In The Know: Cox wins Democratic runoff over Deskin in state superintendent’s race

by and | August 27th, 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.

Peggs Superintendent John Cox defeated Freda Deskin in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff for state superintendent. Cox will face Joy Hofmeister in the general election. The okeducationtruths blog and blogger Brett Dickerson discussed the big issues at play in Oklahoma’s superintendent race.

School choice advocate Chuck Strohm defeated Jenks school board member Melissa Abdo in the runoff for House District 69, after an outside group poured $30,000 into the race with ads saying Abdo’s support for education funding was a call for a tax increase. OETA reported on how “dark money” spent by groups that don’t disclose their donors is shaping Oklahoma politics.

Veteran prosecutor Steve Kunzweiler defeated state Rep. Fred Jordan in the race for Tulsa County District Attorney. State Sen. Connie Johnson defeated perennial candidate Jim Rogers in a runoff to determine the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. Johnson will face U.S. Rep. James Lankford in the general election. Republican Steve Russell and Democrat Al McCaffrey won their respective runoffs and will face each other for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Lankford. You can see all state runoff election results here. OU political scientist Dr. Keith Gaddie questioned the cost of primary runoffs in Oklahoma and suggested a better alternative. 

Despite the legislature’s vote to abolish Common Core in Oklahoma, about half of the school districts in the state are keeping the standards. Alex Public Schools Superintendent Jason James wrote that teacher shortages are the number one problem facing Oklahoma schools. Two elected officials in Rogers County who were targeted by a multicounty grand jury investigation that yielded no indictments are suing the Rogers County Sheriff. The Tulsa Police Department’s Gilcrease Division was ordered by the chief to remove from its building a donation bucket for embattled Ferguson, Missouri, Police Officer Darren Wilson.

The Oklahoman examined the debate over what’s behind the huge increase of earthquakes in the state. State officials announced a $100 million initiative to improve safety at railroad crossings, funded by federal dollars and the sale of the Sooner Sub rail line. The Number of the Day is the direct spending by out-of-state and international travelers in Oklahoma in 2010. In today’s Policy Note, entrepreneur Nick Hanauer wrote that America cannot sustain its current levels of inequality without a serious backlash or a police state.

continue reading In The Know: Cox wins Democratic runoff over Deskin in state superintendent’s race

In The Know: Primary runoff elections in Oklahoma

by | August 26th, 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.

Oklahomans go to the polls today to choose their candidates in primary runoff elections. Polls are open from 7am to 7pm. KGOU selected three races to watch today. Despite a surge of voters registered this summer by a medical marijuana petition drive, the number of registered voters in Tulsa, particularly registered Democrats, has declined.

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit arguing that reporters have the right to witness executions from beginning to completion. During the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in April, officials blocked the view of witnesses and reporters when it became clear that the execution was not proceeding as planned. You can read the ACLU’s statement here. Speaking to a national discussion of police accountability, the Choctaw Police Department spoke favorably of body cameras, which its on-duty officers began wearing five months ago. 

Researchers at the University of Tulsa have received a grant to provide free PTSD treatment, trying a new approach to treating the disorder. A post on the OK Policy Blog called for long-term solutions to address homelessness in Oklahoma. Following up a previous article on computer glitches delaying Medicaid enrollment for former foster youth in Oklahoma, NewsOK discussed how other states are dealing with the issue. Oklahoma health officials are concerned about the impact of e-cigarettes on youth smoking. We’ve written about the debate over e-cigarettes before.

A Supreme Court expert from Stanford University has joined the Oklahoma legal team fighting to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage ban. KJRH reports that the Tulsa County jail is $650,00 over-budget for overtime this year. County officials blame low staffing levels caused by the job’s high stress and low pay. In efforts to make college more affordable, four state universities have moved to a flat-rate tuition system, where students pay one rate regardless of hours taken, and OU has launched a debt-free teacher initiative that forgives up to $20,000 worth of student loan debt if a student agrees to teach in Oklahoma for four years.

