In The Know: Oklahoma tax collections increase in March

by and | April 4th, 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 Zebre.

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

Today you should know that Oklahoma gross tax collections grew more than 4 percent in March, state Treasurer Ken Miller announced on Thursday. Rep. Seneca Scott wrote a Tulsa World op-ed about his bill (HB 1581) to accept federal funds to cover uncompensated care at facilities serving Native Americans. The bill has passed the House and is awaiting a vote in Senate committee. On the OK Policy blog, we debunked recent assertions that Oklahoma’s per-pupil school revenues are at an all time high. The claim depends on adding up a lot of funds that aren’t part of the day-to-day budget for schools. 

Gov. Mary Fallin has signed a bill (HB 2850) incentivizing movie production in Oklahoma and another bill  (HB 2711) that reimburses Oklahoma communities for some expenses in attracting national and international events. A bill extending the Aerospace Workforce Tax Credit, which subsidizes aerospace companies and aerospace engineers, is awaiting her signature. Public employees are concerned about a bill that would transform Oklahoma’s pension system from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan (HB 2630). OK Policy has previously warned that closing down defined benefit pensions could increase unfunded liabilities.

The House Public Safety Committee passed a measure that would subject Highway Patrol dashcam video to the Open Records Act (SB 1513). A new report finds Oklahoma has the highest homeowner’s insurance premiums in the nation. Several other Tornado Alley states placed within the list’s top 10. In the Tulsa World, President Obama wrote an editorial in support of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Wendy Kopp, the founder and chairwoman of Teach for America, will be delivering OU’s commencement address in May.

Wind power generation in regional grids including parts of Oklahoma and Texas reached record highs last month. In a letter to the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt protested a planned study of the environmental impacts of fracking, calling it “unnecessary.” State audits suggest that a commissioner’s district in Rogers County submitted fraudulent claims to FEMA totaling $286,000 over two years.

Oklahoma Department of Transportation crews filled the sixth hole to open in a bridge in Sperry since February. Following their removal from state Tourism Department control in 2011 due to a budget shortfall, all seven Oklahoma parks are still open and thriving. Oprah is developing a miniseries focusing on the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots. OK Policy Legislative Liason Damario Solomon-Simmons spoke to Tulsa People about his upcoming book with the working title, “How the Sports Lottery is Destroying Black Communities.”

The Number of the Day is the average homeowners insurance rate in Oklahoma in March 2014. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for American Progress suggests steps for increasing transparency in health care prices.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma tax collections increase in March

That’s a Whopper: Total revenue is a false measure of school funding

by | April 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

WhopperIn making the case against additional funding for public schools, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has recently asserted that “Oklahoma’s per-pupil revenues — – a whopping $12,206 in fiscal year 2013 — – are at record levels.”  The $12,206 figure has been cited in numerous editorials and articles, and was a common talking point among some legislators at last week’s education rally.

In looking at the actual numbers used by OCPA, one sees that they generated their “whopping” $12,206 per-pupil average by considering the lump-sum total of all school revenues, include revenues that have little or no bearing on school operating budgets. Most importantly, the lump-sum total includes all money in school bond funds,  sinking funds, building funds, and municipal levy funds, as well as dedicated taxes, such as the MAPS fund. It also includes money for school lunch programs paid for by students out-of-pocket and through the federal Free- and Reduced-Lunch Program, and all revenues generated locally by fundraising and ticket sales for school activities, such as athletics and band trips.

continue reading That’s a Whopper: Total revenue is a false measure of school funding

In The Know: Funding detour from roads to schools heads to Oklahoma Senate floor

by and | April 3rd, 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 a Senate panel passed a measure (HB 2642) to divert some of the scheduled funding increase for roads and bridges to common education. A lobbyist for Oklahoma highway contractors expressed outrage about the bill, saying it would destroy the state’s progress on road conditions. Bob Waldrop shared a story about rescuing a man in a motorized wheelchair on Oklahoma City’s Northwest Expressway, which has no sidewalks or other pedestrian amenities for 16 miles.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how tax cuts are moving forward even though Oklahomans are not calling for them. The OK Policy Blog discussed a new “MyRA” initiative that creates a simple way for workers to build retirement accounts. The accounts have no fees or risks to principal, and low income earners who save in MyRAs will be eligible for a savers’ tax credit of 10 percent to 50 percent of their contributions.

