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The Weekly Wonk: May 3, 2015

by | May 3rd, 2015 | 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 KnowClick here to subscribe to In The Know.

This week on the OK Policy Blog, we examined a new teacher rating system the state may adopt that evaluates teachers using a “value-added model” based on student test scores. We explained how a House bill could threaten Oklahoma’s Promise, an early commitment financial aid program that covers tuition for low-income students.

In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis describes ties the current budget shortfall to a similar scenario in 1985. We shared a video that evaluates the Affordable Care Act on its on its fifth birthday.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt points out that a growing state share of Medicaid costs is due a strong state economy, not federal cost-shifting or broken promises. He’s written more about the topic here. Blatt will present “The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy” at Up With Trees’ May meeting on Wednesday, May 6th. An op-ed in the Tulsa World cited OK Policy data while arguing in favor of smarter, more efficient criminal justice reform.

Upcoming Opportunities

  • We are seeking summer interns! Full- and part-time positions are available, and all are paid. Applicants should be current students at college or university who have completed at least four semesters of credit, or be pursuing a graduate degree. We are happy to work with an institution’s requirements for academic credit. The application deadline is May 5th.
  • We are also now accepting applications for the 2015 Summer Policy Institute (SPI), an intensive, four-day program for undergraduate and graduate students interested in public policy on August 2-5, 2015 in Tulsa. Find out more about SPI with our new video preview! The application deadline is May 26th. 

Weekly What’s That:


Coinsurance” (or co-insurance) is an insurance term that means splitting or spreading risk among multiple parties. Expressed as a percentage, it describes what portion of health care costs will be paid by an insurance company… Read more.

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

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Budget hole brings back memories of 1985 (Capitol Updates)

by | May 1st, 2015 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Taxes | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can sign up on his website to receive the Capitol Updates newsletter by email.

Oklahoma Governor George Night / Photo by Charles Stacey / CC BY 2.0

Oklahoma Governor George Nigh / Photo by Charles Stacey / CC BY 2.0

With this year’s legislative session moving toward negotiations between the House, Senate and Governor to figure out how to deal with a $611 million budget deficit, my assistant Paulette Shafer brought me a copy of the front page of the July 20, 1985 Tulsa Tribune.  The 1985 legislature had adjourned the day before after a 7-month session.  The banner headline for the “day after” story was “Near-record session chaotic, productive.”

That session a generation ago bore some similarity to this year’s session in that legislators began the year with a budget deficit.  The economy had been in free fall since 1983.  Oklahoma financial institutions were failing faster than at any time since the Great Depression, and few people were predicting an economic upturn.  Legislative leaders had expressed concern that the price of oil would drop from $27 per barrel to $20 per barrel.  (No one knew that before the “oil bust” was over it would go much lower).

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In The Know: Gov. Fallin signs bill allowing marijuana derivative in medical trial

by | May 1st, 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.

On Thursday, Governor Fallin signed a bill allowing the limited use of a marijuana derivative in a medical pilot program to treat children with epileptic seizures. Bills that establish a regulatory framework for ridesharing programs like Uber and Lyft and that triple the mandatory waiting time for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours passed the House and has been sent to the Governor. At a breakfast with lawmakers, Superintendents Keith Ballard (Tulsa Public Schools) and Rob Neu (Oklahoma City Public Schools) discussed the impact of budget cuts on their school districts. Spending per student has dropped 23.6 percent in Oklahoma since 2008, the deepest cuts in the US.

The campaigns in favor of and opposed to wind incentives have swung into high gear, with bills concerning two of three incentives up for consideration as soon as next week. Both sides make their cases here. As anti-fracking ban legislation moves forward, cities are reexamining their drilling ordinances. On the five-year anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, author and blogger John Green discusses whether the law is working. In its annual recommendations, the Oklahoma Child Death Review Board calls for safe infant sleep practices and improving seat belt laws, as well as adequately funding agencies that serve children and families. You can read the recommendations here.