Residents concerned that a potential retail development could impact Turkey Mountain sought answers at a town hall meeting on Tuesday. Ginnie Graham discussed news that a personal finance website ranked Oklahoma the 6th-worst state for women’s equality. We’ve written about the state of women in Oklahoma before (here and here). Tulsa recycling officials say that Tulsans are still disposing of trash in blue recycling bins, and are planning more public education to teach people how to use the recycling bins. KGOU reports that more Oklahoma water systems are implementing mandatory rationing – 27, up from 26 last year.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of people with diabetes in Oklahoma. The national average is 9.7 percent. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic discusses the ACLU’s lawsuit over witnessing executions in Oklahoma and the broader reasoning behind keeping executions open to the public.

continue reading In The Know: Primary runoff elections in Oklahoma

Homelessness in the Long Run: Why Oklahoma needs long-term solutions

by | August 25th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

This post was written by OK Policy summer intern Tyler Parette, a political science major at Oklahoma Christian University. Tyler will be studying international relations at the University of Oxford this fall.

“Did that man bother you?” asked the woman as  I was standing in line to get my morning coffee.

“What do you mean?” I replied.

“That man has been sitting outside asking people for money. Did he try to assault you?”

This question caught me off guard. It’s not every day that I am asked if I have been assaulted.

“No, he told me he was a veteran and I asked what branch he served in. He said Navy, so I asked what ship he served on and then he quit talking with me.”

Seemingly uninterested in the conversation that I had with the apparently homeless man outside the coffee shop, the woman walked back over to her table. Minutes later, she jumps up from her table and darts out the door to intercept another woman who was about to give the man outside some change.

“Do not give him anything! You,” pointing at the man, “Go away!”

Everyone in the coffee shop watches as the woman saunters back through the front door. She marches up to the counter and demands that something must be done about the man pestering people on the sidewalk.

continue reading Homelessness in the Long Run: Why Oklahoma needs long-term solutions

In The Know: School safe rooms on some ballots

by | August 25th, 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.

Although legislative efforts to make it easier for school districts to build safe rooms failed, four Oklahoma school districts will have safe room bonds on ballots on Tuesday’s election. Opponents of Common Core in other states are turning to Oklahoma for advice. We’ve written previously about how repealing Common Core could put Oklahoma schools under greater federal control because Oklahoma could lose exemptions from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board wrote that the state’s teacher shortage is indicative of a troubled education system.

As many as one in three Tulsa Public Schools students speak Spanish at home, creating communication difficulties between school administrators and parents. TPS says that while they have strong language support in schools, more is needed. On Tuesday, voters will decide on two bond issues totaling more than $40 million for Sapulpa Public Schools.  Advocates warn that the state is moving too slowly in adjusting to allow foster youth to remain enrolled in Medicaid through age 26, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Volunteers with a group that assists youth aging out of foster care say they need more mentors.

Oklahoma Watch spoke with the executive director of Mental Health Association Oklahoma about mental health issues in Oklahoma. Data from the Tulsa Housing Authority shows that housing subsidy vouchers have gradually shifted south and east as families gravitate towards better schools and better jobs. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board called for greater scrutiny to be employed in issuing tax credits, noting that state lawmakers don’t know how many tax credits will be handed out in a given year, how many will be cashed in, or if they generate any economic activity. We’ve written about tax credit reform before.

continue reading In The Know: School safe rooms on some ballots

The Weekly Wonk August 24, 2014

by | August 24th, 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 KnowClick here to subscribe to In The Know.

This week on the OK Policy Blog, we examined the data and concluded that the popular assumption that Medicaid recipients make unnecessary trips to the ER is more based on myth and anecdote than fact. Now that the political dust has settled, we explored the impact of the third grade reading law on schools. In light of recent conversations on immigration, we took another look at the novel Kind of Kin, which explores the impact of immigration politics on a small Oklahoma town.

We are currently accepting applications for our fall internship and for our 2014-2015 research fellowship! Students working with OK Policy have a wide range of opportunities to conduct research, write blog posts, and contribute to OK Policy projects and events. We invite all interested candidates to apply by Friday, August 29. Find out more here.

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt looks at long-withheld emails and wonders why the Governor’s office devoted so much attention to a perceived slight from OCPA and so little to the situation of 150,000 Oklahomans left without options for health insurance. In our Editorial of the Week, M. Scott Carter argues that lawmakers have instituted too many tax incentives without building in mechanisms to measure their impact.

Quote of the week:

“I wouldn’t label this an Obamacare grant. I think that classification is confusing to people and, in a sense, inaccurate.”