The state Department of Education said about 96 percent of all Oklahoma school districts have been deemed technologically ready for spring testing, up from 70 percent nearly a month ago. The private contractor that provides Oklahoma’s testing is experiencing a glitch that causes administrators at schools to be regularly logged out of the system. Several House members are complaining their bills to outlaw embryonic research and to allow school employees to deliver “Merry Christmas” greetings to one another aren’t getting a hearing in the Senate.

Though an Oklahoma County judge ruled last week that two inmates facing execution have a constitutional right to know key details about lethal injection drugs, the state so far has revealed sparse information about its new protocol. Oklahoma has until the end of the month to appeal the ruling. The Oklahoma State Medical Examiner said that the death of Luis Rodriguez, who experienced heart problems after being restrained by Moore police, was a homicide. Cleveland County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan announced he will not run for re-election, after a grand jury concluded his involvement in a road project violated state law. 

Rep. Doug Cox (R-Grove) is speaking out against measures to restrict abortion and contraception access that he says are prejudiced against women. The Associated Press reported that even as Hobby Lobby is leading the legal challenge against birth control coverage under the new health care law, the company’s retirement plan includes investments in companies making contraceptive and abortion drugs. A coalition of same-sex couples and their supporters are launching a statewide campaign intended to teach Oklahomans about marriage equality. Lawyers defending Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban filed a brief arguing that marriage exists for its procreative potential, not just as recognition of a loving relationship between two people.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Hispanic immigrants who own their own businesses, a higher entrepreneurship rate than the US as a whole. In today’s Policy Note, an expansive survey of America’s public schools reveals large racial disparities in suspension rates and access to advanced courses and college counselors.

continue reading In The Know: Funding detour from roads to schools heads to Oklahoma Senate floor

MyRA: New options for working Oklahomans

by | April 2nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

retirement-fund-copyDuring the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama announced a new savings initiative, appropriately titled ‘MyRA’.  Created by executive order, the MyRA is a simple retirement savings account that will be available (after an initial pilot period) to many workers through their employers.  This post explains the rationale behind the new initiative, how MyRA accounts work, and how they could help move thousands of working Oklahomans toward a more secure retirement.

We know that not enough Oklahoma workers are saving for retirement.  More than a quarter of the state’s workers (and more than half of part-time hourly employees) don’t have access to a retirement plan through their employer, as shown in the chart below:

continue reading MyRA: New options for working Oklahomans

In The Know: After Monday teacher rally, Senate panel proceeds with income tax cut bill

by and | April 2nd, 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 day after thousands of educators lobbied lawmakers for more education funding, a Senate committee approved an income tax cut (HB 2508) that would further erode state revenues. KFOR reported that Oklahoma schools are using textbooks held together with duct tape and missing covers. The Tulsa World wrote that Oklahoma’s education rally needs to be followed up by a sustained mass effort to have any chance at success.

The Senate voted to repeal Common Core education standards for math and English and replace them with new ones that will be developed by the State Board of Education. Oklahoma City Public Schools’ new safety director is working to develop a plan for extreme weather with tornado season approaching. Only five of the district’s more than 80 schools are equipped with safe rooms. The Supreme Court ruled that supporters of placing storm shelters in Oklahoma public schools will get more time to gather signatures on a ballot initiative, but controversial wording changes by Attorney General Scott Pruitt will remain.

The OK Policy Blog explained how a push by the Legislature to move the state’s Medicaid patients into privatized, managed care plans run could both reduce health care access and increase costs for taxpayers. Oklahoma nonprofits working to get people signed up for coverage through the new health insurance law have seen a surge in enrollment in recent weeks. An Oklahoma House committee passed legislation requiring persons under 17 to have a prescription to purchase the morning-after pill. It is similar to a measure that was struck down as unconstitutional by an Oklahoma County judge in January.

Tulsa County voters approved two sales tax proposals to fund a new juvenile justice center and a jail expansion. Voters approved a bond issue to rebuild the Canadian Valley Technology Center’s El Reno campus, which was leveled in the May 31 tornado; Norman voters narrowly approved a proposal making a half-cent public safety sales tax permanent.

