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Using lawsuits to fund our schools: Is it time to try again? (Guest post: Elizabeth Smith)

by | March 13th, 2017 | Posted in Education | Comments (2)

Elizabeth Smith, Ph.D., is the planning director for the Yale National Initiative at the University of Tulsa, a partnership between TU, Tulsa Public Schools, and Yale University to strengthen teaching in Tulsa schools.

“The Legislature shall establish and maintain a system of free public schools wherein all the children of the State may be educated. … The Legislature shall, by appropriate legislation, raise appropriate funds for the annual support of the common schools of the State…”

The Oklahoma State Constitution, Article 13

An Oklahoma native, I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2001 to attend the University of Arkansas.  I transitioned from being a student to a resident of Arkansas and began a career in higher education which included research on PreK-12 schools.  Studying school funding in Arkansas, I investigated the transformation that took place in statewide education following Lake View School District no. 25 v. Huckabee, one in a series of Arkansas Supreme Court decisions that contributed to an overhaul of the school funding system. Moving back to Oklahoma in 2015, colleagues have frequently asked me, “Why are Arkansas schools funded so much better than Oklahoma schools?”  My short answer is always: “Lake View.”  Yes, this is an oversimplification considering that Arkansas and Oklahoma are very different in terms of population, major industries, and history.  However, Lake View was the turning point for school funding in Arkansas, and similar cases have been turning points in many other states.

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In The Know: Teacher pay raise bill gives ‘false hope,’ Oklahoma Senate leader says

by | March 13th, 2017 | 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Teacher pay raise bill gives ‘false hope,’ Oklahoma Senate leader says: Legislative leaders appear to be far apart in their beliefs about whether a teacher pay raise will be funded this year. The Oklahoma House on Tuesday passed a pay raise bill, House Bill 1114, by Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Broken Arrow, with a total price tag of $316 million. It would phase in a teacher pay raise starting with $1,000 for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1. A $1,000 raise would cost about $52 million, but the measure does not have a funding source. Additional raises would be $2,000 and then $3,000. [Tulsa World]

Budget Crisis Leaving Lawmakers At Odds: This week, state lawmakers passed a bill to give teachers raises without a plan to pay for it, and little was done to bridge the state’s nearly $900-million budget gap. “There has been no significant revenue streams brought before the Oklahoma House of Representatives in an attempt to fill a nearly $900-million budget hole,” said Representative Scott Inman (D) House Minority Leader. Senate Republicans say their GOP counterparts in the House are falsely raising teachers’ hopes. House Democrats suggested raising the gross production tax on oil and natural gas production. Oil execs say that’s not the answer, but they did lobby lawmakers to allow them to expand drilling. [News9] Lawmakers have asked for ‘crippling’ budget cut scenarios, state employees say [Fox25].

Cigarette tax debate burns on: Debate continues over Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal to hike taxes on cigarettes, but both sides agree that doing so would lead some shoppers to jump state lines. A House bill that would implement the plan has passed out of committee and is waiting for a floor vote. Conservative organizations and industry representatives lament the measure for a handful of reasons, including the assertion that raising prices will shove some shoppers to neighboring states, all of which would have lower tax rates on cigarettes if the measure goes through. Economists and policy analysts who support the measure said there is no doubt some people will cross the borders for cheaper smokes. That’s not the question, they said. Scale is. [Journal Record] Considering the dire need for revenues to fix Oklahoma’s budget mess and the proven health benefits of taxes that discourage smoking, a cost-benefit analysis of HB 1841 shows low- and moderate-income families coming out ahead. [OK Policy]

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The Weekly Wonk: “Small loan” bill would bring high costs, the progressive case for increasing the cigarette tax, and more

by | March 12th, 2017 | Posted in Weekly Wonk | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonk_logoWhat’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, Executive Director David Blatt explained how legislation creating a new kind of payday loan would push low-income families further into debt. Blatt pointed out that Oklahomans aren’t demanding new kinds of payday loans from lawmakers and wondered whose interests those lawmakers are representing in his Journal Record column. Learn more about HB 1913 and how to contact your legislators here. Policy Director Gene Perry made the progressive case for increasing the cigarette tax. 

Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy CEO Joe Dorman argued in favor of raising revenues in a guest blog post. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update lamented missed opportunities for criminal justice reform in the current Legislative session. 

OK Policy in the News

Blatt was quoted in a Journal Record article on HB 1913, which would create a new kind of predatory loan. This week, Mubeen Shakir cited OK Policy data in an op-ed imploring lawmakers not to further cut spending to vital public services, and the Tulsa World’s Editorial Board used our research in arguing against an income tax exemption bill

Upcoming Opportunities

We are now accepting applications for our fifth annual Summer Policy Institute (SPI). SPI brings together dozens of undergraduate and graduate students from across the state for a three and a half-day intensive policy training. The application deadline is May 26, 2017. Click here to learn more and apply

Weekly What’s That

Title I

Title I is a section of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that provides federal funds to local school districts and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families. Title I is meant to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education and reach proficiency on State academic achievement standards assessments. Read more.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“It’s really just a matter of common sense. Family caregivers save the state money. If they weren’t available and willing to take on these responsibilities, thousands more Oklahoma seniors would be in nursing homes at the state’s expense. . . . We urge the Oklahoma Legislature to fully fund DHS’ supplemental budget request of $42 million in support of our elders and family caregivers that rely on home and community based services such as adult day health. If the state doesn’t support them on the front end, it will likely be paying four times more to care for our elders on the back end.”

-LIFE Senior Services CEO Laura Kenny (Source)

Editorial of the Week

Editorial Board, Tulsa World

Wall Street is now saying what everyone in Oklahoma knows: The state’s credit is decaying because state Capitol leaders have failed to make wise fiscal choices for years.

After two years of budget failures, a succession of budget holes, and a continued reliance on one-time funding sources to keep the state solvent, S&P Global Ratings lowered the state’s general obligation bond debt rating from AA+ to AA last week. The agency also lowered its rating on the state’s appropriation debt from AA to AA-.

Numbers of the Day

  • -5.9% – Change in collections of court costs on felony cases in a sample of 9 Oklahoma district courts between 2003 and 2015. Collections of costs on civil cases rose 87.3% during the same period
  • 95,000 – Estimated unauthorized immigrant population in Oklahoma, 2014
  • -1.3% – Percentage point drop in Oklahoma’s prime-age employment to population ratio from 2015 to 2016, the third largest drop in the U.S.
  • 3.4% – Share of the Oklahoma labor force made up of unauthorized immigrants, 2014
  • -$4,642 – Average loss of tax credits to purchase insurance for Oklahoma consumers under the proposed Republican health care plan, a 62% decrease and the third biggest loss in the nation

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • Are gains in black homeownership history? [Urban Institute]
  • Kansas Republicans Sour on Their Tax-Cut Experiment [The Atlantic]
  • The New Face of American Unemployment [Bloomberg]
  • Accounting for Violence: How to Increase Safety and Break Our Failed Reliance on Mass Incarceration [Vera Institute of Justice]
  • Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins [The Upshot]

Summer Policy Institute Applications are Now Open

by | March 10th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

Oklahoma Policy Institute is excited to announce our fifth annual Summer Policy Institute (SPI) from July 30 – August 2, 2017 at the University of Tulsa.

“It is so rare to find an opportunity like SPI that, in such a short amount of time, gives you powerful knowledge, skills, and networking relationships that you can carry into your future profession. The passion exhibited by the SPI staff and panelists truly inspired me to continually work to improve both my community and the state as a whole.”

“SPI is a once in a lifetime opportunity to come together with other highly motivated and talented people to learn about public policy and how to impact it. SPI was one of the most insightful experiences of my life.”

The statements above are from alumni on their experiences at SPI, an exciting and in-depth learning experience which brings together highly-qualified undergraduate and graduate students for a unique opportunity to become better informed about vital Oklahoma policy issues. Participants also have a chance to network with fellow students and leaders in the policy process and prepare for their future studies and work in public policy-related fields.

The Institute is hosted and led by the staff of OK Policy and involves leading policy experts from government, academia, and community organizations throughout Oklahoma. Keynote presentations and panel discussions will provide a chance to hear from Oklahoma’s top practitioners and observers on:

  • Budget and Taxes
  • Education
  • Oklahoma’s Legislative Process
  • Campaigns and Elections
  • Health Care
  • Poverty and Opportunity
  • Criminal Justice
  • Race and Public Policy
  • Grassroots & Direct Lobbying
  • How to Find and Use Data
  • Careers in Public Policy
  • And More!