Engineers representing Arkansas river communities have released a report estimating costs associated with several low-water dams that could be part of a proposal before voters later this year. The Tulsa World shared the story of a small rural church where the hymns are sung in Creek. Following the shooting death of an unarmed suspect by a volunteer reserve deputy, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office is reshuffling personnel. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office has found that a man who died after being shocked with a Taser by Osage Nation police officers in February died of cardiac arrest. The Number of the Day is 442 – the number of newly diagnosed chlamydia cases per 100,000 in Oklahoma in 2012. The US median was 291. In today’s Policy Note, PRI explains how kicking a trash can became a criminal offense for a sixth grader.

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Watch this: “Is Obamacare Working? The Affordable Care Act Five Years Later”

by | April 30th, 2015 | Posted in Healthcare, Watch This | Comments (1)

On the five-year anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, author and blogger John Green asks: is it working?

The answer is yes – and no. In the clip below, Green discusses the ACA’s successes, including a sharply declining uninsured rate, early indicators of better health outcomes,  an end to discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, and reduced job lock. He also discusses how there’s still work to be done on some fundamental issues in the health care system that contribute to America’s very high health care costs. As Green notes, “…the ACA didn’t replace the existing [health care] system so much as it grew on top of it.”

Watch the clip to see more.

Click through to the video page and choose “see more” in the video description box to see Green’s sources.

In The Know: State’s child welfare reform efforts draw mixed reviews

by | April 30th, 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.

An annual report authored by court-appointed monitors assigned to oversee Oklahoma’s child welfare reform offered mixed reviews for the state’s efforts, noting that the state is making progress in some areas but falling behind in others. The report is available here. Last year, the monitors found that the state was failing to make “good faith efforts” to reform the system. The manufacturer of a drug used in Oklahoma executions has asked the state to return all doses of the drug because the drug is not approved for executions, and company disapproves of the death penalty.

Data released by the US Department of Education shows that minority students are suspended disproportionately not just in Oklahoma City Public Schools, but across the state and country. Faced with a $611 million budget shortfall, lawmakers are reportedly seeking to maintain flat funding for common education, the Health Care Authority, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and the Department of Corrections. Oklahoma has options for a balanced approach to solve the budget gap. County court clerks, which have relied on the state Supreme Court for funding despite a statue directing counties to fund their own offices, have been informed that the state Supreme Court will no longer be providing funding due to budget cuts.

In his Journal Record column, executive director David Blatt points out that a growing state share of Medicaid costs is due a strong state economy, not federal cost-shifting or broken promises. A video preview for our Summer Policy Institute is now available. The Summer Policy Institute brings together fifty highly-qualified undergraduate and graduate students from across the state for a four-day public policy intensive. Bills that make texting while driving illegal and require schools to provide sexual assault prevention and response education are awaiting Governor Fallin’s signature. An executive order issued by the Governor says that the state will not make a state plan to follow federal regulations regarding regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Following heavy rains, depleted Oklahoma reservoirs have begun to refill.

Tulsa County Commissioners say they are waiting for an investigation to conclude before taking action regarding the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputy who accidentally shot and killed a man. A bill in the state legislature would require reserve deputies to receive more training and adds mandatory yearly retraining. The Number of the Day is 3,300 – the number of uninsured veterans in Oklahoma with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level who have a mental illness. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post discusses the implications of data showing that pregnant women are working later in to their pregnancies, and returning to work earlier.

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See our Summer Policy Institute video preview, and apply by May 26!

by | April 29th, 2015 | Posted in OK Policy | Comments (0)

Apply by May 26th for this year’s Summer Policy Institute! Click here to learn more and apply.

Video credits: Footage by Sam Stalcup and Kara Joy McKee. Edited by Amina Benalioulhaj, Bread & Roses Media. Voiceover by Kara Joy McKee. Music by Marcus Neely.

In The Know: Key sentencing reform bill on way to Governor’s desk

by | April 29th, 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.

Judges would be allowed to depart from Oklahoma’s mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent crimes under a bill given final legislative approval Tuesday. Oklahoma currently has at least 122 mandatory minimum prison sentences that are among the harshest in the nation. The Legislature also approved a bill that authorizes oil derived from the marijuana plant to be used in clinical trials for patients with severe forms of epilepsy.

