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In The Know: Criticism ignites over “impossible” Oklahoma petition demands

by | October 23rd, 2014 | 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.

Want to know more about what’s on the ballot Nov. 4? Check out OK Policy’s 2014 Oklahoma Elections page, with information on voting times, state questions, judicial elections, and more.

After three petitions to put state questions on the Oklahoma ballot recently failed, advocates are criticizing the state’s petition laws. Compared to surrounding states, Oklahoma require substantially more signatures to be gathered over a shorter period of time to get a petition on the ballot. NewsOn6 examined why lottery revenues haven’t helped Oklahoma school funding as much as promised. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed why the lottery didn’t fix Oklahoma’s education funding problems. David Blatt’s Journal Record column points out that lawmakers have taken away far more revenue by passing tax cuts and growing tax breaks than have been added by the lottery, Indian gaming, and tobacco taxes. Tulsa Public Schools is expanding the role of an outside contractor in assisting with teacher recruitment, amid a statewide teacher shortage.

NewsOK reported that Gov. Fallin personally has given substantial raises to state agency directors that are larger than any of the 48 agency director pay hikes that the governor criticized earlier this week. A new report from Oklahoma Policy Institute finds that states that expanded Medicaid are lowering their uninsured rate, improving the health of their people, and boosting their economies and state budgets. The Tulsa Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women is taking up the issue of Oklahoma’s high female incarceration rate. You  can see the Commission’s initial report on female incarceration here

An Oklahoma judge refused to block new restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs from going into effect Nov. 1. Developers looking at building an outlet mall in east Tulsa say the plan will not go forward without taxpayer help. Kansas has missed its tax revenue targets again, with revenues for the new fiscal year coming in more than 10 percent below estimates. Following major income tax cuts, the state has burned through its rainy day fund and now faces even larger budget cuts or tax increases to fill a growing budget hole.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of women in Oklahoma who have report having at least one poor mental health day each month. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post discusses a new study showing that poor college graduates stay poor about as much as rich high school dropouts stay rich.

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Medicaid Expansion’s Track Record Shows It’s a Good Deal for Oklahoma

In 2012, Gov. Fallin announced that Oklahoma would reject a central feature of the Affordable Care Act, refusing to expand health insurance coverage for low-income adults the infusion of federal funds that would have accompanied expansion. Two years after the Governor’s announcement, the experience in the state shows it was the wrong decision.

Expanding the state’s Medicaid program would have extended insurance coverage to roughly 150,000 people – approximately 1 in 5 of the state’s uninsured. Now, those 150,000 Oklahomans are caught in the “coverage crater.” They earn too much for traditional Medicaid, but don’t qualify for subsidies to purchase health insurance on the online marketplace.

Comparing Oklahoma to similar states that did accept expansion clearly shows that the Governor made the wrong choice. Arkansas, Kentucky and New Jersey are just three of the 28 states that have expanded their Medicaid programs, and are using the accompanying funding to in innovative ways to improve not only their states’ health outcomes, but also their local economies and state budgets.

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In The Know: Retained Oklahoma City third graders not showing much improvement

by | October 22nd, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Want to know more about what’s on the ballot Nov. 4? Check out OK Policy’s 2014 Oklahoma Elections page, with information on voting times, state questions, judicial elections, and more.

Only five out of 611 Oklahoma City third-graders held back because they failed a state-mandated reading test in April have passed an alternative assessment since the start of August, prompting a district official to blame some teachers and principals for the lack of improvement. Calling it a “game-changer” for less fortunate students, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu said the district will pay for nearly 4,000 high school sophomores and juniors to take the PSAT. State Superintendent Janet Barresi is asking the federal government for a reinstatement of a No Child Left Behind waiver that the state lost when the Legislature repealed Common Core, because the state Regents have certified Oklahoma’s current standards as “college and career ready.” The Tulsa World editorial board discussed ImpactTulsa’s efforts to coordinate everyone working to improve Tulsa public schools. We previously wrote about the ImpactTulsa project on the OK Policy Blog.