Solar power advocates are worried about a Senate bill that would charge a fee to electricity customers who return power back to the grid with solar panels or small wind turbines. Advocates said the bill is an attempt by electric utilities to curtail the rise of distributed generation that threatens their business model. Ten days after increasing the number of ways in which Oklahoma can carry out executions, the state plans to execute two men this month with a combination of drugs never used before in this state. The Mental Health Association in Tulsa is changing its name to correspond with its expansion into central Oklahoma. The agency will be known as the Mental Health Association Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is how many Americans have enrolled in health insurance on the Affordable Care Act marketplace by March 31, a total that meets the law’s original first-year target. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shares 5 reasons why other state shouldn’t follow Kansas’ tax-cutting lead.

continue reading In The Know: After Monday teacher rally, Senate panel proceeds with income tax cut bill

Proposal to transform Medicaid could reduce health care access, increase costs

by | April 1st, 2014 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

This post has been updated. 

Click here to download our fact sheet on Medicaid managed care in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma legislature is contemplating proposals that would move the state’s Medicaid population into managed care plans run by private insurance companies. SB 1495 would create a pilot program for privatized managed care at a to-be-determined location in Oklahoma by January 2016. HB 1552 would have moved all Medicaid patients into privatized managed care. It passed the House in 2013 and was assigned to a Senate committee, where it is awaiting further action.

medicaid payments per enrollee fy 2010Why fix what isn’t broken?

For the past decade, most Medicaid patients have been served through a medical home model – known as SoonerCare Choice – that uses primary care providers to coordinate patient care while maintaining traditional fee-for-service for most other medical services. This system has been stable, effective, and innovative.

continue reading Proposal to transform Medicaid could reduce health care access, increase costs

In The Know: Rally for school funding draws 25,000 to Capitol

by and | April 1st, 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 a rally for education funding met projections of about 25,000 parents, students, and teachers coming to the state Capitol. You can read the transcript of OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt’s speech to the rally here. A Senate committee approved legislation to give schools more flexibility in deciding whether to retain students who don’t pass a third-grade reading test. A plan (HB 2508) to cut both Oklahoma’s corporate and individual income tax rates is scheduled for a hearing in a Senate committee this morning.

The Oklahoma City School Board has voted to hire a new superintendent, but officials would not reveal who it is until a contract is in place. A bill that would have school children reciting the pledge to the Oklahoma flag as well as the pledge to the U.S. flag at least once a week was advanced by a House committee. Another House committee approved a plan to take $40 million from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund to pay for the completion of the Native American Cultural Center and Museum.

A new registry linking the sales of pseudoephedrine with registries in neighboring states has blocked up to 90,000 sales of the drug in its first year of operation. Tulsa County voters will decide today whether to increase the sales tax to fund a new juvenile justice facility and expansion of the Tulsa jail. A Texas drilling company is pulling drinking water out of a Norman fire hydrant to use for fracking.

A Senate committee approved a bill to further restrict the availability of abortion-inducing drugs in Oklahoma. Patients in Bartlesville are upset after a Catholic hospital announced its doctors would no longer be allowed to prescribe birth control. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is asking Oklahomans to participate in the annual “Wear Teal Day” to show support during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The Number of the Day is the  change in Oklahoma’s unemployment rate from February 2013 to February 2014, the 45th smallest decrease in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, MetroTrends discusses how community health workers should play a bigger role in making our health care system more efficient.

continue reading In The Know: Rally for school funding draws 25,000 to Capitol

With the right choices, we can restore education funding

by | March 31st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education, Taxes | Comments (0)

okedrallyThese are the prepared remarks delivered by David Blatt at the Oklahoma Education Rally on March 31st

It’s amazing to see such a huge crowd standing up for public education and Oklahoma’s children. Thank you all for being here.

My name is David Blatt. I’m the Executive Director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, a non-partisan think-tank that works on education and other state policy issues. We lead a coalition called Together Oklahoma, and if you want to find our information and join with us in the work that we do, please visit TogetherOk.org and okpolicy.org 

When you leave the rally this morning to go talk to legislators, many of them will express sympathy for boosting funding for education, but they may tell you that the money just isn’t there.  Don’t believe them. We have options, and I’m going to tell you what they are.

continue reading With the right choices, we can restore education funding

In The Know: Thousands of Oklahomans expected to descend on Capitol, press for more school dollars

by and | March 31st, 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.

Today you should know that thousands of people from across Oklahoma are expected to descend on the state Capitol today for what could be the largest rally for education in state history. The Tulsa World recalled a similar effort to rally for education funding before the passage of HB 1017  in 1990. Tulsa World editor Ginnie Graham wrote that kids with a day off from school could benefit from attending the rally. You can find more information here about the rally agenda and transportation options.

