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Don’t touch Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund

by | November 18th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Healthcare | Comments (2)

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.

In the late 1990s, Oklahoma was one of 46 states that settled an historic lawsuit with the nation’s major tobacco companies. Under the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, states were assured an annual financial payment in perpetuity for as long as cigarettes are sold nationally as compensation for the public health-care costs associated with smoking. In return, the companies gained exemption from future state lawsuits regarding harm caused by tobacco use.

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In The Know: Oklahoma Supreme Court acknowledges rights of same-sex parents

by | November 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

Oklahoma Supreme Court hands down landmark ruling on same-sex parenting: The decision acknowledged the rights of a non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship who has acted as a parent. The state’s high court ruled that an Oklahoma County judge improperly dismissed the case of Oklahoma City resident Charlene Ramey, who was in a same-sex relationship with Kimberly Sutton. The couple agreed to have a child, born by Sutton with a donor. When the couple separated after almost 10 years of co-parenting, Sutton denied Ramey’s status as a parent and sought to end all interaction between Ramey and the child [Tulsa World].

DHS shelter closes after last child finds foster home: “Michael” had been the only child in the Oklahoma City shelter for the past seven weeks. The 7-year-old is autistic and needed a special foster family to come forward. This time last year, an average of 288 kids were in Oklahoma shelters, state-run and privately-run shelters combined, on any given day. DHS Director Ed Lake said the daily average has dropped to 162 thanks to more foster families and better decision-making in the field on whether to remove a child from a home [News9].

Schools search for answers to curb student discipline: In Oklahoma, a review of federal and local discipline data shows minority and special education students are disproportionately suspended, expelled or referred to police as early as elementary school. Teri Bell, executive director of student support services at Oklahoma City Public Schools, said districts need to change how they discipline students because a focus on suspensions and expulsions is not working. Resistance is coming from some teachers and teacher groups, who are skeptical that districts will adhere to policies and thus jeopardize teachers’ safety and the learning environment [Oklahoma Watch].

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In The Know: OKC school district requests large share of emergency teacher certifications

by | November 17th, 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

Oklahoma City school district requests large share of emergency teacher certifications: Oklahoma City Public Schools, the state’s largest district, requested 200 of the 948 emergency certificates (21 percent) issued between July and November. Tierney Tinnin, senior communications and community relations manager, said the Oklahoma City district is providing additional support for teachers entering the profession and requires teaching candidates to agree to participate in meaningful professional development sessions [NewsOK].

‘Red Tape Task Force’ looking for education line items to cut: This month, a 51 member task force came together for the first time, in an effort to identify areas in the education budget that can be cut. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister created the “Red Tape Task Force.” When all is said and done, lawmakers at the Capitol, will likely have to cut near $1 billion from the budget next session, meaning nothing is safe from cuts [Fox 25].

A teacher’s tale: Joy, tragedy and weirdness: The following is an excerpt from A Teacher’s Tale, a new book chronicling author John Thompson’s experiences teaching in inner-city Oklahoma City Public Schools. I was never a hat-snatcher. I did not believe in grabbing students’ contraband, whether it was hats, cell phones, marijuana, or gambling proceeds. So how did I find myself firmly holding half of a gang leader’s hat, ignoring the teenager’s threatening look? [NonDoc]

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We’re asking the wrong question (Guest post: Abby J. Leibman)

by | November 16th, 2015 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

bread lineAbby J. Leibman is President and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a national nonprofit organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. MAZON helps to fund OK Policy’s policy work around hunger and food security. This article was previously published at

Most of our response to hunger in America is wrong. The programs and policies we employ are, by and large, misdirected, misguided and missing the mark entirely. That shameful fact is the result of one simple problem: When we ask the wrong question, the answer is inevitably wrong, too.

The question we ask routinely is “How do we manage hunger in America?”

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In The Know: Term limits leave 30 seats up for grabs in Legislature

by | November 16th, 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

In The Know took a break last week while staff were at a conference, but we kept posting content to the OK Policy Blog. To catch up on last week’s blog posts, check out our Sunday roundup, The Weekly Wonk

Term limits leave 30 seats up for grabs in Legislature: The Oklahoma Legislature will see significant turnover after the next session. Term limits mean 12 Democrats and 18 Republicans will not be able to seek re-election. In addition, a handful of other lawmakers not facing term limits have said they will not seek another term [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma AG grows operation amid tight state budgets: The Oklahoma attorney general’s office has grown in a time of state cutbacks, moving into expanded and higher-priced office space, adding dozens of new employees and boosting expenditures. Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a small-government advocate, staffed a new operation in his office to fight federal overreach. He has filed lawsuits against the federal government over environmental protection, immigration and the Affordable Care Act, among other things [The Oklahoman].

