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The Weekly Wonk: Voter registration, carbon tax, and more

by | August 23rd, 2015 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk 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

On the OK Policy Blog, Blatt praised a settlement reached between several area nonprofits and the Oklahoma State Elections Board designed to ensure more low-income Oklahomans can register to vote. Our work on repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy can be found here. Outgoing summer intern Derek Wietelman explored Oklahoma should tax carbon emissions. A new interactive by Policy Director Gene Perry shows what professions dominate in Oklahoma, and what those professions pay.

In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis points out that lawmakers are still asking state agencies to do more with less funding. Writing in the Journal Record, Blatt discussed a new school meals program that allows high-poverty schools to serve breakfast and lunch to all students free of charge. The program, called the Community Eligibility Provision, allows schools to feed more children more efficiently.

We Want You (and/or Your Students)!

  • College students are invited to apply for our fall internship and research fellowship. The internship is available to any student enrolled in an Oklahoma college with at least four semesters of credit who can travel to Tulsa at least once per week. Internships are paid, and are available for both research and advocacy. Research fellowships are available to graduate students. Research Fellows are each expected to prepare a blog post on issues related to their research in the fall and to conduct a legislative bill analysis in the spring. OK Policy provides each fellow a stipend. Click here to learn more about these opportunities and how to apply. The application deadline for the internships and research fellowships is Friday, August 28th.
  • OK Policy is also hiring a full-time policy analyst to conduct research and analysis on issues of economic opportunity and financial security affecting low- and moderate-income Oklahomans. The position will also involve substantial work with the Oklahoma Assets Network, a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations led by OK Policy working to build stronger financial foundations for all Oklahomans. Click here to see more about the job description and how to apply. The application deadline for the policy analyst position is close of business on Monday, August 24th.

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Lawmakers are not done asking agencies to do more with less (Capitol Updates)

by | August 21st, 2015 | Posted in Budget, Capitol Updates, Healthcare | 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.

Last week’s Oklahoma Healthcare Authority (OHCA) planning retreat provided a wealth of thinking about how to work through the next few years.  It seemed to be pretty much a consensus that problems are increasing and resources to deal with them are decreasing.  A good number of the endeavors that are thought to be necessary to make life better are finding themselves sort of in the ditch-or on the edge about to fall in.  You name it — mental health, addiction, health outcomes, hospitals, education, higher education, corrections, courts, roads and bridges, services to children, the disabled, the elderly — and we seem to be slipping.  Excellence is hardly a realistic goal.  Predictions are that this won’t get better anytime soon.  So, if you’re among those whose life is about helping to meet one or more of these needs, what lies ahead?

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In The Know: Schools discipline special ed students at higher rates

by | August 21st, 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

Schools discipline special education students at higher rates: Across the state, students with physical and mental disabilities are bearing much of the brunt of classroom discipline, government data show. They’re more likely than their peers to be suspended, expelled, arrested, handcuffed or paddled. In dozens of schools, special education students are anywhere from two to 10 times more likely to be disciplined, the data show. At some schools, every special education student has been physically disciplined, suspended or expelled [Oklahoma Watch]. Additionally, some students are simply sent home. In those cases, no disciplinary incident is recorded, making it difficult for parents and advocates know what’s happening in their kids’ schools [Oklahoma Watch].

Tulsa Public Schools begin year with no teacher vacancies: Throughout the district, nearly 500 new teachers were hired this year. On Wednesday, district officials announced that they had filled every teacher vacancy for the start of the school year. Earlier this week, Superintendent Deborah Gist called the feat “a historic moment” in a time of a statewide teacher shortage crisis. “This is a home run for our district and the children of Tulsa Public Schools,” Gist said in a news release sent out Wednesday [Tulsa World].

Settlement will help more Oklahomans vote: Under a 29-page settlement announced July 30th, each agency will be required to ask clients if they want to register to vote and provide help with the process as part of in-person, phone-based, and online client services. Each agency will assign a staff member to be responsible for coordinating voter registration services and training other employees. The Election Board will appoint a statewide coordinator to ensure compliance, and they will report monthly data on the number of completed voter registration applications and other indicators [OK Policy].

