In The Know: Parents and students anxious as third-grade reading tests start

by | April 11th, 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that Oklahoma parents and students reported high levels of anxiety going into statewide testing on Thursday. Third grade student performance on the language arts exam determines whether they will advance to fourth grade. House Democrats accused Senate Republicans of obstructing passage of a bill (HB 2625) that could have prevented students from being held back based solely on the results of the test. The Tulsa World reported that friction between House and Senate members is slowing down the Oklahoma legislative process, with each chamber accusing the other of mismanaged priorities.

A Tulsa World editorial took state legislative leadership to task for prioritizing road maintenance over school funding (HB 2642). House Democratic Leader Scott Inman urged the House to take up a vote on whether to provide funding to complete the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum in Oklahoma City (SB 1651). A bill banning e-cigarette sales to minors has cleared the House. The Oklahoma oil industry staged a “rally for rigs” at the state Capitol on Wednesday, where attendees urged lawmakers to retain horizontal drilling tax breaks. Nearly two-thirds of voters favor ending the tax break.

Oklahoma Watch speculated that reinstated work requirements for able-bodied recipients without dependents may be pushing Oklahomans off food stamps. An OK Policy blog post explained proposals by President Obama and Congress to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, citing its success as a poverty-fighting tool and alternative to welfare. A new report found that despite recent gains, Oklahoma still lags behind the national average for children with health insurance coverage. The state DHS director said that too many children are going into state custody because inexperienced workers fear making mistakes and possibly allowing children to be harmed. Oklahoma is the 11th worst state for equal pay between men and women, according to the American Association of University Women. Their report says that women in Oklahoma make on average about 76 cents for every $1 earned by men.

State health officials reiterated that prescription drug abuse is a growing epidemic in Oklahoma. Lawmakers may have reached a compromise on a bill designed to deter ‘doctor shopping’ by requiring doctors to check patients’ prescription history in state database of controlled substance prescriptions at least once every year. We’ve written about Oklahoma’s biggest drug problem before. Heroin addiction in Oklahoma is on the rise, according to state authorities. A medical marijuana advocacy group is filing an application for a petition to bring the issue to a statewide vote.

A swarm of earthquakes shook central Oklahoma late Wednesday and early Thursday. The largest had a reported magnitude of 4.1. State parks ceded to Native American tribes for management following cuts to the tourism department’s budget several years ago initially struggled in the transition, but are now thriving. Three conservation groups have filed suit to force full protection of the lesser prairie-chicken, a species native to Oklahoma, under the Endangered Species Act.

The Number of the Day is the number of Oklahomans with a serious mental illness or substance abuse disorder who are uninsured. In today’s Policy Note, the Orlando Weekly reports how a young mother of three died of a treatable condition because her state refused to accept federal funding to expand health coverage.

continue reading In The Know: Parents and students anxious as third-grade reading tests start

We should expand America’s most successful anti-poverty program

by | April 10th, 2014 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity, Taxes | Comments (0)
Photo credit: www.lendingmemo.com

Photo credit: www.lendingmemo.com

This post is by OK Policy intern Haley Stritzel. Haley is a University of Tulsa student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies.

In his budget plan for next year, President Obama has proposed expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Legislation has also been introduced in Congress to improve and strengthen the tax credit. Adopting these proposals would be a sensible move to reduce poverty while bolstering the economy.

The EITC benefits low and moderate-income families by offsetting federal payroll and income taxes. This tax credit is refundable, meaning that if the credit exceeds how much a worker owes, the worker will receive the leftover credit as a tax refund. The size of the tax credit depends on marital status, number of dependent children, and annual income. It increases with annual income up to a maximum level, about $37,900 to $51,600 for families with children, and then phases out at higher income levels. The average EITC benefit for families with children was $2,905 in 2011.

continue reading We should expand America’s most successful anti-poverty program

In The Know: Sen. Sparks out as choice for minority leader after backing tax break for wells

by and | April 10th, 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that Senator John Sparks has been replaced as minority leader-elect after a column was published under his name backing continuation of the rapidly growing tax break for horizontal wells. Sen. Randy Bass is now set to replace Sen. Sean Burrage, who is not seeking re-election. Read more about the tax break for horizontal drilling here.

Gov. Fallin and all five members of the Oklahoma congressional delegation seeking re-election were among the hundreds of candidates who filed for state or federal office on Wednesday. Democratic state Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs and Richard Prawdzienski, a Libertarian-leaning independent from Edmond, also filed to run for governor on the first of a three-day filing period. You can see a list of all candidate filings so far here. Since announcing his Senate candidacy just after this legislative session began, former House Speaker TW Shannon has missed 305 of 385 votes in the House.