Pruitt collecting, spending thousands through campaign fund: Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been collecting and spending thousands of dollars with a campaign fund set up for a 2014 re-election race in which he never drew an opponent. Pruitt, a possible Republican candidate for governor in 2018, filed a report with the state last month showing $712,489 in contributions and $573,432 in expenditures since his re-election campaign committee was formed [The Oklahoman].

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The Weekly Wonk: New CountySTATS, child uninsured rate drops, and more…

by | November 15th, 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, we released newly updated CountySTATS fact sheets for all 77 Oklahoma counties. On the OK Policy Blog, Policy Analyst Carly Putnam shared a recent study showing Oklahoma’s child uninsured rate has dropped significantly. Intern Elizabeth Armstrong discussed food insecurity among military families.  

In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis explained a recent proposal to give the governor more authority to appoint agency directors. Chris Powell, former chair of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party, advocated for ballot access reform to improve voter turnout. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt discussed research on why tax cuts are the wrong strategy for economic growth. 

OK Policy in the News

The Oklahoman quoted Blatt in a piece on an OCPA challenge to a proposed $0.01 sales tax increase to fund education. Perry spoke to Oklahoma Watch about review of state business incentives. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board cited OK Policy data while discussing the impact of term limits. The original blog post on the topic is available here

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Should the governor have more power to appoint agency directors? (Capitol Updates)

by | November 13th, 2015 | Posted in Blog | 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.

governor_officeThe long-discussed issue of Oklahoma’s method of managing state government was again on the table last week in a Senate interim study requested by Sen. Kim David.  Due to its populist beginnings Oklahoma has an executive branch in which the power is diffused between the governor and the various agencies.  For most agencies the governor appoints the citizen members of a governing board or commission that sets policy for the agency and hires the director.  Often the terms of the members overlap so that it takes a while before a majority of the appointments have been made by the current governor.  Thus, when a governor wants to direct the policy or performance of an agency she has to work with holdover appointees as well as her own in order to get the changes she wants.  Some would prefer a setup where the governor is more like the CEO of a corporation, and the power flows directly from the top.

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Child uninsured rate is a health care bright spot for Oklahoma

by | November 12th, 2015 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

Some new research highlights a rare health care success story for Oklahoma. A new report from the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families found that the United States’ child uninsured rate hit an all-time low of 6 percent in 2014. Oklahoma saw one of the largest decreases in uninsured children, from 95,042 in 2013 to 82,251 in 2014 – a decline of 13.5 percent.

This is great news for many reasons. Having affordable health insurance is shown to improve child health. Children with health coverage have access to the care they need in order to keep growing and learning in school. When children who are covered do get sick, their families can take them to the doctor without fear of catastrophic health costs, and simple ailments can be managed before they can develop into more serious illnesses.

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Too many of Oklahoma’s military families are food insecure

by | November 11th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Elizabeth Armstrong is an OK Policy Intern and former military spouse. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography at Oklahoma State University where she also works as a Graduate Research Assistant. Her free time is spent playing with her daughter.

Despite the stigma often attached to food assistance, a large majority of the recipients are not lazy or jobless. According to a report by Feeding America, approximately 654,640 Oklahomans are food insecure. They include some of the hardest-working individuals in this nation, including military service members willing to die for our country.

Did you know that about 1 out of every 4 active duty military families receive SNAP (food stamp) assistance? With 21,913 active duty military currently in Oklahoma, that amounts to about 5,000 active service members relying on SNAP to feed their families. In addition, approximately 26,300 Oklahoma veterans received SNAP assistance in 2014, an increase of 1,700 recipients from 2013. Together, military families (those with at least one service member or veteran) make up approximately 20 percent of all food insecure families served by the Feeding America Network.

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More ballot access reform is the best way to address historic low voter turnout (Guest post: Chris Powell)

by | November 10th, 2015 | Posted in Elections | Comments (1)

Chris Powell is past chair of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party.

Fewer people voted in the 2014 Oklahoma gubernatorial election than have participated in any election for governor in this state since 1978, when the population was about 900,000 people smaller. Our state has seen low voter turnout before, but this especially dramatic collapse in participation got the attention of the Legislature. State Senator David Holt, among others, led efforts to make voting easier by allowing online registration and consolidating local elections. However, only one bill — HB 2181 by House Speaker Jeff Hickman — began to address the underlying problem that many individuals have no motivation to go to the polls because the candidate they prefer isn’t on the ballot.

Election law expert Richard Winger described Oklahoma’s ballot access laws as “absurd and the worst in the nation.” For a new party to get on the ballot, they must collect signatures equal to at least 5 percent of the total vote count in the last statewide election. Since these rules went into effect in 1974, no third party has ever qualified to be on the ballot for mid-term elections when the state chooses a governor. Additionally, no Oklahoman has been able to vote for someone other than a Republican or a Democrat for president since 2000.

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