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Settlement will help help more Oklahomans vote

by | August 20th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (3)

Low voter turnout is a serious problem in Oklahoma, as we’ve discussed previously in issue briefs and blog posts. Most recently, just one in three eligible voters in Oklahomans went to the polls in the 2014 mid-term election. Electoral disengagement is especially acute for  low-income citizens. Yet thanks to an important agreement reached last month, it will be easier for more low-income Oklahomans to register to vote and engage in the electoral process.

Electoral participation is a cornerstone of our representative democracy. The vote allows citizens to participate freely and fairly in the political process and ensures that elected officials stay accountable to their constituents. When citizens don’t vote, their opinions and interests may go unrepresented. The vote is especially important for disadvantaged groups, such as low-income citizens, racial minorities, and those with disabilities, who have little capacity to hire lobbyists, donate to campaigns, or find other ways to exercise political influence. Yet, with some exceptions, these groups tend to have the lowest rates of voter turnout.

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In The Know: New state program allows students to take ACT for free

by | August 20th, 2015 | 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.

Today In The News

New state program gives Oklahoma juniors opportunity to take ACT for free: State Superintendent of Schools Joy Hofmeister announced Wednesday that a new, voluntary opt-in program would allow Oklahoma’s high school juniors to take the ACT for free. The the Oklahoma State Department of Education has earmarked $1.5 million from its assessments budget to pick up the costs for all public high school juniors to take the college-entrance exam in 2015-16. Although some lawmakers have questioned the decision, education advocate have lauded the move [Tulsa World].

State Department of Education to reconsider redactions: After the state Department of Education said that a rule forced them to redact graduation data from nearly 60 percent of the state’s school district, they will reconsider that rule. The state Board of Education is set to hear a proposal on Aug. 27 that could change an existing rule that requires data with fewer than 10 students be redacted. That meeting will be held in Lawton [Oklahoma Watch].

State pension systems report major decline: A panel overseeing the state’s seven pension systems reports each experienced a major drop in investment earnings over the last fiscal year compared to both the previous year and the average 10-year rate of return. The Oklahoma Pension Commission reported Wednesday the $28.8 billion invested across its pension systems gained an average of 3.6 percent during the fiscal year that ended June 30. That compares to an average gain of 19.9 percent during the previous fiscal year [Daily Journal].

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In The Know: State ranks high for Affordable Care Act sign-ups in special enrollment period

by | August 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

State ranks high for Affordable Care Act sign-ups in special enrollment period: Nearly 11,500 Oklahomans who lost health insurance or were denied Medicaid benefits in the last year signed up for health insurance plans through a federal exchange, according to data released by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. A higher percentage of Oklahomans with special circumstances bought plans on the federally run insurance exchange than the national average, according to CMS. Those who have lost a job, weren’t eligible for Medicaid, got married or had a baby or other special life circumstances can buy insurance before the open enrollment period begins in November [Journal Record].

Evaluating a carbon tax for Oklahoma: While economists have long endorsed a carbon tax as an economically efficient way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the idea hasn’t receive much political support. However, a growing number of voices from across the political spectrum have begun to endorse the idea of putting a price on carbon. As pressure increases in states and nationally to come up with a better policy response to climate change, does a carbon tax make sense for a politically conservative, oil-and-gas dependent state like Oklahoma? [OK Policy]

Oklahoma teacher unions file lawsuit to overturn new Oklahoma law: A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Oklahoma County District Court seeks to overturn a new law that prohibits teachers from allowing union dues to be automatically deducted from their paychecks. The Oklahoma Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers Oklahoma filed the lawsuit, along with one member from each organization [NewsOK]. In debate on the House floor, opponents of the bill said it was really intended to punish the Oklahoma Education Association for opposing school choice [OK Policy].