The OK Policy Blog explained what’s in a bill (HB 2642) that would create automatic off-the-top funding increases for education in future years and may redirect spending from transportation. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed efforts to give decisions over whether children repeat the third grade back to parents and educators. Oklahoma Senators Coburn and Inhofe are asking that the U.S. Department of Education stop tying federal grants to the implementation of Common Core standards.

A House committee passed a bill that would change how Oklahoma appoints judges. Under the bill, lawyers on the Judicial Nomination Commission would be appointed directly by legislative leaders instead of being elected by the Oklahoma Bar Association. A bill to use $40 million from the state’s unclaimed property fund to help pay for the completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City was approved in House Committee. The committee also approved a $160 million bond issue to repair the state Capitol. Wayne Greene discussed a pending court decision that could increase Oklahoma’s $188 million budget shortfall by another $450 million.

Governor Fallin is asking for federally subsidized loan assistance for businesses that have been damaged by the temporary closure of the bridge that links Lexington and Purcell. Bounty hunters will be licensed to carry weapons, pursue fleeing felons into private homes and wear “bail enforcer” badges under new rules approved by the state. An Oklahoma appeals court is denying a request for stays of execution by two inmates who are scheduled to die this month with a new three-drug procedure developed by the state.

The federal government paid 35 Oklahoma physicians more than $1 million each last year to treat patients in the Medicare program. Oklahoma Watch and the OU journalism school have won a $35,000 grant for a project focused on poverty in Oklahoma City. The Number of the Day is 419. That’s how many Oklahoma candidates filed to run for state or federal office on Wednesday. Filing continues through 5pm on Friday. In today’s Policy Note, the National Priorities Project lays out the differences between budget proposals by President Obama, House Republicans, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

continue reading In The Know: Sen. Sparks out as choice for minority leader after backing tax break for wells

Education follows the ROADS to guaranteed funding growth

by | April 9th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education | Comments (0)

school children roadA decade ago, following the overwhelming defeat of a referendum to boost state taxes on motor fuels, supporters of increased transportation funding hit on a new approach.  In 2005, the legislature approved HB 1078,  creating the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety (ROADS) fund dedicated for maintenance and repair of state highways and bridges. State dollars would be allocated directly to the ROADS fund “off the top” from  income tax collections without going through the appropriations process, and the fund would be guaranteed an automatic annual increase until it reached an overall cap.

The idea worked. The ROADS fund reached $357 million this year and is slated to grow an additional $59.7 million annually until it hits $575 million. The increased funding has allowed the Department of Transportation to bring about significant infrastructure improvements and adopt a succession of 8-year construction work plans.

continue reading Education follows the ROADS to guaranteed funding growth

In The Know: Oklahoma transportation official concerned about earthquake damage to bridges

by and | April 9th, 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that a flurry of earthquakes in Oklahoma has prompted state transportation officials to get expert advice on what it might be doing to roadways and bridges. A new poll finds that almost two-thirds of Oklahoma voters support eliminating tax breaks for horizontal drilling in order to provide more funding for highways, education, and other state needs. For the second year in a row, the Oklahoma state Capitol has made a list of the most endangered historic places in the state.

An in-depth investigation by ThinkProgress uncovered a campaign against the homeless in Shawnee. The federal government has announced $6.6 million in grants to renew support for 55 homeless housing and service programs in Oklahoma. A bill that has passed the House and is heading for the full Senate could require a vote of the people on any zoning regulation — the type of land-use decisions now made on a weekly basis by city councils. Budget cuts set to end night time bus service in Tulsa are costing some riders their only form of transportation.

NewsOn6 reported on how schools are preparing for the multiple high-stakes tests set to begin this week. The House Education Committee approved reforms to grant new options for promotion to the fourth grade for students who fail a third-grade language arts test. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush accompanied Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin on a tour of an Oklahoma City charter school. Rob Miller discussed a rural Oklahoma district that was gaining recognition and improving student test scores through innovative use of technology, but changes in the school report card formula dropped their grade to an ‘F’.