- Alex Weintz, Governor Fallin’s Communications Director, referring to a $3 million grant that the state applied for under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) (Source:

Numbers of the day:

  • $23,330 – Average mortgage debt in Oklahoma in 2013.
  • 4.6% – Oklahoma’s unemployment rate in July, up slightly from June’s unemployment rate (4.5%).
  • 34.4 million – Acres of farmland in Oklahoma, comprising 77% of all land in the state.
  • 3428,689 – Total number of motor vehicles registered in Oklahoma in 2011.
  • $111.23 – The value of goods and services that can be purchased for $100 in Oklahoma, compared to the national average.

What we’re reading:

In The Know: Medical marijuana petition falls short

by | August 22nd, 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.

A group circulating a petition to put a medical marijuana state question on the ballot did not collect enough signatures to do so. Organizers say they will try again next summer. While collecting signatures, the group registered an estimated 40,000 people to vote. A report from the American Cancer Society said that Oklahoma is lagging in the fight against cancer. The report cited a lack of palliative care programs, a below-average cigarette excise tax rate, and a failure to expand eligibility in the state Medicaid program. You can read the full report here.

A post on the OK Policy Blog examined the data to see if Medicaid recipients overuse the ER as much as commonly thought. Writing in the Journal Record, M. Scott Carter argued that lawmakers overutilize tax incentives without instituting measures to measure and judge their impact. Gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman and incumbent Gov. Mary Fallin will face each other in a debate on Oct. 2 at OSU.

The state Corrections Department is considering decommissioning the use of towers at its facilities to save costs, but corrections officers say that removing personnel from the towers would put staff on the ground in jeopardy. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board warned of the costs of an aging prison population. A rally held on the steps of the Capitol on Thursday in response to the police shooting death of unarmed Missouri teen Michael Brown warned that such incidents could happen anywhere. An Oklahoma City police officer has been arrested for allegedly raping at least seven women while on patrol. All of the victims were African-American women.

A criminal investigation into state schools superintendent candidate Joy Hofmeister’s campaign is underway. The investigation is looking for evidence of public corruption, campaign contribution violations and illegal collusion with political candidates. A top Tulsa Public Schools administrator who worked for the district for a year has been found to lack the necessary credentials to perform her duties.  An editorial in the Tulsa World chastised Tulsa County officials for giving themselves a raise to the highest salary allowed by law when many Tulsans, including correctional officers and teachers, are struggling to get by.

A state multicounty grand jury investigation concluded an 18-month investigation yesterday without handing down any indictments. The grand jury was investigation multiple allegations of wrongdoing in Rogers County. July traffic at Tulsa International Airport was up 11.8 percent compared to this time last year. Local officials attribute the growth to a strong local economy and success in recruiting new events into the city. StateImpact explained that upriver states have a significant impact on Oklahoma’s scenic river protection policy because pollution standards in other states determine water quality in Oklahoma’s rivers.

AAA is predicting a 2 percent boost in Labor Day travel compared to last year, slightly above the projected national average. AAA credits increased consumer optimism. The first human case of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus in Oklahoma was confirmed yesterday. The Number of the Day is the value of goods and services that can be purchased for $100 in Oklahoma, compared to the national average. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times explains how the gender wage gap most significantly disadvantages mothers in low-wage jobs who need to take time off to care for children.

continue reading In The Know: Medical marijuana petition falls short

Are Medicaid patients overusing the ER?

by | August 21st, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

ERIn the debate over Medicaid, a frequently heard claim is that Medicaid recipients overuse emergency rooms for non-emergency care, and that we need to address this problem if we are to contain Medicaid spending.

This past session, the Legislature approved HB 2906, which directs the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the state’s Medicaid agency, to conduct a study of current and potential ways to reduce trips to the emergency department. Earlier in session, legislation passed the House that would have limited Medicaid coverage to six emergency room visits per year.

However, Health Care Authority data seems to dispel the idea that ER overuse by Medicaid members is as pervasive or as serious a problem as many assume. In State Fiscal Year 2013, there were just over 1 million Oklahomans enrolled in SoonerCare. Of this population, nearly three in four (73.8 percent) made no emergency room visits in a 12-month period. Another 21 percent visited the ER once or twice. Only 11,763 individuals, or 1.1 percent of the Medicaid population, had six or more ER visits. This small population accounted for some 107,000 ER visits, or about one in five of all visits.

