food secure. Read more.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

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Budget troubles rolling back Oklahoma’s gains on health care (Capitol Updates)

by | November 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Updates, Healthcare | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

The Oklahoma Healthcare Authority (OHCA) announced last week that it will implement a 3 percent cut in medical provider rates beginning January 1, 2016. This is due to state funding shortages that are making it difficult for OHCA to meet the state match for federal Medicaid funds. The rate cuts will not affect behavioral health rates because the state funding for behavioral health providers comes from money appropriated to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) rather than OHCA. So far, ODMHSAS has found other ways to meet its budget shortfalls without provider rate cuts. Behavioral health providers have good reason to feel fortunate, but there could come a time when the shoe is on the other foot and they suffer a rate cut when medical providers do not.

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In The Know: 25 disposal wells stopped or reduced after earthquakes

by | November 20th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today In The News

25 disposal wells stopped or reduced after earthquakes, including state’s largest since 2011: A series of Thursday morning earthquakes, including a 4.7 magnitude that was the state’s biggest since 2011, has prompted officials to temporarily scale back or cease operations at 25 injection wells located near the two centers of the seismic activity. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded a 4.7 magnitude earthquake at 1:42 a.m. about eight miles southwest of Cherokee in Alfalfa County. It was Oklahoma’s 25th temblor of at least 4.0 magnitude in 2015 [Tulsa World]. Dr. Peter Michael, a geologist at the University of Tulsa, said all the earthquakes in Oklahoma make for one big science experiment [NewsOn6].

Oklahoma’s youth drug overdose death rate has tripled over the past decade: Oklahoma had the 14th highest rate of youth drug overdose deaths in the nation from 2011 to 2013, with a rate of nine deaths per 100,000 youth, ages 12 to 25, according to a report released Thursday. Meanwhile, the national rate was seven deaths per 100,000. Additionally, Oklahoma was one of 12 states that saw its youth drug overdose death rate triple over the past 10 years [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Governor Seeks to End Planned Parenthood Funding: Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday asked Oklahoma’s Health Care Authority to cut its contracts with two Planned Parenthood affilates, citing high rates of billing errors. The request by Ms. Fallin, a Republican, comes as Republican governors of several states have moved to cut funding for Planned Parenthood after an anti-abortion group released videos that it said showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue from abortions [New York Times]. 

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OCPA’s ‘alternative’ for funding teacher raises proves it can’t be done without new taxes

by | November 19th, 2015 | Posted in Education, Taxes | Comments (2)

Last month, a group of Oklahomans led by University of Oklahoma President David Boren launched an effort to put an initiative petition on the ballot that would restore funding to education in Oklahoma through a 1 percent statewide sales tax increase. Even before the effort has begun gathering signatures, the ballot initiative has been challenged in court by OCPA Impact, a lobbying group associated with the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. They argue that the initiative violates the single-subject rule in Oklahoma’s constitution that requires individual ballot initiatives and legislation to deal with only one main issue.

Interestingly, OCPA Impact did not try to argue that Oklahoma doesn’t need to improve teacher salaries, which are among the lowest in the nation even after adjusting for cost-of-living. Instead they suggested that a tax increase of any kind was not necessary to boost teacher salaries, because we can find the money solely by eliminating “wasteful or non-essential state government spending.” They even prepared a list that claims to show where more than $600 million in savings could be found (similar to a 1 percent sales tax increase, which is estimated to generate around $608 million annually). However, digging into the contents of OCPA’s list reveals a very different conclusion from what they claim.

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In The Know: More OK school districts discuss moving to 4-day school week

by | November 19th, 2015 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (0)

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

More OK school districts discuss moving to 4-day school week: Twenty-two districts were scheduled to meet to discuss changing their schools to four day weeks, but only 14 representatives were able to attend. Blanchard Superintendent Dr. Jim Beckham and other administrators in the Technology Center District will meet in Newcastle. This district includes schools surrounding the tech center in Wayne. Currently, the state has about 35 districts already using the 4-day schedule. Some districts report that schedule has helped them attract more teachers [News9].

Oklahoma likely to seek more revenue from tribal gaming compacts: The Oklahoma Model Tribal Gaming Compact will become eligible for renewal or adjustment in 2020, if not earlier. Politicians, gaming experts, bureaucrats and lobbyists have told NonDoc the state of Oklahoma is likely to seek additional “exclusivity fee” revenue from the industry, which announced Tuesday that it makes more than $4 billion in total tribal revenue each year. “I don’t think the tribes would be surprised if the state asked for more money, particularly under the current economic climate,” said William Norman, an attorney who represents multiple tribes. “But I think what tribes are concerned about is making sure that there is accountability with respect to the funds that they are providing to the state” [NonDoc]

Don’t touch Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund: As Oklahoma staggers through an apparently endless string of bad budget years, our investments in education, health care, public safety, and infrastructure that are tied to the annual budget cycle are suffering. Amid all the cuts and all the struggles just to survive from one year to the next, there’s at least one area where forward-thinking by an earlier generation of state leaders has left us in strong and stable condition: using tobacco settlement payments to invest in better health [OK Policy].

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