Three trends to watch from Oklahoma’s Annual Report

by | March 17th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (0)

Every year Oklahoma compiles a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which details where the state’s money came from and how it was spent. The CAFR provides a big picture view of everything our state government is doing. Here are three trends that stand out from the most recent report:

Oklahoma’s reliance on federal funds has dropped significantly

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State Treasurer Ken Miller created a stir last month when he reported that Oklahoma had the 7th highest reliance on federal funds in the nation, with 43 cents out of every dollar spent by Oklahoma coming from the federal government. However, an important fact to note is that Treasurer Miller was citing numbers from 2011. In that year and in 2010, states saw a big boost in federal funding due to stimulus relief efforts.

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In The Know: Oklahoma higher education leaders hope to avoid budget cut

by and | March 17th, 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 higher education leaders are optimistic they can avoid the cut in state funding that Governor Mary Fallin proposed in her fiscal year 2015 budget. OU President David Boren said Oklahoma can avoid cutting higher education by postponing tax cuts and reducing a tax break for horizontal drilling.

Northeast Oklahoma business and education leaders held a conference to discuss the importance of public education for strengthening Oklahoma’s workforce. Oklahoma’s median wages lag well behind the national average and lower than all but 10 other states. With few exceptions, the states where workers earn the highest wages are the states with the most college graduates.

A DHS child welfare worker and her supervisor have been charged with criminal wrongdoing related to the death of a special-needs teenager in Oklahoma City. Both are accused of failing to properly investigate concerns that he was being neglected. The State Department of Education said repealing Common Core educational standards in Oklahoma would cause the state to lose a federal waiver that provides leeway on the use of Title I Funds. The House has voted to repeal Common Core standards, but repeal has not been heard in the Senate.

Superintendent Barresi defended the number of tests students take, claiming they take up less than 1 percent of instruction time. The okeducationtruths blog shared educators’ responses to Barresi’s claims. The Barresi campaign has made an open records request for all communications records between Jenks Public Schools employees and Republican primary challenger Joy Hofmeister. All four of Hofmeister’s children attended Jenks, and she has been a member of the board of the Jenks Public Schools Foundation.

The OK Policy Blog shared an OETA report on the minimum wage debate in Oklahoma. President Obama has proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years, and 21 states already have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum of $7.25. An Oklahoma City group seeking a municipal vote to do away with jail time for possession of marijuana said they were on pace to surpass their goal for signatures.

Reflecting a trend across the nation, Tulsa County jurors are increasingly reluctant to call for the death penalty. Out of nine defendants that prosecutors sought the death penalty for since 2007, juries came back with the death penalty only once. Tulsa World editor Julie Delcour discussed how a growing number of Oklahomans are struggling to care for aging family members without training.

The Number of the Day is the unemployment rate for Hispanic Oklahomans, the 2nd lowest among the states. In today’s Policy Note, The Atlantic examines the challenges of being the first person in your family to go to college.

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Weekly Wonk March 16, 2014

by | March 16th, 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.

On the OK Policy blog, we examined proposed revisions the third-grade reading retention law.  We’ve written about the law before. We shared the story of a Norman insurance agent who works to educate people about the opportunities available to them because of theAffordable Care Act.

A new fact sheet provided an overview of prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma. A previous blog post described why Oklahoma’s biggest drug problem probably isn’t what you think. 

In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt suggested alternate income tax triggers. A joint op-ed by Policy Director Gene Perry and Liz McNichol from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities advocated for more responsible state budget planning. Perry was also interviewed about raising Oklahoma’s minimum wage. Oklahoma Assets Network coordinate Kate Richey was featured in an OETA segment on financial insecurity in Oklahoma. Richey has written about the topic before

Number of the Day

  • 14.5 - The infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births for African-Americans in Oklahoma, more than twice the rate for white Oklahomans (6.5).
  • 23 percent - Percentage of Oklahoma high school students who meet all four ACT benchmarks (math, reading, science, English) for college readiness, compared to a 26% national average.
  • 32,882 - Number of Oklahomans who have selected plans on on the Affordable Care Act marketplace as of March 1, 2014.
  • 90 percent - Percentage of adult members surveyed who considered themselves satisfied with SoonerCare customer services. SoonerCare is Oklahoma’s Medicaid program.
  • 50 percent - The staffing levels at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, a minimum-security prison where a staff member was taken hostage at knifepoint. The facility is authorized to employ 196 officers, but it has only 98 on staff.