The Institute is open to any current undergraduate or graduate students at an Oklahoma college or university, or out-of-state college students who graduated from an Oklahoma high school, who have completed a minimum of 24 hours of college credit or have graduated since December 2016. Participants in the Institute are chosen by a competitive application process aimed at selecting students with strong academic training, diverse experiences, and a clear interest in the study and practice of public policy. Particular emphasis is given on selecting a class of participants from a range of educational institutions, fields of study, and geographic and cultural backgrounds.

Program tuition is $375 for commuters or $450 for those staying in University of Tulsa housing. Full and partial financial assistance will be available to all students who need a scholarship to attend. No one will be turned away due to inability to pay.

For more information about the Summer Policy Institute, click hereThe application deadline is May 26th, 2017.

Access the application here. 

Click here to preview the application questions. 

In The Know: State House votes to reinstate drug felony voters axed on November ballot

by | March 10th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

State House votes to reinstate drug felony voters axed on November ballot: By the slimmest margin, the Oklahoma House of Representatives decided Thursday that voters might not have fully understood what they were doing when they passed a criminal justice referendum in November. With 51 votes, the bare minimum needed, the members passed House Bill 1482, by Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, which in its original form took a big hunk out of State Question 780, which reclassified many lesser drug and property felonies as misdemeanors [Tulsa World]. Learn more about HB 1482 and how to contact your Legislators here.

Missed opportunities for criminal justice reform this session (Capitol Updates): Legislators missed an opportunity with three bills that are now dormant for this session to make significant reforms in the criminal justice system. The bills were SB 364 and SB 369 by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and HB 1730 by Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa. The bills were casualties of the legislative deadline requiring bills to be passed out of the committee to which they were assigned in their house of origin by last Thursday. None of the three bills received a hearing in committee [OK Policy].

Payday loan legislation resurfaces: A measure that riled up consumer protection advocates and religious leaders this year died in committee, or so they thought. A measure that would allow what opponents call predatory lending practices has resurfaced in the other chamber [HB 1913]. For a few years now, cash advance companies have pushed for what they’ve called flex loans or installment loans. They increase the cap on small loans [Journal Record]. Learn more about HB 1913 and how to contact your Legislators about it here.

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Missed opportunities for criminal justice reform this session (Capitol Updates)

by | March 9th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | 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.

Legislators missed an opportunity with three bills that are now dormant for this session to make significant reforms in the criminal justice system. The bills were SB 364 and SB 369 by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and HB 1730 by Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa. The bills were casualties of the legislative deadline requiring bills to be passed out of the committee to which they were assigned in their house of origin by last Thursday. None of the three bills received a hearing in committee.

SB 364 and HB 1730 mirrored each other and would have reformed the bail bond system for pretrial detention. Many Oklahoma courts operate on a schedule-based bail system. A monetary bond is set based on the accused’s alleged offense with little or no consideration given to the accused’s personal circumstances. Thus, bond has the opposite effect than that for which it was intended. People who have no money stay in jail even though they are at little risk of failing to appear for court or being a danger to someone or the community. People who should remain in jail are released because they have the money to get out, free to abscond or hurt someone.

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In The Know: Will more money come to education through the lottery? House approves measure that could generate $20M

by | March 9th, 2017 | 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Advocacy Alert

This morning, the Oklahoma House of Representatives is expected to take up HB 1913, a bill being promoted by the payday loan industry that would authorize a new loan product that could change 17 percent monthly interest. OK Policy is concerned that these loans would cause greater hardship on the most financially vulnerable Oklahomans. Please see our advocacy alert to learn more about the bill and how to contact your legislator.

