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In The Know: State funding shortfall for public schools climbs to $18.1 million

by | February 17th, 2017 | 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including our Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

State funding shortfall for public schools climbs to $18.1 million: Public schools learned Wednesday that their regular payment from the state of Oklahoma would be shorted for the second month in a row. The Oklahoma State Department of Education sent out a memo Wednesday ahead of Thursday payments to local schools notifying them that they will be shorted by another $8.4 million — that’s in addition to the $9.7 million they were shorted in January. The reduction in funding for schools is the result of below-estimate collections in a couple of state revenue streams that feed into state aid for common education, the primary source of state funding for public schools. [Tulsa World]

Weak Financial Accountability For Charter School Management Companies That Get Millions: With a nearly $900 million budget shortfall, Oklahoma lawmakers want accountability for every penny. But within the coffers of private charter school management companies are millions of dollars that lawmakers can’t see. Epic Virtual Charter School has about 8,000 students enrolled, and like many other charters, Epic is managed by a private company. This company, called Epic Youth Services, keeps 10 percent of all the state and federal dollars the school gets. For the 2015-2016 school year that was $2.9 million. And that $2.9 million, we don’t really know how the management company spent it, and they don’t have to disclose that information, because they’re a private company. [KOSU]

Across core services, Oklahoma underspends: State government has four core responsibilities – education, health care, public safety and transportation. It is those fundamental services on which the people depend to have productive lives. For businesses, those services done right provide an environment in which they can thrive. Analysis of data released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau, along with the most-recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Federal Highway Administration, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, shows that, even when adjusted for Oklahoma’s relatively low cost of living, funding for core services still lags the region and the nation. [State Treasurer Ken Miller / OK Policy]

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In The Know: Senate panel passes six teacher pay raise bills

by | February 16th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

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. 

Click here to check out our resources for the Legislative session, including our Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide

Today In The News

Senate panel passes six teacher pay raise bills: A Senate panel on Wednesday passed six measures that would increase teacher pay. The bills move to the full Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. State officials expect to have $868 million less to spend in crafting the fiscal year 2018 budget, but legislative leaders have said increasing teacher pay is a priority. Senate Bill 97, by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair, would provide a $1,000 raise the first year, a $2,000 raise the second year and a $3,000 raise the third year [Tulsa World].

Plans to change voter-approved drug laws face backlash: Some Republicans in the Oklahoma Legislature are pushing back against voter-approved changes in November to soften drug possession penalties, arguing that voters didn’t know exactly what they were doing when they approved the initiatives with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Several proposals have been introduced this year by tough-on-crime Republicans who want to undo some of the changes approved by voters just a few months ago, including one bill to reinstate felony penalties for some drug possession crimes that easily cleared a House committee on Wednesday. Those plans are riling up voters who approved the changes and said they are fed up with Oklahoma’s overcrowded and underfunded prisons [Associated Press].

Immigration agents arrest more than a dozen in central Oklahoma: An immigration attorney said the threshold of who is picked up by immigration officials has been lowered by the new administration. “It’s wide open who they go after,” Michael Brooks Jimenez said. He represents five of the eight men picked up by immigration agents with the fugitive task force this week in Purcell. Authorities told KOCO 5 that more than a dozen undocumented immigrants were arrested in central Oklahoma. “When (agents) go to arrest someone, if they encounter anyone else they think might not be documented, they pick them up as collateral damage,” Brooks Jimenez said [KOCO].

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In The Know: House committee changes mind, passes two bills limiting abortion

by | February 15th, 2017 | 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

House committee changes mind, passes two bills limiting abortion: A revised version of an abortion bill that stalled in a House committee last week advanced Tuesday along with another controversial measure that would give men the final say in many if not most abortions. House Bill 1549, by Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, seeks to ban abortions sought solely because of indications of fetal defects such as Down syndrome. This week’s rewrite was sufficient to sway two Republicans who originally voted against the measure when it failed on a 4-4 tie last week in the House Public Health Committee [Tulsa World].