 Rep. David Derby, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, has refused to hear a bill that would require doctors to check their patients’ drug histories before writing narcotic prescriptions. Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel is complaining about the state Department of Correction’s moves to shift state inmates out of county jails. Oklahoma VA hospitals have paid out more than $200 million in wrongful death settlements over the past decade. State Senator Connie Johnson has become the first Democrat to enter the race for Tom Coburn’s soon to be vacant U.S. Senate seat.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma voters in a recent poll who opposed providing tax breaks to oil and gas companies for using horizontal drilling. In today’s Policy Note, Kaiser Health News discusses a new report showing that US prisons and jails hold 10 times more people with serious mental illness than do state hospitals.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma transportation official concerned about earthquake damage to bridges

New Poll: Voters favor end to drilling tax break

by | April 8th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

A new poll finds that Oklahoma voters strongly support eliminating tax breaks for horizontal drilling in order to  provide more funding for education, public safety, highways, and other state needs.

2014-poll-breaksNearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) oppose providing tax breaks to oil and gas companies that use the horizontal drilling process, while less than a third support the tax break (28 percent) after hearing short arguments in favor of and against them.  Ending the horizontal drilling tax break is a popular idea across party lines, with a majority of Democrats (73 percent), independents (75 percent), and Republicans (51 percent) all opposed to the tax break.

Oklahoma currently taxes horizontal wells at only 1 percent for the first 48 months of production, compared to 7 percent for traditional production. The tax break cost the state $164 million last year and is projected to increase to $251 million this year.

continue reading New Poll: Voters favor end to drilling tax break

In The Know: House votes to deny cities wage setting power

by and | April 8th, 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that the House approved a bill (SB 1023) to prohibit municipalities in Oklahoma from establishing a minimum wage or number of vacation or sick days. Although Monday was the official deadline to enroll in health-insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act, many Oklahomans are still trying to sign up. For people who tried to enroll on the website by March 31, the deadline to complete enrollment is April 15. The OK Policy Blog discussed how Community Health Centers are scrambling to stay afloat with the state’s uncompensated care fund running dry halfway through the year.

State lawmakers committed nearly $350,000 for building improvements at a Claremore gun museum. Gov. Fallin met behind closed doors with Republican House members to generate support for funding completion of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. Gov. Fallin signed more than two dozen bills into law Monday and issued her first veto of the session. She vetoed a bill that removed the notification requirement when law enforcement officers fail to complete their annual 25 hours of continuing education. KTAL summarized the continuing political wrangling over efforts to install tornado shelters in schools.

A Senate committee has passed a proposal to reduce the number of signatures needed to form a new political party in Oklahoma. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that Oklahoma provides some of the fewest tools of any state for voters to look up registration and voting information online. Oklahoma ranked 49th for voter turnout and 46th for voter registration in the 2012 election cycle. You can see the full study here.

The Department of Corrections will begin repopulating a private halfway house that was closed after an investigation found organized inmate fights and rampant drug use at the facility. Avalon, the private prison company that runs the facility, agreed to add and upgrade security cameras, increase drug testing, and pay an on-site monitor selected by DOC.

The city of Bethany is concerned that pollution from a shut down Gulfstream Aerospace plant is contaminating its water supply. Rogers County Commissioner Mike Helm is being questioned after audits found $5 million in FEMA funds were unaccounted for. There have been more earthquakes strong enough to be felt in Oklahoma this year than in all of 2013, overwhelming state officials who are trying to determine if the temblors are linked to oil and natural gas production.

The Number of the Day is how many earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher have been felt in Oklahoma so far this year. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic examines how many low-income Americans with chronic diseases have trouble paying for both their medicine and healthy food.

continue reading In The Know: House votes to deny cities wage setting power

“I don’t know where we go from here”: Community health centers caught in limbo

by | April 7th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

weighing babyCommunity Health Connection, a Tulsa-based community health center, uses a sliding scale to determine patient payments. The minimum is $25 per appointment.

Jim McCarthy, Community Health Connection’s CEO, estimates that more than two in every three patients seen by his clinic qualify for the $25 minimum. However, even that small amount can be a hardship; some aren’t able to pay $25 in full. Community Health Connection allows such patients to pay in installments when they can.

“If somebody’s here,” McCarthy says, “we need to treat them.”

continue reading “I don’t know where we go from here”: Community health centers caught in limbo

In The Know: Oklahoma Senate, House leaders oppose education funding proposal

by and | April 7th, 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:

Today you should know that Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and House Minority Leader Scott Inman both said they have issues with tapping road and bridge funds to increase education funding, as proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee. NPR reported that the Oklahoma GOP’s turn against Common Core is creating a split with state business leaders. The Tulsa World called for Governor Fallin to veto efforts to repeal Common Core standards.