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Should Oklahoma put a tax on carbon?

by | August 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Taxes | Comments (2)

Derek Wietelman is an OK Policy summer intern. He is an Oklahoma State University student pursuing a double major in statistics and political science, with minors in economics and environmental economics, politics, and policy.

AlfedPalmersmokestacksLast May, U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) held a press conference to introduce a bill that would set a price of $45 on carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. What was most noteworthy about the occasion was not the content of the legislation itself, but where the two chose to introduce their legislation: the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

While economists have long endorsed a carbon tax as an economically efficient way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the idea hasn’t receive much political support. However, a growing number of voices from across the political spectrum have begun to endorse the idea of putting a price on carbon. Just last year, a joint report authored by economists from the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute concluded that “a well-designed carbon tax could improve the long-run U.S. fiscal situation while reducing emissions.” As pressure increases in states and nationally to come up with a better policy response to climate change, does a carbon tax make sense for a politically conservative, oil-and-gas dependent state like Oklahoma?

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In The Know: Credit agency says oil industry-linked earthquakes threaten economy

by | August 18th, 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

Credit agency says oil industry-linked earthquakes threaten economy: Analysts with Standard and Poor’s said the seismic activity may be a liability for energy companies and the oil and gas industry, and the credit risk could also affect home and business owners, transportation, infrastructure and utilities [StateImpact Oklahoma]. You read the full report from Standard and Poor’s here.

Oklahomans with disabilities say finding affordable housing is a challenge: Any time Veldon Gray needs to leave his home, his wife, Betty Gray, must try to navigate him and his wheelchair down the steps of the couple’s Oklahoma City apartment. Veldon Gray, 76, and his wheelchair together weigh about 215 pounds, not an easy load for Betty, 67, who has a pain pump in her back for degenerative discs. Advocates say the Grays’ situation points to a larger problem: the shortage of affordable housing for residents with disabilities [NewsOK].

Interactive – What the jobs are in Oklahoma: Politicians love to talk about jobs. Promoting job creation is a go-to justification in many of Oklahoma’s policy decisions, whether it’s to extend tax breaks for oil companies or ban local minimum wage and paid sick leave laws. However, aside from talking about job creation in very broad strokes, we don’t hear much discussion about what the jobs actually are in Oklahoma. In a new interactive visualization, you can dive into what jobs Oklahomans are working and how much they earn by industry [OK Policy].

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Interactive: What the jobs are in Oklahoma

by | August 17th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Education, Financial Security | Comments (1)

Politicians love to talk about jobs. Promoting job creation is a go-to justification in many of Oklahoma’s policy decisions, whether it’s to extend tax breaks for oil companies or ban local minimum wage and paid sick leave laws.

However, aside from talking about job creation in very broad strokes, we don’t hear much discussion about what the jobs actually are in Oklahoma. That’s not for lack of data. Quarterly economic surveys by the U.S. Census give us a detailed portrait of where Oklahomans are working and what they earn by industry. These numbers may correct some popular misconceptions about Oklahoma’s economy.

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In The Know: Oklahoma teacher shortage crisis grows

by | August 17th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, 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

Crisis hits Oklahoma classrooms with teacher shortage, quality concerns: Oklahoma’s deepening teacher shortage has education officials trading in their “Help Wanted” signs for ones with a more urgent message: “Help Needed NOW.” As schools ring in the start of a new academic year, administrators are desperately trying to fill teacher vacancies amid a scarcity of applicants [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma City school district begins discipline intervention training: The district is attempting to dig out from under one of the nation’s highest suspension rates and an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights division. A district audit found the school system suspends minorities at a much higher rate than white students, inconsistently punishes students for similar offenses and suffers from missing paperwork and rampant record-keeping discrepancies [NewsOK].

Thorny questions on role of law enforcement in schools: You can probably look for some attention to the issue of school discipline next session in the wake of a lawsuit filed in Kentucky after a “school resource officer” handcuffed an 8-year old, 52-pound boy. In Oklahoma use of mechanical restraints is regulated by statute in various juvenile and mental health facilities, but I found nothing in the school code or regulations dealing with the situation [OK Policy].

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