New & Improved: Detailed, interactive county-level data tables

by | January 13th, 2015 | Posted in Blog | Comments (1)

INSURANCEPICToday Oklahoma Policy Institute published detailed county-level tables on 12 key social and economic indicators, now including time series data. The new tables on our State & County Data resource page cover topics such as:

  • Population and income
  • Poverty and free school lunch
  • Employment in state and local government
  • Labor force participation and unemployment
  • Insurance, disability, obesity and smoking

continue reading New & Improved: Detailed, interactive county-level data tables

In The Know: Gov. Fallin says education, health, and prisons are her priorities for second term

by and | January 13th, 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.

[CORRECTION: Yesterday’s quote of the day was incorrectly attributed to Oklahoma Department of Corrections Deputy Director Laura Pittman. The quote actually came from Board of Corrections member Linda Neal.]

Mary Fallin took the oath of office Monday for her second term as Oklahoma governor and said the state needs to boost public health, reduce the incarceration rate and improve academic achievement. You can see the full text of Governor Fallin’s inaugural speech here. NewsOK shared several reactions to the speech from .prominent officials and advocates. A federal appeals court ruled that four death-row inmates have failed to make their case that a new execution drug the state plans to use is unconstitutional, clearing the way for Oklahoma to resume executions next week.

On the OK Policy Blog, Edmond Public Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Lori Smith explained the basics of school finance. NPR reported on how the crash in gas prices has begun to work its way through the Oklahoma economy. Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizens have elected Louis Hicks as their new second chief in a special election, replacing former second chief Roger Barnett who pleaded guilty in October to federal embezzlement charges. As Kansas begins its 2015 legislative session, the state is looking at a $648 million budget deficit following large income tax cuts and an economy growing at a slower rate than the national economy this year.

From Black Friday sales and the lead-up to Christmas, the city of Tulsa saw gains in sales-tax revenue, which means more money in the budget for employee pay and funding going toward a police academy. The Oklahoma City company Physician Housecalls is helping provide care to many homebound patients with primary care physicians who drive throughout the metro area. Classes at Minco Public Schools have been canceled because of reports of widespread flu among the students. Oklahoma’s public universities and colleges are offering a growing number of individual courses and full degree programs online.

A historic church property that housed the pre-statehood incarnation of Oklahoma City University has been purchased by a nonprofit school for homeless children. After increasing rapidly over the past three years, the pace of earthquakes in Oklahoma held steady in 2014 at a rate higher than California and far higher than the historic average in Oklahoma. An Okmulgee County judge granted an adoption decree to a married lesbian couple last month in what is believed to be among the first such adoptions in the state.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of the 44,129 Oklahoma residents who selected plans on Healthcare.gov between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15, 2014 who qualified for financial assistance. In today’s Policy Note, The Washington Post shared stories from some of the 4 million Americans left in the cracks of our health care system by states like Oklahoma that are refusing federal funds to provide coverage.

continue reading In The Know: Gov. Fallin says education, health, and prisons are her priorities for second term

ABCs of School Finance (Guest Post: Lori Smith)

by | January 12th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Education | Comments (0)

school finance - appleLori Smith is the Chief Financial Officer for Edmond Public Schools. This post is excerpted from an Edmond Public School brochure, “20 Questions (and Answers) about School Finance”.

What is State Aid?

State Aid represents the funds that are appropriated by the State Legislature for school districts, and distributed by the State Department of Education through the “State Aid Formula.” 

State Aid is based primarily on student counts, with allowances made for various student characteristics represented as grade and categorical weights.

State Aid uses the higher of the current or two previous years’ student counts. Thus, if a district’s student count increases, the State Aid is adjusted in the current year. If a district’s student count decreases, the State Aid does not decrease for two years.

The State Aid calculated using these student counts is then reduced for local revenue collections by subtracting “chargeables.”

continue reading ABCs of School Finance (Guest Post: Lori Smith)

In The Know: Outgoing Superintendent Barresi goes on 11th-hour hiring spree

by | January 12th, 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.

In her final days in office, State Superintendent Janet Barresi has hired several new employees, comprising $653,000 in base salary costs, and promoted others within the State Deparment of Education. The Tulsa World shared an interview with incoming Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who is being sworn in today. Former Democratic state Sen. Jabar Shumate, who resigned from his office this week, has been hired by a national school-choice organization with close ties to the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

In a surprising decision that could turn Oklahoma workers’ compensation law upside down, a Pottawatomie County district judge ruled Friday that an injured tire worker can sue his employer for negligence. The Oklahoma prison system is well over inmate capacity, which could give the state Parole Board the authority to consider early parole for nonviolent inmates. Over the past two years, about 20 percent of Department of Corrections employees have been fired because they simply stopped showing up for work. A judge ordered the Canadian County Board of Commissioners to go back to funding the county juvenile center with a sales tax established in 1996. The Oklahoma attorney general had previously said the tax revenue was authorized to be used for financing the construction of the building but not ongoing programs and services, except maintenance workers and janitors.