Slate examined how women in Texas and Oklahoma are obtaining abortions after the passage of more restrictive laws. On the OK Policy Blog, we looked at the case for the US Postal Service to begin providing affordable banking and financial services. Oklahoma beer brewers are hoping to see a state law changed which restricts them from selling beer produced at their brewery directly to customers. The head of a wind industry trade group acknowledged to legislators that state tax incentives for wind energy producers may need to be re-examined in light of their growing cost. At an interim study on Oklahoma’s 665,000 uninsured, health care advocates asked lawmakers to find solutions to extend health coverage — whether it be accepting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act or via its own state funded alternative. A federal contractor helping to enroll Americans in coverage through will bring about 500 jobs to Lawton.

Members of the House Utility and Environmental Regulation Committee heard outlines of different ways to address Oklahoma’s water needs through a combination of greater infrastructure spending, conservation, and reuse. Administrators from the state’s seven veterans centers asked lawmakers to provide a state match for federal grants to fund much needed infrastructure improvements. African-American leaders in Oklahoma are voicing concerns about a growing sense of apathy about politics within their communities. OK Policy previously discussed way that Oklahoma’s democracy is broken and what’s getting in the way of voting.

The Number of the Day is how many children under the age of six in Oklahoma live in counties classified as high risk for poor school readiness. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times discusses how low-income women sometimes get pushed out of their jobs — and into poverty — when they become pregnant.

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How a profitable Postal Service could pad your pockets (Part One)

by | October 21st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Financial Security | Comments (0) say that the United States Postal Service (USPS) has struggled to find its place in a changing information age is an understatement. Facing the exponential growth of digital communication, stiff competition from private firms, and draconian budget cuts, USPS hobbles into an uncertain future. Yet the public post remains an important part of American life and it still plays an indispensable role in rural commerce, culture, and medicine.

This post is the first in a series that examines a new opportunity for USPS to diversify its revenue base, fill urgent and unmet needs for millions of households, and secure its place as the socioeconomic touchstone of remote and sparsely populated areas long-neglected by private development. Part one in this series reviews the history and record of postal financial services, in the U.S. and around the world. Part two examines the suite of financial products and services that USPS is uniquely positioned to provide, and explores which business model would serve the community (and the taxpayer) best.  Finally, part three reviews the benefits of the endeavor for all the parties involved and affected – banks, consumers, and the faltering U.S. Postal Service.

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In The Know: Both superintendent candidates endorse teacher pay hike, less testing

by | October 21st, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

The Republican and Democratic contenders to become Oklahoma’s state superintendent both are endorsing pay raises for teachers and a reduction in the number of tests public school students must take every year. The Oklahoman editorial board called for scrutinizing the salaries of superintendents in Oklahoma school districts. A state Senate interim study looked at giving Oklahoma’s Statewide Virtual Charter School Board authority over certifying virtual courses for all Oklahoma school districts to alleviate the teacher shortage. The OK Policy Blog discussed how Oklahoma still employs hundreds fewer workers than before the recession, even though the recession has ended and state population has grown significantly.

Tulsa County commissioners voted to approve increases in what it charges the city of Tulsa to hold its inmates in the Tulsa Jail. Tulsa County’s interim information technology director instructed at least four county employees to destroy a document critical of his conflict of interest in selecting an IT management company for the county. Law officers are discussing ways to increase collection of DNA samples from Oklahomans convicted of misdemeanors. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed how indiscriminate DNA testing can actually lead to charges and convictions against innocent Oklahomans.

OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt and four other Tulsa-area leaders will receive the inaugural Dan Allen Awards for social justice. NewsOK examined the state Senate race between incumbent Ralph Shortey, who has sponsored some of the most anti-immigrant proposals in the legislature, and immigration attorney Michael Brooks-Jimenez. A need for bilingual teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools has district officials going to Puerto Rico to conduct interviews. Rogers County recently added a translation service to its E911 Dispatch Center to help non-English speaking callers. The University of Oklahoma is under federal investigation for a dog electrocution citation, among other animal welfare violations in university research labs.