General revenue continues to fall short of expectations: Deposits to the state’s primary operating account, the General Revenue Fund, continued to lag expectations in January, officials said Tuesday. Pulled down by weak sales- and use-tax collections, deposits to the fund totaled $505.1 million, or 3.4 percent less than the estimate. The total was only $2.5 million below the same month a year ago. Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said long-term trends support Gov. Mary Fallin’s call for new recurring revenue sources, including an increase in the state cigarette tax and extending the state sales tax to services [Tulsa World].

Shortey vows to hold back changes to SQ 780, 781: State Sen. Ralph Shortey told a raucous town hall he won’t advance legislation that would seem to repeal two criminal justice reform measures adopted by Oklahoma voters last year. Shortey said he doesn’t want to completely repeal State Questions 780 and 781. There are some parts of the law he wants to revisit. For example, State Question 780 changed virtually all drug possession crimes into misdemeanors. Shortey said he would be in favor of placing distance modifiers back into the law that increase penalties if drugs are found on a person within 1,000 feet of a public area like a park or school [NewsOK].

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In The Know: Cigarette tax increase advanced by House committee, but passage into law not assured

by | February 14th, 2017 | 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. Click here to check out our resources for the Legislative session, including our Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide

Today In The News

Cigarette tax increase advanced by House committee, but passage into law not assured: A proposed $1.50 per pack increase in the state cigarette tax backed by Republican leaders and the Oklahoma State Chamber lumbered from the House Appropriations and Budget Committee late Monday afternoon on a less-than-overwhelming vote. As now written, House Bill 1841 by Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, would ultimately direct revenue from the proposed tax increase into a Health Care Enhancement revolving fund for “activities eligible to be matched with federal Medicaid dollars or mental health safety net services.” The increase, which would become effective Sept. 1, has a hard pull to become law [Tulsa World].

Town hall meeting heated about SQ 780, 781: More than 200 people packed into a town hall meeting with a clear message: don’t mess with their vote on State Questions 780 and 781. “We, the people of Oklahoma, believe that the issues of addiction and mental illness are better addressed through treatment rather than punishment,” said one attendee. SQ 780 allows certain non-violent drug and theft crimes to become misdemeanors, easing growing problems in prisons [KFOR]. Reporters with The Oklahoman live-tweeted the event [NewsOK]. Oklahoma Policy Institute formally endorsed State Questions 780 and 781 in January [OK Policy].

Senate committee kills bill requiring five-day school weeks: A Senate panel on Monday killed a bill that would have required schools to have five-day weeks, with some exceptions. The Senate Education Committee rejected Senate Bill 37 by Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City. The measure gathered four votes of support and 11 against it. Loveless said the bill would have allowed districts to seek a waiver from the five-day class requirement through the State Board of Education, if the districts believed they could save money [Tulsa World].

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In The Know: Report shows high degree of abuse by foster parents

by | February 13th, 2017 | 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

Report shows high degree of abuse by foster parents: More children were abused or neglected by foster parents in Oklahoma in 2015 than any other state in the nation, according to a new child maltreatment report released by the federal government. There were 150 confirmed cases of children abused or neglected by Oklahoma foster parents in 2015, according to the report issued by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s 121 more than Texas, which has more than seven times as many people [The Oklahoman].

With reading proficiency exemption facing expiration, effort to make it permanent underway: Laura Martin spends her day working with groups of students who require additional help with reading, an area the state requires proficiency in by third grade in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. “It definitely is more than teaching the ABC’s,” Martin said. “They have to know their alphabet, they have to know their sounds. They have to have that good foundation and then we build on that with sight words and vocabulary.” But while students who do not score proficient on the state reading test are required to repeat the third grade, in 2014 the Legislature approved an exception if a committee of teachers and parents of the student approve promotion [NewsOK].

Oklahoma teacher recruitment plan seeks to catch up with other states: With more schools relying on emergency certified teachers and fewer traditionally trained educators entering the profession, Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has been referred to as a crisis. It comes at a time when most of the nation is also struggling to fill classrooms with certified teachers, a point some have argued makes Oklahoma’s problems not unique. But it’s an argument some educators don’t believe absolves the state of needing to address it’s own teacher shortage [NewsOK].