ERusageFY2013Since 2004, the Health Care Authority has operated the High ER utilization project, which identifies and contacts members who have been to the ER more than once in a quarter and provides information about appropriate usage and referrals to care management. The program has a provider education component as well. Since 2007, emergency room usage has declined from an annual average of 0.58 annual visit per member to 0.53 annual visits per member. Although we should be careful about making direct comparisons because of differences in demographic make-up and data sources, ER utilization for Medicaid recipients appears comparable to the overall population. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Oklahomans had 488 ER visits per 1,000 people in 2011; OHCA data suggests that Medicaid recipients made 550 visits per 1,000 people in fiscal year 2011.

It’s also not apparent that ER visits are a major expense in the Medicaid program. In fiscal year 2013, total emergency department costs, including facility and professional claims, were $141.0 million, which represents less than 3 percent of total SoonerCare expenditures of $4.97 billion (with ancillary services, the total cost was $178.3 million, or 3.6 percent of total expenditures). The average cost per emergency room visit was $257.31.

The Health Care Authority’s efforts to monitor and prevent inappropriate emergency room usage should certainly be continued. However, the idea that many Medicaid members make unnecessary trips to the ER seems to reflect myths and anecdotes more than reality.

In The Know: Gov. Fallin applied for $3 million Affordable Care Act grant

by | August 21st, 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.

A new report released by Oklahoma Watch reveals that Gov. Fallin applied for a $3 million Affordable Care Act grant designed help states develop innovation and efficiency in health care delivery. The Governor has previously steadfastly refused to consider accepting federal funds to expand health coverage to low-income Oklahomans. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt discusses the release of 31 emails from the Governor’s office concerning with the state’s refusal to expand eligibility, noting that they deal far more with a 2012 blog post written by the right-leaning think tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs than they do with the impact of leaving 150,000 Oklahomans without health care.

NewsOK reports that Oklahoma has one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation, and that its teen birth rate has declined more slowly than most states. Vox discusses the falling teen birth rate nationwide. Oklahoma City Public Schools are considering expanding its partnership with the state Department of Human Services, including placing social workers in high-poverty schools to help connect students and parents with social services. OKCPS Superintendent Rob Neu is challenging local business leaders to play a greater role in funding schools and supporting students. Class started on Tuesday for students in the rebuilt Moore elementary school after the previous building was destroyed by a tornado, killing seven students. Previously, M. Scott Carter of the Journal Record had revealed that the old building had been constructed with code violations, without which it likely would have withstood the tornado. Confusion and glitches with a new enrollment process meant that hundreds of Tulsa Public School students were unable to start school on Wednesday. After struggling with years of lagging student achievement, three Tulsa elementary schools are opening with nearly all-new faculties.

The OK Policy Blog re-examined the novel Kind of Kin, which explores the fallout of immigration politics on a small Oklahoma town. We had recommended the book last summer, but revisited in light of recent immigration issues. The author, Oklahoman Rilla Askew, recently published an essay in This Land Press about growing up near McAlester. Some local officials say that the city of Lawton saw economic benefits from increased activity at Fort Sill when some 1,500 refugee children from Central America were housed there this summer. We’ve debunked some myths about the children at Fort Sill before.

A state senator  who helped write a law a law that took effect in 2013 giving the state Department of Mental Health greater oversight into Narconon Arrowhead expressed dismay over reports that the agency buried the results of an investigation into the facility.  Three Narconon patients have died at the facility since 2011. Al Jazeera America examined an Oklahoma juvenile sex offender program with very high success rates, which the program credits to its emphasis on not treating children like criminals. A Tulsa World editorial questioned why the state has so far refused to release its records of a botched execution in April. In their final debate, Tulsa county district attorney candidates discussed office operations and procedural issues. The state Ethics Commission is considering amending its rules to allow the agency to collect fees for training events and materials.