The Number of the Day is the estimated number of unmarried, same-sex couples living together in Oklahoma before same-sex marriage was legalized. In today’s Policy Note, Al Jazeera America looks at the human cost of Texas’ refusal to expand Medicaid.

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State workforce still at critically low levels

by | October 20th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (1)

workforce-300x180Despite four years of solid economic growth, Oklahoma’s state budget has never recovered fully from the last recession. While total state appropriations are slightly above pre-downturn levels, the FY 2015 budget is $680 million, or 7.9 percent, below FY 2009 when adjusted for inflation. Most agencies are still 15-30 percent below pre-recession funding levels.

The deep recession and continued tight funding has had an especially heavy impact on agency workforces. Most agencies were forced to cut staff during the downturn by implementing Reductions-in-Force and buyouts, or by leaving a significant number of vacant positions unfilled.  Even with slight overall budget increases the past several years, the state’s public sector workforce remains far below pre-recession levels, according to data supplied by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.  In FY 2014, state government employed 36,470 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees. This is an increase of 628 workers, or 1.8 percent, from FY 2012, but 2,880 workers, or 7.3 percent fewer than before the state fiscal crunch hit following FY 2009. Compared to 2001, the state workforce is 1,158 employees smaller, even as Oklahoma’s population has grown by some 350,000 residents.

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In The Know: Court monitors find Oklahoma has not made “good faith effort” to fix child welfare

by | October 20th, 2014 | 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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

he Oklahoma Department of Human Services has not made a “good faith effort” at attracting new foster homes, bringing down worker caseloads, reducing shelter use for children older than 6, staffing the hotline and finding permanent homes for foster children, according to a report issued Wednesday by an independent oversight panel. You can read the full report here. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis discussed some recent efforts at the Capitol to look at child welfare, juvenile justice, and suicide prevention. The Oklahoma State Board of Education approved a new $3.4 million no-bid contract with New Hampshire-based testing company Measure Progress to conduct winter testing in Oklahoma schools.

Public Radio Tulsa discussed levels of participation in parent-teacher conferences at Oklahoma schools and research on whether this matters. The Tulsa World examined a new effort by ImpactTulsa to coordinate everyone working to improve Tulsa schools. We previously discussed this effort on the OK Policy Blog. The okeducationtruths blog examined the recent decision by State Regents to certify PASS standards, which Oklahoma reverted to after repealing Common Core, as college and career ready. The OK Policy Blog discussed a new report showing Oklahoma continues to lead for making the largest education cuts in the nation since the recession. Tulsa World columnist Ginnie Graham suggested that legislators ought to have their session in classrooms to see the effect their decisions have had on public schools.

Dozens of state agency directors quietly received raises averaging 18 percent during the last fiscal year, according to a report released by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. Oklahoma’s relationship with tribal nations has warmed in recent decades with economic success, but tensions are rising over education funding and sales taxes. Tulsa World editor Wayne Greene discussed what Oklahoma is giving up by refusing federal dollars to expand health coverage. A series of public safety summits by Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s will start by focusing on prescription drug abuse. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed why prescription drugs are Oklahoma’s biggest drug problem.

An Oklahoma County district judge was asked Friday to put a controversial abortion bill on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge. Amid frequent earthquakes, the US Geological Survey is installing 4 seismographs around Cushing, Oklahoma. There were ten earthquakes in Cushing last week, the two largest at 4.0 and 4.3 magnitude, and one geologist said the earthquakes are a potential catastrophe at the town where up to 46 million barrels of crude oil are stored. As oil prices drop, the number of rigs exploring for oil and gas has begun to decline in Oklahoma. Oklahoman reported William Crum discussed how anyone can vote by mail in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the number of new foster homes approved by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, 27 fewer than the previous fiscal year and nowhere near their goal. In today’s Policy Note, a Miami Herald in-depth report looks at how America’s racialized view of poverty bears no resemblance to reality — the vast majority of those in poverty are white.

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The Weekly Wonk October 19, 2014

by | October 19th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkThe Weekly Wonk is a summary of Oklahoma Policy Institute’s events, publications, blog posts, and coverage. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The KnowClick here to subscribe to In The Know.