In the latest OK PolicyCast, we talk with an attorney from a organization that provides free civil legal assistance to low-income Oklahomans. Oklahoma House Minority Leader Scott Inman said his caucus will “stick a flag” in middle-class issues such as public education, health care and the “fiscal hypocrisy” of the ruling Republicans during the upcoming session. Oklahoma lawmakers have filed various bills that would reduce regulations on weapons, including allowing transport of a pistol in a car without a license and keeping shotguns or rifles in cars on school property. A bill to allow teachers to say “Merry Christmas” has been introduced for the upcoming session, even though teachers are not currently prohibited from saying “Merry Christmas”. While considering a similar bill last year, the House was tied up in a heated, 90-minute debate over whether the Kwanzaa holiday should be added to it.

Support is growing among Republican leaders to have every other legislative session dedicated exclusively to writing the budget. On the OK Policy Blog, Steve Lewis said that this proposal would be a huge power shift to the governor. The future of Oklahoma’s Space Industry and Development Authority is uncertain as lawmakers debate whether the agency actually contributes to aerospace development or is just a financial drain. A new position has been created in the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to resolve problems and complaints for foster parents. More than 500 tribal officials, employees and citizens discussed development and sovereignty issues at the winter meeting of the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes. The Department of Agriculture is determining if an investigation is warranted of animal welfare complaints against Oklahoma State University.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s median household income in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic discusses how Georgia’s efforts to cater to the needs of corporations has left it with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

continue reading In The Know: Outgoing Superintendent Barresi goes on 11th-hour hiring spree

The Weekly Wonk for January 11, 2015

by | January 11th, 2015 | Posted in OK Policy | 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, OK Policy executive director David Blatt discussed why another tax cut is being triggered even as Oklahoma already faces a nearly $300 million budget shortfall. OK Policy research fellow Cassidy Hamilton looked at what’s behind Oklahoma’s high infant mortality rate and the troubling statistic that African-American infants in Oklahoma are more likely to die in their first year of life than children born in the Gaza Strip or in Saudi Arabia. Policy analyst Carly Putnam explained how Oklahoma lawmakers’ refusal to accept federal funds to cover the uninsured is devastating the state’s rural hospitals.

For the latest post in our Neglected Oklahoma series, Camille Landry looks at the stark contrast between how Oklahoma and Missouri handle foster care reunifications, and how Oklahoma families are paying a tragic price. This week’s Capitol Update from Steve Lewis discusses how all the talk of budget reform won’t accomplish much until lawmakers quit gambling on tomorrow’s revenue. In the latest OK PolicyCast, we talk with April Merrill, an attorney with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, about what it’s like serving as part of Oklahoma’s “emergency room” for legal assistance.

The Oklahoman shared comments from David Blatt and others on what was the biggest Oklahoma health story of 2014. CapitolBeatOK wrote that OK Policy’s role of providing another side to policy debates at the capitol was one of the top Oklahoma news stories of 2014.

continue reading The Weekly Wonk for January 11, 2015

OK PolicyCast Episode 18: An ‘emergency room’ for legal assistance

by | January 9th, 2015 | Posted in Podcast | Comments (1)
April Merril

April Merrill

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

Each week the OK PolicyCast brings you the most important news about Oklahoma and what it means. This week, we speak with April Merrill, an attorney with Legal Aid Oklahoma, a non-profit organization that provides free civil legal assistance to low-income Oklahomans throughout the state. She’ll tell us about what it’s like serving as part of Oklahoma’s “emergency room” for legal assistance.

You can download the episode here or play it in your browser:

Best budget reform is to quit gambling on tomorrow’s revenue (Steve Lewis Capitol Update)

by | January 9th, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates | Comments (0)
Photo by Niklas Morberg.

Photo by Niklas Morberg.

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.

Recently Governor Fallin has been including in her remarks a statement to the effect that the state’s budget process needs to be “reformed.” The topic has become timely because of frustration with the fact that there seems to be less money available to the legislature for meeting the state’s needs even while the economy is perceived to be expanding — at least this was the case before the present budget hiccup contributed to by the downturn in oil prices.

