Watch This: What is sharia law?

by | July 19th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Watch This | Comments (2)

Oklahoma gained national attention last year with the passage of SQ 755, a ballot measure that amends the state constitution by preemptively barring state courts from considering ‘sharia law.’  Sharia literally means “path” in Arabic, and refers loosely to an evolving set of standards derived from religious texts, teachings, and community consensus that govern Islamic life.  A federal judge has temporarily stopped the measure from going into effect pending the results of court challenges.  Opponents of the sharia law ban cite the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, that government should “make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”

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In The Know: July 19, 2011

by | July 19th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today on In The Know, Gov. Fallin said she opposes using part of the Rainy Day Fund deposit to fully fund teacher health benefits. The OK Policy Blog gives a quick overview of how the Rainy Day Fund works and shows how we’ve designed it to depend on poor economic forecasting. The heat wave is doing damage to Oklahoma’s infrastructure, including a ruptured water main that shut down the Capitol yesterday and buckling roads and highways across the state. The Associated Press reports on how the heat hits hardest in the nation’s poorest communities, including in Oklahoma.

The OKC School Board is scrutinizing private after-school tutoring programs that receive state money after accusations emerged that companies may have charged the district for students that never received tutoring. More school districts are cutting teacher positions to cope with budget cuts. The tax credit task force is looking critically at the insurance premium tax credit that reimburses insurances companies for supplying a backup fund in case they go bankrupt and can’t meet claims.

The purchase of a downtown building by UCO could prohibit the opening of any new bars or clubs in half of Bricktown unless a law is changed. In today’s Policy Note, the AARP finds that overwhelmed family caregivers provided the equivalent of $450 billion worth of care to their adult parents and other loved ones in 2009. Today’s Number of the Day is the amount the legislature cut appropriations to the Department of Education for this fiscal year compared to FY ’11.

Read on for more.

continue reading In The Know: July 19, 2011

How the Rainy Day formula requires us to make mistakes

by | July 18th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (3)

Last Monday, State Finance Director Preston Doerflinger announced that the state would be depositing $219 million in the Constitutional Reserve Fund (commonly referred to as the “Rainy Day Fund”) this year. Seen alongside news that lawmakers had to overcome a $500 million budget shortfall, with resulting severe cuts to child care subsidies and teacher training, among others, it may seem strange that we are setting aside so much money that could otherwise be used to protect these important programs.

The reason is an artifact of how the Rainy Day Fund is implemented. The trigger for making deposits into the fund depends not on budget needs, but on how good we are at forecasting revenues. Each year, the State Board of Equalization estimates how much tax revenue the state will receive in the coming fiscal year. If General Revenue (GR) collections come in above projection, the Rainy Day Fund gets the surplus, until the fund is at 15 percent of the previous year’s GR certification.

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Quick Take: Rainy Day Fund basics

by | July 18th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (4)

This is a revised and updated version of a page authored by Paul Shinn from OK Policy’s Online Budget Guide

Oklahoma’s Rainy Day Fund helps protect against economic downturns. The Rainy Day Fund (formally known as the Constitutional Reserve Fund) was created in 1985 in response to a dramatic revenue downturn. It is designed to collect extra funds when times are good and to spend those funds when revenues cannot support ongoing state operations.

Money flows in to the Rainy Day Fund when revenue is more than estimated. Any General Revenue Fund collections beyond 100 percent of the estimated amount must be deposited into the Rainy Day Fund (unless it already has the maximum amount specified by the Constitution, 15 percent of the current revenue estimate for the General Revenue Fund).

The Constitution allows the Fund to be spent in four instances:

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In The Know: July 18, 2011

by | July 18th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today on In The Know, the first story in an Oklahoma Watch series on immigration shows some US citizens with relatives in Mexico have been waiting 18 years to get their immigration requests processed. Oklahoma Watch also shared the stories of several immigrants’ long road to become citizens. After another Cherokee election recount, incumbent Principal Chief Chad Smith was found to be ahead by 5 votes. Congress is considering a bill that would allow the Cherokee Nation to operate its own hydroelectric power plant on the Arkansas River.

Eighty-five percent of Governor Fallin’s appointments so far have been men. Several Tulsa neighborhoods have seen a rapid shift in demographics from predominately white to heavily Hispanic. Single-father households, grandparents raising grandchildren and same-sex partners raising kids are among the fastest-growing types of households with children in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma County jail is reducing its food costs and providing work for inmates with a 3-acre garden. OKC Central finds that while the I-40 realignment could avoid disruption from federal transportation cuts, the Core to Shore Boulevard is in jeopardy. In Today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows how better than expected state tax collections highlight the importance of the income tax. The Number of the Day is the percentage of the United State currently experiencing drought.

More below the jump.

continue reading In The Know: July 18, 2011

The Weekly Wonk – July 15, 2011

by | July 15th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, OK Policy | Comments (0)

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk is dedicated to this week’s events, publications, and blog posts.

This week at OK Policy, we reported that June General Revenue (GR) collections came in $66.2 million, or 13.0 percent, above the official certified estimate.  While revenues are on an upwards swing, they still face a steep upward climb and will have little, if any, impact on the current year budget.