This week on the OK Policy Blog, we shared new data showing that Oklahoma’s education per pupil school formula funding has dropped more than any other state’s since 2008. The Tulsa World talked to Policy Director Gene Perry about what that means for Oklahoma. Steve Lewis noted that juvenile justice, child welfare, and suicide are receiving attention at the state Capitol.

We explained what you need to know about upcoming judicial elections, and discussed some state questions that will be on the ballot. SQ 769 would allow military reserve and guard members to hold elected office, and SQ 770 and 771 would expand property tax breaks for some veterans and their families. Executive Director David Blatt discussed the three state questions in his Journal Record column.

On November 10th, OK Policy will host Dr. Lawrence R. Jacobs, a leading expert on health care policy, for his lunchtime talk “The 2014 Elections and the Future of Health Reform.” Click here to purchase tickets.

In his Journal Record column, Oklahoma Observer editor Arnold Hamilton cited OK Policy data on Oklahomans’ political affiliations while discussing why political change may be on the rise in this state. In our Editorial of the Week, The Oklahoman’s editorial board pointed out that a bill to expand DNA testing of persons charged with some crimes might be set back by testimony from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation that thousands of tests already mandated under existing law go undone. We’ve written about why indiscriminate DNA testing could put innocent Oklahomans at risk before.

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Juvenile justice, child welfare, suicide get attention (Steve Lewis Capitol Updates)

Steve Lewis

Steve Lewis

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.

Dealing with continuing social issues has been front and center at the Capitol of late.  Juvenile justice, child welfare and suicide prevention received attention.  The Senate Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Brian Crain, heard a couple of interim studies dealing with juvenile justice. 

The first, requested by Sen. A.J. Griffin, looked into the possibility of passing legislation next year requiring courts to consider the competency of a juvenile to stand trial in a delinquency proceeding.  A delinquent act is an act that would be a crime if the young person were an adult.  The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals held several years ago that a juvenile charged with delinquency must go to trial without the court considering whether he or she is able to understand the proceedings and aid in his or her defense.  The court reasoned that the end result of delinquency adjudication is “treatment” rather than “punishment” so the rights involved in an adult criminal proceeding do not apply.  It turns out that Oklahoma is the only state in the nation that denies a juvenile the right to raise the competency issue before trial.

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Oklahoma continues to lead U.S. for deepest cuts to education

by | October 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (29)

education-cutsLast year, Oklahoma had the dubious honor of having made the deepest cuts to school funding in the nation since the start of the recession in 2008. Now an update from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that our lead has widened. Adjusted for inflation, Oklahoma’s per student school formula funding has dropped 23.6 percent over the past six years, significantly more than in any other state.

Oklahoma is one of 20 states that continued to cut education funding this year, even as the economy recovers, leaving per student spending $857 below pre-recession levels after inflation. Although the Legislature and Governor Fallin provided a $41 million increase to the school funding formula in this year’s budget, it was not enough to keep up with inflation and rising enrollment. This year Oklahoma’s state aid funding per student dropped another $21 after inflation. Total state appropriations for the support of schools is $172 million below what it was in fiscal year 2008, even before accounting for inflation.

That may come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following what is happening in our schools. As Booker T. Washington High School teacher John Waldron wrote last week on our blog, schools have been left fighting with each other over too few resources, as class sizes increase and entire programs are eliminated. Oklahoma’s standards for class sizes and up-to-date textbooks were suspended when the recession hit. Since then lawmakers have repeatedly voted to suspend the standards because schools still can’t afford to meet them. Kids are using textbooks without covers or held together with duct tape. Schools began this academic year with more than 800 teacher vacancies statewide, and they’re still struggling to hire people because teachers can get much better pay in any of our neighboring states.

“At a time when the nation is trying to produce workers with the skills to master new technologies and adapt to the complexities of a global economy, states should be investing more — not less — to ensure our kids get a strong education,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and co-author of the report released today.

The Center’s full report can be found here.