According to a new study, the state of Oklahoma’s gay marriage ban could be costing the state over $20 million in a three-year period. The state Banking Commission says that it is not planning to add any new legislation. The National Park Service has awarded two Native American tribes in Oklahoma nearly $100,000 in grants to assist in the return of human remains and cultural artifacts. The Number of the Day is the total number of motor vehicles registered in Oklahoma in 2011. In today’s Policy Note, FiveThirtyEight discusses why there aren’t good statistics on the number of Americans killed by the police every year.

continue reading In The Know: Gov. Fallin applied for $3 million Affordable Care Act grant

[Summer Rerun] Read This: “Kind of Kin”

by | August 20th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Immigration | Comments (0)

This post, authored by then-intern Carly Putnam, first ran on our blog on July 25, 2013. It has been updated.

coverIt’s rare to find a novel set in Oklahoma; it’s rarer still to find a novel set in Oklahoma that actually feels like Oklahoma, with all of its quirks, dangers, and beauty. Author Rilla Askew is Oklahoman herself and it shows; Kind of Kin is funny, poignant, and very smart. The novel deftly describes the fallout of immigration politics in a small (but fierce) Oklahoma town. Competing factions of families, faith communities, local politicians, and the migrants themselves struggle to adjust as forces outside their control shape their worlds.

Kind of Kin was inspired by Oklahoma’s HB 1804, signed into law in 2007, which made it a felony to harbor undocumented immigrants (we analyzed HB 1804 here). HB 1804 was considered the nation’s most far-reaching immigration reform law until Arizona passed its own immigration reform in 2010. Although HB 1804 initially created widespread panic in the state’s Latino community, the alarm subsided as its effects proved less disruptive than initially feared.

continue reading [Summer Rerun] Read This: “Kind of Kin”

In The Know: Oklahoma schools begin academic year with more than 800 teacher vacancies

by and | August 20th, 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.

A new survey found Oklahoma public schools are still grappling with more than 800 teaching vacancies for the 2014-15 academic year. With the new school year beginning today, Tulsa Public Schools is still deciding where to send 600 3rd graders after reading testing results.  Oklahoma students taking the ACT exceeded the national average in meeting English and reading benchmarks, but they fell behind in math and science. Gloria Torres has become the first Hispanic woman to serve on the Oklahoma City school board. A new kind of partnership with three proposed charter schools in Tulsa could require a state attorney general’s opinion or change in law. An Oklahoma City substitute teacher shared his experience in an essay for This Land Press.

A federal indictment alleges that a Tulsa gang distributed $10 million worth of cocaine from Mexican cartels, murdered at least one witness, ran a dog-fighting ring and had a vast network of co-conspirators, including a former NFL player. Fifty-two members and associates of the gang were charged with 238 criminal offenses. Despite a decline in overall violent and property crime in Oklahoma over the past two years, the number of reported rapes has soared.  A second woman has joined a lawsuit against an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper accused of rape.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman out-raised GOP incumbent Mary Fallin during the most recent state Ethics Commission filing period. The Oklahoma Democratic Party has asked for an investigation into alleged ethics violations by Gov. Mary Fallin, over her involvement in two public service announcements that began airing in August. An Oklahoma tea party leader convicted of felony blackmail for sending a threatening email to a state lawmaker was sentenced Tuesday to pay a $1,000 fine. The two Democrats still in the race for state schools superintendent took in close to $300,000 each through Aug. 11.

Oklahoma’s Teachers’ Retirement System investments grew 22.4 percent last fiscal year, performing among the top 1 percent in the country. A lawsuit against the state Department of Mental Health alleges that the agency buried an investigation into a drug rehab facility where 3 patients died because they did not want to get involved with litigation involving the Church of Scientology. The Lost Ogle reported that  David Stanley Chrysler Jeep Dodge was hit with a record $350,000 fine for airing deceptive and misleading commercials.

Federal funding has been utilized to open a new health clinic in Afton for low-income patients. Tulsa’s sales-tax returns for July and August came in 1.9 percent over the same period last year and 3.6 percent above budget estimates. While a growing chorus of scientific research has linked Oklahoma’s spike in earthquake activity to oil and gas industry disposal wells, a new study suggests such artificial earthquakes are less intense than naturally occurring ones.

The Number of the Day is the total acres of farmland in Oklahoma, comprising 77% of all land in the state. In today’s Policy Note, Kaiser Health News reports that as more Americans gain insurance under the federal health law, hospitals are rethinking their charity programs, with some scaling back help for those who could have signed up for coverage but didn’t.

continue reading In The Know: Oklahoma schools begin academic year with more than 800 teacher vacancies

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