As always, reform is in the eye of the beholder. Before embarking on reform it might be helpful to try to determine what has caused the problem. The two main reasons for inadequate funding in the next session are first, about $300 million in “one time” funding was used to meet this year’s budget needs, and, second, a tax cut was passed to go into effect in the event of an increase in state revenue.

continue reading Best budget reform is to quit gambling on tomorrow’s revenue (Steve Lewis Capitol Update)

In The Know: Lower oil prices predicted to fuel hiring nationally

by | January 9th, 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 you should know that analysts predict the U.S. economy will add 300,000 more jobs this year if oil stays near its current price than if the price had remained at its June level. Oil producers are bailing out of long-term contracts for drilling rigs as crude prices fall.

Organizers of an education rally planned for March 30th say they’re expecting 50,000 people to turn up at the Capitol. Oklahoma State Rep. John Bennett renewed his attacks on Oklahoma Muslims and questioned the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ sincerity in condemning the recent Paris attack.

The U.S. Geological Survey says Oklahoma had more earthquakes last year than in the past 30 years. Representatives from Iowa Pacific shared their plan for passenger rail between Tulsa and Oklahoma City with Tulsa city councilors.

In today’s Policy Note, a new analysis from Pew Research Center finds that financially insecure Americans are far less likely to vote or be politically engaged in other ways. The Number of the Day is the number of Oklahomans who selected plans on Healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period in 2014.

continue reading In The Know: Lower oil prices predicted to fuel hiring nationally

A tale of two states (Neglected Oklahoma)

by | January 8th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Neglected Oklahoma, Poverty | Comments (6)

Camille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

Photo by Jessica Lucia.

Photo by Jessica Lucia.

It was the best of times. Two days before Christmas last year, Juan Carlos Jackson’s foster mom helped him pack his things, strapped him into his car seat and drove him to the offices of the Missouri Department of Social Services where his birth mom waited to take him home.

“It was one of the best days of my life,” foster mom and mentor Jackie Lorenzo said. “The Intensive Family Preservation Service (IFPS) in Missouri manages to help the majority of foster children to be successfully reunited with their families.” Jackie had no small part in this success story. In addition to fostering Juan, Jackie acted as a mentor to Jalinda, helping her through the process of treating her drug addiction, finding a job, passing her GED exam and generally being a supportive presence in the young mother’s life.

It was the worst of times. Kim Arnold could barely get her story out between sobs. She had just signed the documents that terminated her parental rights regarding her two youngest children.

It had been more than three years since OKDHS and the police had come to her door and took Denisha, then 8 months and Nathan, 2 years old, into the foster care system. Her teenaged daughter was sent to Ohio to live with her dad. DHS claims that the children were neglected due to Kim’s addiction to prescription drugs. Of note, Oklahoma ranks #1 nationally for the nonmedical use of pain relievers for all age categories. Oklahoma saw a 67.5 percent increase in the misuse of prescription medication between 2005 and 2010. 

continue reading A tale of two states (Neglected Oklahoma)

In The Know: Legislative leaders warn tough budget year is coming

by | January 8th, 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.

Members of the Oklahoma House and Senate had their first meeting of the new year Tuesday and immediately received warnings of tough budgetary times ahead. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed the paradox that Oklahoma is triggering a tax cut based on revenue growth even as the state faces a $300 million budget shortfall. Sen. Rob Standridge wrote an op-ed defending his bill to prevent lame duck officeholders from creating new staff positions without oversight. The bill was introduced in response to outgoing Superintendent Janet Barresi creating a new position for the husband of one of her top staffers just months before she leaves office.

A new report finds Oklahoma is near the bottom of the list nationally on the quality of education it provides to students. The Enid News & Eagle reported on a new education reform campaign being put forward by a coalition of more than 60 Oklahoma school districts. More information about the campaign can be found at http://forthepeopleok.com. TEEM, an interfaith group dedicated to breaking the cycles of incarceration and poverty in Oklahoma, is partnering with 7-Eleven to offer scholarships that provide housing and transportation to Oklahomans just out of prison. 

In a NewsOK Q&A, an attorney discussed implications of a federal court dismissing a lawsuit by a young Oklahoman who was denied a job because she wore a headscarf. The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations on Wednesday condemned a terrorist attack in Paris that left 12 people dead and several others critically injured.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of the Department of Corrections budget spent on private prisons and contracts in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why a proposal from the House GOP to change the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate to provide health care would likely lead to many fewer hours of work for employees and more part-time work — the exact opposite of what the bill’s backers’ rhetoric implies.

continue reading In The Know: Legislative leaders warn tough budget year is coming

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