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In The Know: Oklahoma governor appoints Wyrick to state Supreme Court

by | February 10th, 2017 | 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

Oklahoma governor appoints Wyrick to state Supreme Court: Gov. Mary Fallin on Thursday named Patrick Wyrick of the Oklahoma attorney general’s office to serve as a justice on the state Supreme Court. Wyrick, 35, will fill the opening left by the retirement of Steven Taylor, who was appointed by Gov. Brad Henry. Since 2011, Wyrick has served as solicitor general in the attorney general’s office, representing the state before the U.S. and Oklahoma supreme courts, as well as other federal and state courts [NewsOK].

Gov. Mary Fallin submits $1.3B worth of transportation projects: A control tower project at Tulsa International Airport, major highway reconstruction in west Tulsa and waterway rehabilitation in eastern Oklahoma are among nearly $1.4 billion worth of transportation projects that Gov. Mary Fallin submitted this week to the Trump administration for consideration as part of a national infrastructure improvement plan. Fallin’s office released a list on Thursday of seven “shovel-ready” projects in Oklahoma that have been submitted to President Donald Trump’s office and the White House National Trade Council via the National Governor’s Association [Tulsa World].

Here are our top priorities for Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session: At OK Policy, our core mission is to encourage state policy changes that ensure responsible funding of public services and expanded opportunity for all Oklahomans. To that end, we’ve identified a number of policies as top priorities in Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session. Together these measures would go a long way towards balancing the state budget with enough revenues to do the job that Oklahomans expect, and they would make the state economy work better for all Oklahomans [OK Policy].

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In The Know: Senate panel passes bills to make massive changes to state judiciary

by | February 9th, 2017 | 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

Senate panel passes bills to make massive changes to state judiciary: A Senate panel on Tuesday passed a number of bills that would make massive changes to the judiciary. After securing approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee, the measures move to the full Senate for consideration. “These are important reforms that would shift the balance of power in the judicial appointment process in Oklahoma away from trial lawyers and back to the people,” said Senate President Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus [Tulsa World]. 

Gov. Mary Fallin proposes tax on Oklahoma wind production: Oklahoma would become the second state to impose a tax on wind power, and its tax would be the nation’s highest, under a proposal announced Monday by Gov. Mary Fallin. In her executive budget, Fallin proposed a 0.5 cent per kilowatt hour tax on electricity from wind generation. She also wants to sunset existing tax incentives for the wind industry earlier than planned. The proposals brought praise from groups opposing wind incentives, but wind industry representatives said they could chill future investment in the state [NewsOK].

Grocery tax cut would cost $235 million: Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal to kill the state’s grocery tax hasn’t drawn any torches or pitchforks, but some have looked at it with a leery eye. The measure would save a family of four between $350 and $676 per year, but it would also drop $234.7 million out of the budget, according to the executive budget Fallin released Monday. The repeal is part of a tax modernization package, which would cut taxes the governor called outdated while implementing new ones and raising old ones. Some officials are concerned there’s nothing keeping legislators from ending the grocery tax with no replacement [Journal Record].

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In The Know: GOP needs Democrats’ help to pass revenue bills

by | February 8th, 2017 | 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

GOP needs Democrats’ help to pass revenue bills: To pass reforms of Oklahoma’s tax structure, Gov. Mary Fallin needs to win support of both House Republicans and Democrats. It won’t be easy. The state constitution requires that all revenue-raising bills have to pass the Oklahoma Legislature with a three-fourths majority. In the state House, it’s 76 votes. House Republicans came out of the November election with 75 members, but two GOP lawmakers resigned before session began Monday [NewsOK].

Fallin’s put forward a bold tax plan to help poor and middle class Oklahomans: The bold tax initiative outlined by Gov. Mary Fallin in her State of the State speech Monday deserves more respect — and some consideration. The centerpiece is a proposal to do away with the state sales tax on groceries. Before we go further, let’s recognize that for what it is: The most aggressive move the state has made in the direction of tax equity in years. While past tax cuts to the state’s income tax rates have favored the wealthiest Oklahomans, the proportionate impact of eliminating the state sales tax on groceries clearly favors the working poor and middle class and it does so in a place they will actually recognize it, the cost of their food [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. The Editorial Board also praised Amazon for collecting sales tax on behalf of Oklahoma [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Don’t go there: Block grants for Medicaid and SNAP could wreck America’s safety net: A fundamental part of the American social contract is that when times get tough, we help our friends and neighbors out. In Oklahoma, the biggest ways that we do this is through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and SoonerCare, Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. Each of these programs help hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans get on their feet and stay there every year. However, Congressional Republicans are pushing to end these programs and replace them with block grants in order to cut federal spending, possibly by as early as this summer. Block grants would threaten to dismantle effective, efficient anti-poverty programs and leave Oklahoma families without access to adequate food or medical care [OK Policy].