Also this week, we detailed the toll of budget cuts to education on programs promoting high-quality teaching and schools.  If Oklahoma is to have any chance of improving our students’ educational performance, we need to support excellence in our teachers and administrators.  Read an interview on OK Policy’s Blog with Dr. Thomas Benediktson about the University of Tulsa’s new focus on urban education.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk – July 15, 2011

In The Know: July 15, 2011

by | July 15th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Forty-five counties in western and south-central Oklahoma are under an outdoor burning ban issued by Governor Fallin.  The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows exceptional-to-extreme drought now covering 58 percent of the state and Craig County residents have been without water for two weeks.

The head of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation says loss of federal funds makes it nearly impossible for the state to stay on track with its eight-year road and bridge building repair plan.  A legal challenge to the state’s decision to divert $101.7 million in highway and bridge money for other purposes was filed with the Oklahoma Supreme Court yesterday.  Official estimates of the impact of an early summer storm in Norman reveal damages to infrastructure totaled $10 million.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner says budget constraints will prevent them from filling vacant staff positions, which may slow the office’s efforts to regain national accreditation.  Ruben Navarrette writes about the major role of immigrants in our agricultural system and the care, effort and skill it takes to get food out of the fields and onto our tables.  Oklahoma legislators are the highest paid in the region, with a base pay nearly $7,000 more than the starting pay of teachers in the state.

The OK Policy blog covers the toll of budget cuts on programs promoting high-quality teaching and schools.  In today’s Policy Note, the Georgetown Health Policy Institute released a paper detailing Medicaid’s role in caring for children with special health needs.  Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans who do not think crime is a problem in their community.  These stories and more below the jump.

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The toll of budget cuts: Programs promoting high-quality teaching and schools under the axe

by | July 14th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (10)

If Oklahoma is to have any chance of improving our students’ educational performance, we need to support excellence in our teachers and administrators. In recent years, Oklahoma has made such a commitment by investing in research-based professional development programs for teachers and school leaders. Unfortunately, three such successful programs – Literacy First, Great Expectations, and A+ Schools – have fallen victim to the  budget axe and are set to lose all state funding in the upcoming budget year.

The decision to eliminate funding for these programs must be viewed within the state Department of Education’s budget context. This year the Legislature cut appropriations to the Department of Education by $108 million, or 4.5 percent, compared to FY ’11. Within the total Common Education budget, the Legislature allocates a set amount for “the support of public school activities”, which encompasses the costs of the flexible benefit allowance for teachers and support staff, the teachers retirement credit, and all the educational programs that are funded outside the state aid formula. The FY ’12 allocation of $401.2 million is $18.7 million less than that of FY ’11 and $57.4 million, or 12.5 percent, less than FY ’10.  For the second straight year, the Legislature chose not to provide line-item allocations within the Activities Budget, leaving it in the hands of Superintendent Janet Barresi and the Board of Education to manage the shortfall.

continue reading The toll of budget cuts: Programs promoting high-quality teaching and schools under the axe

In The Know: July 14, 2011

by | July 14th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, In The Know | Comments (0)

In 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to gperry@okpolicy.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

The first meeting of a legislative task force for the study of state tax credits and economic incentives is scheduled for this Friday.  Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid calls for halting plans to build a convention center downtown in favor of quality of life projects like trails, sidewalks and senior wellness centers.  Republican State Representative George Faught announced his candidacy for Congress in Oklahoma’s Second District.  CapitolBeatOK presents different perspectives on the state’s recent $219 million deposit into the Rainy Day Fund.

Home foreclosures in Oklahoma were down significantly during the first half of this year.  The Tulsa area had the eighth-fastest growth in clean economy jobs between 2003 and 2010.  Oklahoma has seen a sharp increase in oil drilling.  Sen. Tom Coburn may rejoin a group of senators known as the ‘Gang of Six’ for bipartisan budget negotiations.  Grand Lake’s blue-green algae toxin warning has been lifted

Edmond joins Oklahoma City in establishing a water conservation schedule and will temporarily buy needed water from Oklahoma City.  Citizens of Ada ask for a public apology from the city after the chair of a city beautification committee used the n-word during a meeting.  The number of Oklahoma residents who say they are living with a same-sex partner has increased dramatically, according to the 2010 Census.

The OK Policy Blog has an interview with the interim director of the University of Tulsa’s new School of Urban Education.  In Today’s Policy Note, the National Employment Law Project issued a report documenting widespread hiring discrimination against the unemployed.  Today’s Number of the Day is how many jobs Oklahoma needs to get back to pre-recession levels. These stories and more below the jump.

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An interview with Dr. Thomas Benediktson about TU's new focus on urban education

by | July 13th, 2011 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (2)

Students at Kendall Whittier Elementary School

The University of Tulsa recently announced that it is changing the name of its education department to the School of Urban Education. The change reflects an increased focus on the issues confronted in low-income, urban districts. OK Policy spoke with Dr. Thomas Benediktson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at TU and interim director of the School of Urban Education, about reasons for the change and what it means for Oklahoma.

Here is the transcript of our conversation, slightly edited for length:

First can you speak a little about what is urban education and how it differs from traditional curriculum?

In an urban setting, you’re dealing with a primarily poor population of students who often don’t have a strong family structure at home. In Tulsa we have a very high rate of female incarceration, so many of the students don’t have mothers at home. From week to week, teachers may have different students in their classes because the students move from uncle to foster parent to biological parent to somewhere else. There’s just not a stable environment for the students to learn.

continue reading An interview with Dr. Thomas Benediktson about TU's new focus on urban education