Thousands of Oklahoma students will begin state testing on Thursday that could determine whether they repeat the third grade or graduate from high school. Some retained students may be promoted to the fourth grade in the middle of the year if they pass an alternate test by November 1 of their repeat year. The latest version of a bill to change the third-grade reading requirement would allow students who fail the test to receive a “probationary promotion”.

David Blatt wrote an editorial in The Oklahoman on why it’s time to end Oklahoma’s tax break for horizontal drilling. See OK Policy’s full issue brief here on why this tax break has become unnecessary and unaffordable. OK Policy is now accepting applications for the 2014 Summer Policy Institute, a three-day learning and networking opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students. Tulsa World editor Julie DelCour expressed disappointment that a bill to ban texting while driving has once again failed in the Legislature.

Oklahoma Watch released an in-depth investigation on how Oklahoma puts little effort into identifying and investigating doctors who supply deadly dosages of prescription drugs. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma. Heroin deaths are on the rise in Oklahoma, as some addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative.

Records show that a private halfway house operator in Oklahoma frequently wrote up inmate escapes as lesser offenses, so they wouldn’t be transferred out of the halfway house to state prisons. State Corrections Department officials said they have more than tripled the number of prisoners the agency processes every day to reduce crowding in county jails.

Oklahoma candidates for state and federal races have three days this week to file documents to run for public office. Oklahoma election officials are preparing thousands of voting machines and workers as campaign season nears. On April 17, the University of Oklahoma will host Professor Nicholas Carnes for a free public lecture about factors that prevent working-class people from running for office and the effect that over-representation of wealthy Americans in legislatures has on political outcomes.

Officials with St. John Health System say reports that doctors at their medical center in Bartlesville can no longer prescribe contraceptives are false. StateImpact Oklahoma shared four things Oklahomans should know about a $5 billion settlement to clean up sites contaminated with nuclear fuel and rocket fuel waste by Oklahoma company Kerr-McGee. A Senate committee passed a bill calling for a public vote to allow school districts a one-time increase on bonding capacity to pay for school safety upgrades. The city of Moore is implementing new building codes to make homes more resistant to tornadoes.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of African-American children in Oklahoma who have asthma. In today’s Policy Note, Scholars Strategy Network researchers discuss how the growing, bipartisan momentum to roll back America’s prison boom.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma Senate, House leaders oppose education funding proposal

Weekly Wonk April 6, 2014

by | April 6th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | 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 Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

OK Policy is now accepting applications for the 2014 Summer Policy Institute! Over 50 college students from around the state will join us in early August for a three-day policy intensive, featuring speakers and panels across a wide array of topics. SPI offers participants a unique opportunity to become better informed about vital Oklahoma policy issues, network with fellow students and leaders, and prepare for their future studies and work in policy-related fields. The application deadline is May 30, 2014. 

This week, we shared OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt’s prepared remarks from Monday’s public education rally at the Capitol. KGOU discussed OK Policy’s suggestion for funding education in part by reducing tax breaks on horizontal drilling. You can read our work on the horizontal drilling tax breaks here. Blatt’s comments were quoted in the Tulsa World, the Daily Admorite, and the Broken Arrow Ledger. The Woodward News featured OK Policy data on school funding in its write-up of the day. You can find our work on the topic here.

On the OK Policy Blog, Blatt debunked recent assertions that per-pupil spending is at an all-time high. A new fact sheet and blog post examined why a proposal to transform Medicaid in Oklahoma could reduce health care access and increase costs.

The University of Oklahoma’s Carl Albert Center will host Professor Nicholas Carnes of Duke University for the free public lecture “Who’s Keeping Working-Class Americans Out of Public Office?” on April 17. We discussed a new savings initiative that could help thousands of Oklahomans prepare a more secure retirement. In his Journal Record column, Blatt wondered if an income tax cut is inevitable despite being unpopular.

Numbers of the Day

  • 3rd - Oklahoma’s 2009 ranking for age-adjusted rate of death by diseases of the heart, after Mississippi and Alabama.
  • -0.3 percent - The change in Oklahoma’s unemployment rate from February 2013 to February 2014, the 45th smallest decrease in the nation.
  • 7,040,000 - The number of Americans enrolled in health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace by March 31. The total includes the number enrolled in the federal marketplace operating in 36 states, as well as the total known to have enrolled in state-run health insurance marketplaces in 14 states as of last weekend.
  • 11.7 percent - Percentage of Hispanic immigrants who own their own businesses, compared to 10.0 percent for the US as a whole.
  • $1,681 - Average homeowners’ insurance rate in Oklahoma in March 2014. Oklahoma average annual insurance rates are the highest in the nation.

Policy Notes