Policy Notes

Watch This: Should Oklahoma increase the minimum wage?

by | March 14th, 2014 | Posted in Watch This | Comments (0)

President Obama has proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years, and 21 states already have higher minimum wages than the federal minimum of $7.25. In this segments of the Oklahoma News Report, OETA examines what would be the effects of increasing the minimum wage in Oklahoma.

University of Tulsa professor Scott Carter, who is interviewed in the video, also recently wrote an op-ed in the Tulsa World explaining why increasing the minimum wage is sound economics.

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In The Know: Senate passes pilot project for Medicaid privatization

by and | March 14th, 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 the state Senate narrowly passed a bill (SB 1495) that would privatize Medicaid in a pilot project at a yet-to-be-determined location in the state. The House approved sending to a vote of the people a $120 million bond issue to repair the state Capitol. The House also called for a statewide vote to allow Oklahoma school districts to hold their own bond issue votes for safety upgrades such as safe rooms and storm shelters (HJR 1092). Oklahoma Policy Institute published a new fact sheet about prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma.

A staff member at a Lexington minimum-security prison was taken hostage at knifepoint by a prisoner. The House voted down a bill (HB 2732) that would allow prison inmates to begin earning credits for good behavior earlier in their sentences. The bill had the backing of Gov. Mary Fallin, the state District Attorneys’ Council, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, several private prisons, and Oklahoma corrections officers, but it was defeated after a lawmaker warned that votes for the bill would be seen as being “soft on crime.” In an editorial, The Oklahoman suggested that the recent annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) showed that conservatives are embracing criminal justice reform.

The House approved a resolution asking for a public vote on whether the state legislature should devote every other session only to budget issues. The Senate passed a bill that would ban using a cell phone while driving in a school zone. Regulators are adopting new rules for oil and gas wastewater disposal wells in earthquake-prone central Oklahoma. Politicians and landowners are clashing over wind energy regulations as the industry expands into eastern Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is the staffing levels at an Oklahoma correctional facility where an employee was briefly taken hostage. In today’s Policy Note, the Economix blog suggests ways in which the US could trim down health care spending.

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Prescription Drug Abuse in Oklahoma

sources-of-medicationPrescription drug abuse is a public health crisis in Oklahoma, contributing to over eight hundred deaths in 2012. In our new fact sheet on the topic, we provide a quick overview of the issue, dispel a few myths, and suggest policy reforms going forward.

Some highlights:

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In The Know: House bill would create ‘off the top’ education funding

by and | March 13th, 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 a bill designed to provide schools with millions of dollars in extra “off the top” funding was approved by the House. If General Revenues increase 1 percent, schools would receive $57.5 million in automatic funding, which would increase by the same amount each triggered year until reaching $575 million annually. The budget situation could get complicated with a growing number of automatic spending and tax cut measures triggered by small increases in revenue. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed the trigger-happy Legislature.

The House voted to repeal Common Core education standards in Oklahoma, but Common Core bills did not get a hearing in the Senate. The House approved a resolution that would send to a vote of the people whether to call a constitutional convention to consider possible changes to Oklahoma’s Constitution. The Senate approved a State Question that would freeze property taxes for all Oklahoma seniors, regardless of income. Property taxes are already frozen for seniors making less than the median income of their county.

On the OK Policy Blog, we look at two bills (HB 2625, HB 2773) that would provide more leeway for parents and educators to decide whether to retain third-grade students who don’t pass a reading test. Tulsa Public Schools reported significant progress for students using a streamlined remedial reading program. The Jenks and Owasso school districts were exempted this year from field tests, which are practice tests used by the testing company to try out new questions, after parents in those districts began opting their kids out of tests.

Only 3.5 percent of the 700,000 uninsured Oklahomans have enrolled on the Affordable Care Act marketplace so far. The deadline for open enrollment is March 31. About 150,000 Oklahomans are blocked from affordable insurance because the state has not accepted federal funds to expand coverage. The Senate approved a bill allowing Oklahoma veterans to be provided with free oxygen treatment for traumatic brain injury. The Senate also voted to impose strict new regulations and requirements for abortion providers. Rep. Anastasia Pittman wrote in NewsOK that Oklahoman needs to do more to expand telemedicine access for urban and minority populations.

The Senate approved a bill (SB 1278) to create a new fund that pays nonprofits for successful prison diversion programs. The Senate also voted to put a moratorium on new wind farms in the eastern half of the state. A consumer alert issued by Attorney General Scott Pruitt against the Humane Society is coinciding with an ad campaign attacking the Humane Society sponsored by an anti-regulation advocacy group. Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus spoke in Tulsa about mounting evidence of global climate change.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of adult members surveyed who considered themselves satisfied with SoonerCare customer services. SoonerCare is Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. In today’s Policy Note, The New Republic explains why enrollment on the Affordable Care Act exchanges has not slowed down, contrary to media reports. The apparent slowdown comes from comparing a 35 day period to a 28 day period.