Oklahoma Watch examined the trend of growing advocacy by Tulsa-area school administrators. Tulsa schools are struggling to find enough teacher applicants due to low pay compared with nearby states. Lawmakers are facing pressure to revise many of the education reforms passed in recent years that critics say were too hastily put together without educator input.

As the Oklahoma Legislature reaches its halfway point, House and Senate leaders will soon begin working with the governor’s office to develop a budget while facing a $188 million shortfall. OK Policy has shared several ideas for how lawmakers can fill the budget hole without cutting services even deeper. A new analysis examines what’s behind the large rise in children entering Oklahoma’s emergency foster care system. Read the full report from The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group here. The head of Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services said the next report from monitors of a federal court settlement to improve the foster-care system will likely be negative.

The Oklahoman editorial board wrote that lawmakers should listen to pleas for more mental health funding. Insurers and other organizations helping with Affordable Care Act enrollment say they are prepared to handle a last-minute rush with the deadline for open enrollment today. Think Progress discusses how the states where residents struggle most to afford health care and medicine, including Oklahoma, have refused to address this issue by accepting federal funds to expand coverage. A two day conference in Shawnee will share work and research on Native American health issues.

An offender at an Oklahoma state prison was killed by a fellow inmate. The state Department of Corrections is not providing any details about the incident, including the names of the inmates involved, until they complete an investigation. A surprise drug screening at a private Oklahoma City halfway house this week showed more than half of the offenders were using illegal drugs. The community corrections center is operated by the same company that ran a Tulsa halfway house which was shut down following allegations of organized inmate fights. Julie Delcour discussed decrepit, cramped conditions at Tulsa County’s Juvenile Justice Center.

Oklahoma’s jobless rate dropped to 5.0 percent in February — the lowest since December 2008. As drought continues and oil and natural gas operations continue to expand throughout the state, companies are looking for ways to reduce the amount of freshwater they use. The southwest quarter of Oklahoma is in a fourth year of extreme drought.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s ranking for age-adjusted rate of death by diseases of the heart. In today’s Policy Note, the Economic Policy Institute discusses why claims of a skills shortage among American workers may be overblown.

continue reading In The Know: Thousands of Oklahomans expected to descend on Capitol, press for more school dollars

Weekly Wonk March 30, 2014

by | March 30th, 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.

 This week, OK Policy released our suggestions for a balanced approach to the state budget shortfall. We examined the effects of tax cuts in Kansas, suggesting that their impact in Kansas offered a warning to Oklahoma. An upcoming lecture sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services will discuss responsive practices for adverse childhood experiences.

We shared the story of an Oklahoma man unable to access needed health care because the state has refused federal funds to extend coverage to low-income Oklahomans. We also gave you six good reasons why you should enroll in health insurance

In his Journal Record column, OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt discussed possible reasons for Oklahoma’s chronic budget shortfalls. Blatt will be speaking in Oklahoma City on Monday as part of the rally for public education funding.  

Numbers of the Day

  • 20 percent - Percentage of black male students in Oklahoma who received an out-of-school suspension in 2011-2012, compared with 7 percent of white male students. For females, 13 percent of black students had an out of school suspension in 2011-2012 compared with 3 percent of white students.
  • 36.9 percent - Percentage of office-based physicians in Oklahoma with a basic electronic health record system, significantly lower than the national average of 48.1 percent.
  • $101 million - How much Oklahoma could increase revenues by eliminating the “double deduction” for state income taxes, an unintentional fluke of the fluke of the law that serves no rational purpose.
  • $3.7 billion - Oklahoma’s tribal gaming revenue in 2012, the second highest in the US.
  • 12.2 percent - 2012 unemployment rate in North Tulsa, nearly twice the unemployment rate for the Tulsa Metro as a whole (6.9 percent).

Policy Notes

  • Demos examines how minimum wage hikes have affected job growth in cities and states.
  • The New Republic writes that the Affordable Care Act’s efforts to help the underinsured Americans have been overlooked.
  • SCOTUSblog reviews recent arguments made before the US Supreme Court pertaining to birth control, religious beliefs, and business in the Affordable Care Act.
  • Due the Affordable Care Act, survivors of domestic violence have resources available when applying for health insurance, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
  • Columbia Journalism Review discusses how coverage of debates over whether states should expand Medicaid has been leaving out the stories of the real people who are affected.