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In The Know: Governor’s budget offsets cuts with taxes on services, gas, tobacco, wind electricity generation

by | February 7th, 2017 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

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

Governor’s budget offsets cuts with taxes on services, gas, tobacco, wind electricity generation: Gov. Mary Fallin waved a big carrot at the Oklahoma Legislature during her State of the State address on Monday — eliminating the state sales tax on groceries. The 4.5 percent tax is a sore point for Oklahomans, especially those who have a hard enough time putting food on the table, and getting rid of it would make lawmakers heroes to a lot of constituents. But with the big carrot comes a big stick and a shot of castor oil — $839 million in taxes on services currently exempt, a 7-cent increase in the gasoline tax, a 10-cent increase in the diesel tax, a $1.50-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes and new gross production taxes on wind electricity generation [Tulsa World]. Read our statement urging lawmakers to heed Governor Fallin’s call to fix the structural deficit [OK Policy]. Here are some more reactions to the budget [NewsOK].

Teachers may win, smokers could lose in Oklahoma budget plan: Gov. Mary Fallin’s nearly $7.8 billion budget proposal would rely on new taxes to diversify Oklahoma’s revenue streams, and overcome a projected $868 million budget hole for the next fiscal year. If approved, Fallin says her plan would bring in $1.5 billion in revenue for the spending year that starts July 1. Her budget also would increase spending by almost $318 million for eight state agencies [Associated Press].

A Deeper Look at Fallin’s State of the State Address: In her seventh “State of the State” address on Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin called for eliminating the corporate income tax and the sales tax on food, while endorsing a teacher pay raise and hiking cigarette and gasoline taxes. She proposed an appropriated 2018 budget of $7.8 billion, representing a 6 percent increase over the current year. All but 11 agencies would see no increase. Among the departments with a proposed bump: Health Care Authority, 11 percent; Mental Health, 9 percent; Transportation, 18 percent; Education, 5 percent; Public Safety, 15 percent, and Corrections, 2 percent [Oklahoma Watch].

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In The Know: Schools can access millions to expand free school meals

by | February 6th, 2017 | 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

Schools can access millions to expand free school meals: At all elementary and middle schools and some high schools in the Houston Independent School District — 220 in all — every student begins the day with a free breakfast right in the classroom. The result: fewer absences and discipline problems and an increase in math scores, according to the district’s former superintendent Terry Grier. Houston, the nation’s seventh largest school district, where three out of four students live in poverty, also offers free lunch to all students at 186 schools, without requiring applications to qualify. The potential stigma of receiving a free meal is eliminated, and so is much of the paperwork burden on school staff, according to advocacy groups fighting poverty-related hunger [Oklahoma Watch]. Community Eligibility can help make Oklahoma schools hunger-free [OK Policy].

Repealing Obamacare could be ‘devastating’ for Oklahoma hospitals: As Republicans in Congress plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, people all over the country are concerned about what happens next. In the state of Oklahoma, about 140,000 residents are covered under Obamacare. That includes Rozena Curran who we met during her appointment at Morton Comprehensive Health Services. Curran says she gets peace of mind from Obamacare, so she’s happy to pay a reasonable monthly premium. Rozena is better off than 50 percent of the patients who visit Morton, because half don’t have any insurance. So the repeal of Obamacare could add more people to that list and increase Morton’s costs [KTUL].

Fallin urges lawmakers to work with her to find new revenue: If the Oklahoma Legislature wants to keep funding critical services like education, public safety and infrastructure, Gov. Mary Fallin says lawmakers should work with her to come up with permanent ways to fund those priorities. As the Republican governor prepares to deliver her seventh state of the state speech on Monday, she intends to lay out a plan for a “major overhaul of our tax system” designed to close the budget gap and eliminate the continual need for lawmakers to use one-time sources of money to plug deficits [Associated Press].

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