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Revising the third-grade reading retention law

by | March 12th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (0)

test_stressIn 2011, the Oklahoma legislature approved major amendments to the Reading Sufficiency Act, a law originally enacted in 1997 to improve Oklahoma children’s reading skills. As of this year, the law requires third-grade students who score “unsatisfactory” on a state standardized reading test known as the OCCT to be retained in third grade, unless they meet limited criteria for an exemption. Schools would have no discretion or choice about retaining students with an unsatisfactory test score who do not qualify for one of the legislatively-defined exemptions.

The legislature is now considering two measures – HB 2625 and HB 2773 – that mark a significant change of direction from the mandatory retention approach in current law. Under HB 2625, authored by Rep. Katie Henke (R-Tulsa), a team composed of a parent, teacher, principal, and certified reading specialist would determine whether a child who tests unsatisfactory would be retained or promoted to fourth grade, based on “the best option for the student.” HB 2773, by Rep. Jadine Nollan (R-Sand Springs), would create a district-level appeals process for students who are retained in third grade. HB 2625 passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 84-6, while HB 2773 has passed out of committee and is awaiting action by the full House.

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In The Know: 33,000 Oklahomans choose plans on ACA marketplace

by and | March 12th, 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 nearly 33,000 people in Oklahoma have chosen health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. The deadline for open enrollment in insurance plans is March 31. A Norman insurance agent said he is fighting an uphill battle to inform Oklahomans of how they can benefit from the law.

With the deadline coming tomorrow for bills to make it through their originating chamber, the House and Senate approved a flurry of legislation. The House unanimously approved a bill to centralize authority over salary structures for state employees under the Office of Management and Enterprise Services. Lawmakers said the bill is designed to make state employee salaries more competitive with the private market, but it does not identify where funds for raises will come from. The bill also reduces the annual sick leave allowed for state workers. The House also voted 57-42 to eliminate pensions for all new state workers and instead offer a 401(k) style retirement fund.

The House voted to create a tax credit for builders of low- and moderate-income housing in rural areas. The Senate voted to reduce the age limit and education requirements needed to become a state trooper. The Senate also approved a bill calling for state trooper raises of about 20 percent. The Senate voted 36-1 to make looting a felony, with a penalty of 2 to 7 years in prison.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has upheld a plan to convert the state workers’ compensation insurance agency into a mutual company. Tulsa County Officials are getting the word out about an upcoming special election to fund more than $50 million in improvements to overcrowded jails.

Two more candidates have launched campaigns for the US House seat being vacated by James Lankford. State Rep. Mike Turner of Edmond and Harvey Sparks, a former staff member for U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, have declared they will run. Oklahoma Watch shared videos from a forum on K-12 education with the OKC and Tulsa superintendents.

Governor Fallin told Stillwater residents that Oklahoma scientists need to determine if there is a correlation between earthquake activity and oil and natural gas drilling before she would consider a ban on fracking or injection drilling. She said the state has put together a team comprised of the Oklahoma Geological Survey and energy-related business to examine the issue. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey have found that injection wells are triggering earthquakes in Oklahoma, including what may be the largest human-caused earthquake associated with wastewater injection.

The Number of the Day is how many Oklahomans have selected plans on on the Affordable Care Act marketplace as of March 1, 2014. In today’s Policy Note, a scientific poll of small business owners found that 57 percent support raising the minimum wage. A majority said they believe a minimum wage increase will boost consumer demand, helping them grow and hire.

continue reading In The Know: 33,000 Oklahomans choose plans on ACA marketplace

Health coverage enrollment hits home stretch

by | March 11th, 2014 | Posted in Healthcare | Comments (0)

health-insurance Tyler LaReau is an independent insurance agent in Norman. He’s a fan of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — he likes what it does for people. “I put my political beliefs aside,” he said. “I don’t care. It’s the law of the land, and let’s see how many people we can help.”  

I asked Tyler what he thought the biggest obstacle was to enrollment. He didn’t hesitate: “Education. We’re fighting an uphill battle… We don’t have many people that, once we explain it to them, don’t think this is a good thing.”

A recent report suggests most American adults are unaware of most of the ACA’s main provisions; only between forty and sixty percent of respondents know, for example, that the ACA eliminates discrimination against people with preexisting conditions by insurance companies. But when Oklahomans with preexisting conditions visit Tyler’s office and find out that they can’t be charged more or discriminated against, “they’re ecstatic that they can’t be turned away.”

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