The Legislature approved a bill directing the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to initiate request for proposals for privatized managed care of some Medicaid patients. There’s evidence that moving Oklahoma Medicaid to privatized managed care could increase costs while reducing access to health care for Oklahomans. Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister fired 10 people and saw another 14 resign during her first five months at the Oklahoma State Department of Education. On the OK Policy Blog, we discuss how a move to evaluate teachers based on student-test scores could become Oklahoma’s next big education reform controversy.  

Oklahoma City is not target with its budget projections for this year, with revenue from sales tax was just 0.2 percent below projections through the first 10 months of the current fiscal year. Boeing Co. hopes to strike a deal with Oklahoma City for $6 million in job creation subsidies. Budget cuts to the state Supreme Court are expected to force layoffs in county court clerks’ offices. The Department of Public Safety is seeking $4.6 million to maintain a pay raise granted last year to state troopers.

Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund has grown to a balance of more than $1 billion. Embattled Tulsa Sheriff’s Office volunteer reserve deputy Robert Bates was caught on tape boasting that his connections in the sheriff’s department and the U.S. attorney’s office could be used against his opponent in a lawsuit. The Number of the Day is the number of bison in captivity in Oklahoma in 2012. In today’s Policy Note, the Marshall Project examines why people tend to age out of crime, and what it could mean for how long we put them away.

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Will this be Oklahoma’s next education reform controversy?

by | April 28th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (3)

A recent pattern in Oklahoma education policy has been major education reforms passed in earlier years becoming highly controversial just as they are about to go into effect. A strong pushback from parents and educators has led to the rollback or modification of numerous reforms, from Common Core Standards to 3rd grade retention, A-F school grades, and end-of-instruction exams.

Another way to put it is that many of yesterday’s solutions have become today’s problems. Now another major reform is scheduled to be implemented next year, but lawmakers are working to head it off before this solution turns into the next problem.

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In The Know: Primary tenets of historic 1990 Oklahoma education bill not being met

by | April 28th, 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.

At an event for the 25th anniversary of House Bill 1017, House Democrats pointed out that the bill’s historic education reforms have been systematically eroded. Steve Lewis has contrasted Oklahoma’s recent education rallies with the movement that pushed through HB 1017. Tulsa teacher Nikki Jones risks losing her job after following through on her vow to not give high-stakes tests to first graders. Jones discussed her decision not to give the tests on her blog. On the OK Policy Blog, we discuss how a House bill threatens tuition assistance for college students who have to work while attending school.

Emails uncovered by EnergyWire reveal that scientists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey have suspected oil and gas activity is causing earthquakes since 2007, but they decided against going public to avoid offending the industry. You can see the emails here. Tulsa County Undersheriff Tim Albin has resigned in the wake of documents released that allege Albin intimidated employees to elevate an unqualified reserve deputy who was a close friend and donor to Sheriff Stanley Glanz. The Tulsa World looked at how affected families are doing 30 years after an Oklahoma facility for children with developmental disabilities was shut down by a class action lawsuit

Attorneys across Oklahoma will provide free legal advice on Thursday during the 37th annual statewide celebration of Law Day. In debate over a bill to give raises to Oklahoma Supreme Court justices, Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City, threatened to set himself on fire in front of the court building to protest the court’s overturning of abortion restrictions. Capitol Hill High School students will vote this week on a new mascot to replace Redskins, which the school board voted unanimously to ban because it is offensive to members of the American Indian community.

The Number of the Day is $18.4 million – the total spending by visitors to national parks in Oklahoma in 2014. In today’s Policy Note, Medium discusses what research says about the perfect classroom environment.

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House bill threatens Oklahoma’s Promise

by | April 27th, 2015 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (3)

In today’s economy, a college education is more important for finding a good job and earning a decent income. Yet for children of low- and moderate-income families, the cost of higher education can be a substantial barrier to enrolling in and completing college. Over the past two decades, the Oklahoma’s Promise financial aid program has been the key for thousands of students to get a college degree – but legislation being considered this session could put the program out of reach for many students.

Oklahoma’s Promise, also known as the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, or OHLAP, is an early commitment financial aid program that covers tuition for students with family income below $50,000 at the time of application. Students must apply prior to the start of the 11th grade and complete a series of requirements before graduating from high school. Once enrolled in college, students must maintain a minimum GPA and follow behavioral guidelines.

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