Today In The News

Will more money come to education through the lottery? House approves measure that could generate $20M: After years of lobbying by the state lottery commission and education officials, the House agreed to change the way lottery revenue is allocated. The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a measure that could generate about $20 million a year for education, although not necessarily teacher raises [Tulsa World]. Why didn’t the lottery solve Oklahoma’s education funding problems? [OK Policy]

North Tulsa, Panhandle lawmakers debate meaning of ‘Blue Lives Matter’ bill: State Rep. Casey Murdock, a Republican from the far western edge of the Panhandle at Felt, said it didn’t occur to him that a bill called “The Blue Lives Matter in Oklahoma Act” [HB 1306] might be interpreted as having racial overtones. Rep. Regina Goodwin, from Tulsa’s near north side, informed Murdock otherwise [Tulsa World].

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Oklahoma’s budget crisis requires new revenue (Guest post: Joe Dorman)

by | March 8th, 2017 | Posted in Budget | Comments (1)

Joe Dorman

Joe Dorman is CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA). He previously served for 12 years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and has been actively involved in numerous civic, leadership, and youth-development organizations, including Leadership Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Academy.

In the last several weeks, a lot of eyes have been focused on Oklahoma’s $900 million budget shortfall and the effect it may have on our state. We have heard a lot of talk about revolving funds, off-the-top spending, structural imbalances and dozens of other terms capitol insiders use to describe the current budget crunch.

All of that sounds complicated, but if you break down its major components, the state budget is not unlike the personal budgets that families manage. Simply put, you need your income to be greater than your expenses. If it isn’t, you are in trouble.

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In The Know: House staff asks for 14.5 percent budget cut scenarios

by | March 8th, 2017 | 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.

Check out OK Policy’s resources for the Legislative session, including the Legislative Primer and Online Budget Guide.

Today In The News

Oklahoma House staff asks for 14.5 percent budget cut scenarios: Several state agencies have been asked to report how they would approach a 14.5 percent budget cut next year. In an email obtained by The Oklahoman, the state House’s deputy fiscal director asked agencies to send their reports to the House Appropriations and Budget subcommittee. Nicole McPhetridge wrote that revenue projections announced in February triggered the request. While speaking on a political news podcast this week, House Appropriation Chair Leslie Osborn invoked a 14.5 percent scenario where education funding remained the same while other agencies took cuts. [NewsOK] Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller says he’s cautiously optimistic after overall collections to the state treasury last month were slightly higher than those from the same month last year. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma House passes phased-in teacher pay raise measure: The Oklahoma House has overwhelmingly passed legislation that calls for a $6,000 raise for public school teachers over three years, although lawmakers have not figured out how to pay for it. The House voted 92-7 for the bill on Tuesday and sent it to the Senate. The bill by Republican Rep. Michael Rogers of Broken Arrow calls for a $1,000 raise next year, $2,000 the following year and $3,000 in the third year. [NewsOK] The main challenge for lawmakers is still figuring out how to pay for it. They can’t do that without some kind of tax increase. [OK Policy]

Federal Budget Knife Could Slash Into K-12 Programs: President Donald Trump’s push to drastically reduce domestic spending as a way to boost defense spending could have a significant impact on programs at the U.S. Department of Education, where the biggest streams of funding go toward low-income students and those with special needs. Early last week, Trump announced a proposal to increase defense-related spending by $54 billion in fiscal 2018, which begins in October, and to cut nondefense discretionary spending by a corresponding figure. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., the chairman of the House subcommittee that appropriates money for the Education Department, last week referenced the possibility of $18 billion to $20 billion in cuts to the portion of the budget that funds the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education. [Education Week]

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“Small loan” bill would mean big debts for Oklahoma families

For many Oklahomans in a financial trouble, payday loans can seem like a quick and easy fix. Borrowers can take out a payday loan for up to $500, secured by a post-dated check, usually for a period of 12 to 14 days. Under Oklahoma’s deferred deposit lending act, payday lenders can charge $45 in fees for a $300 loan, which amounts to an APR (annual percentage rate) of 391 percent.

While some borrowers turn to payday loans for an emergency car repair or other one-time needs, the industry’s successful business model is built on repeated borrowing by customers facing chronic financial difficulties. Data from Oklahoma’s payday loan database revealed that a majority of all loans went to borrowers who took out twelve or more loans over the course of a year — or an average of more than one loan a month.1 Fifty-three percent of all borrowers took out seven or more loans in a year, compared to just 28 percent who took out three loans or less. The average customer who comes up chronically short of being able to pay their monthly bills paid $324 in fees to payday lenders in 2014.

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