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However you count it, Oklahoma’s per pupil education funding is way down

by | October 20th, 2016 | Posted in Education | Comments (0)

Oklahoma’s investment in preK-12 education has plummeted in recent years. The state continues to rank worst in the nation for cuts to general school funding, according to a new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan policy research organization based in Washington, D.C.

Oklahoma’s per pupil funding of the state aid formula for public schools has fallen 26.9 percent after inflation between FY 2008 and FY 2017. These continue to be the deepest cuts in the nation, and Oklahoma’s lead is growing. On a percentage basis, we’ve cut nearly twice as much as the next worst state, Alabama.

It’s the third straight year that this report has shown Oklahoma leading the nation in cuts to general school funding, but state lawmakers have still not made any meaningful efforts to reverse the cuts. The report finds that Oklahoma was one of 19 states that continued to cut state aid funding per pupil this year, even as the national economy recovers. Between FY 2016 and FY 2017, Oklahoma cut per pupil aid another 2.9 percent after inflation, the fourth deepest cut in the nation.

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In The Know: Oklahoma Correctional Officer Turnover Rate Nearing 40 Percent

by | October 20th, 2016 | 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.

Today In The News

Oklahoma Correctional Officer Turnover Rate Nearing 40 Percent: Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections says one of its biggest challenges is recruiting and retaining employees. During an interim study Wednesday, Prison Director Joe Allbaugh told lawmakers turnover for the agency is roughly 28 percent. Correctional officers in particular, Allbaugh said, are even harder to retain. Turnover for those positions is approaching 40 percent [KGOU]. The effects of budget cuts on Oklahoma prisons are hidden but dangerous [OK Policy].

Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education hope to avoid another big funding cut: Oklahoma can expect a “flat year at best, which is going to make for another difficult budget session,” Sen. Mike Schulz, R-Altus, told higher education officials Wednesday. Schulz, the Senate’s president pro tem designate, spoke about the funding outlook for the next fiscal year at the request of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Higher education officials are concerned after their budget was cut 16 percent last session [NewsOK]. The link between education levels and state prosperity is clear, which is one reason why this year’s deep education cuts were so troubling [OK Policy].

Workers comp commissioner defies Gov. Fallin’s demand for resignation: A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said she and one of her chief advisors did nothing improper in demanding the resignation of Workers Compensation Commission Chairman Robert Gilliland, despite Gilliland’s claim their actions were “inappropriate and illegal.” Gilliland, in a Sept. 1 letter to Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger that the World obtained through an Open Records Act request, says Doerflinger asked Gilliland to resign on Aug. 29 because of “dissatisfaction with a decision the Commission made in a case. I asked if there were any other reasons and you stated you know of no other reasons for the request to resign.” [Tulsa World]

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Private school tax subsidy blurs the line between charitable gift and money laundering (Guest post: Carl Davis)

by | October 19th, 2016 | Posted in Education, Taxes | Comments (0)

Carl Davis is Research Director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a non-profit, non-partisan research organization that works on federal, state, and local tax policy issues.

When is a charitable contribution not a “donation” at all?  If a taxpayer manages to turn a profit on the deal, has anything altruistic actually occurred?  The clear answer is no.  But a new report from my organization, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, reveals that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not always see it that way, at least with regard to certain state-subsidized “gifts” that Oklahomans are making to private K-12 scholarship funds.

Tax incentives for charitable giving are common in the United States.  More than 30 states, including Oklahoma, allow a write-off for charitable donations. For an Oklahoma taxpayer who claims itemized deductions, this state incentive can reduce the cost of giving by up to 5 percent.

One particular type of giving, however, enjoys a much more generous government subsidy.  In 2011, Oklahoma decided to supercharge its charitable donation incentive for contributions to private K-12 scholarship funds.  Donors who pledge to contribute for two consecutive years now receive a tax credit equal to 75 percent of the amount donated.  When combined with the state’s ordinary charitable deduction (a practice prohibited in most states with these types of credits, but allowed in Oklahoma), the end result is a program that reimburses donors for up to 80 percent of their contribution. That incentive is 16 times more generous than the 5 percent match the state offers on gifts to churches, food pantries, and other charities.

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In The Know: U.S. high school graduation rate reaches new high while Oklahoma rate declines

by | October 19th, 2016 | Posted in In The Know | Comments (1)

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.

Today In The News

U.S. high school graduation rate reaches new high while Oklahoma rate declines: The U.S. high school graduation rate reached a record high of 83.2 percent last school year, rising from 79 percent four years earlier, the White House announced Monday. In Oklahoma, Tulsa Public Schools has been bucking a statewide trend of declining graduation rates. While the national rate has risen annually over the past several years, Oklahoma’s rate has dipped each year since the 2012-13 school year — the earliest year with state data available since all the states began using a consistent, four-year adjusted measure of high school completion, according to the White House release [Tulsa World].

One-time stipends approved for Oklahoma corrections workers: Thousands of Oklahoma corrections employees could be getting one-time stipends of nearly $1,800 as soon as next month. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections approved the payments at its monthly meeting Tuesday. The money will come from the $10-plus million the agency received in September after a state revenue failure earlier this year. Under the adopted plan, each employee who has been with the agency for at least six months will receive $1,750 [NewsOK].

Audit critical of Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel: A special investigative audit of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office found repeated examples of financial wrongdoing and actions taken without approval of county commissioners. State Auditor Gary Jones released the 32-page report Tuesday morning. The audit specifically criticizes Sheriff John Whetsel, saying his decision not to pay the jail’s medical bills for months in 2015 could cost county property owners $3.3 million [NewsOK].

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Judges on the Ballot in Oklahoma: What you need to know

by | October 18th, 2016 | Posted in Elections | Comments (5)
Photo by julochka / CC BY-NC 2.0

Photo by julochka / CC BY-NC 2.0

The original version of this post was authored by past OK Policy intern Forrest Farjadian. It was updated for 2016 by OK Policy intern Chelsea Fiedler.

Oklahoma is one of 39 states where voters have a role in selecting judges. On November 8, Oklahoma voters will decide whether to retain two Supreme Court justices, two Court of Criminal Appeals judges and three Court of Civil Appeals judges. Judicial elections usually don’t attract as much publicity as other races, so we’re taking a look at how judges are chosen, what’s at stake in the elections, and how you can learn about the candidates.

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In The Know: Eight school districts win lawsuit against Oklahoma Tax Commission; outcome to affect hundreds of districts

by | October 18th, 2016 | 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.

Today In The News

Eight school districts win lawsuit against Oklahoma Tax Commission; outcome to affect hundreds of districts: An Oklahoma County judge has sided with eight school districts who sued the Oklahoma Tax Commission over the new way it has been distributing motor vehicle tax collections. A June lawsuit by Sand Springs, Muskogee and six other school districts claimed that the Tax Commission had misinterpreted a new law and beginning July 1, 2015, incorrectly distributed more than $14 million of motor vehicle collections from across the state among Oklahoma’s 419 independent school districts [Tulsa World].

How Voters Are Leaning on State Questions, and Why: Bill Shapard of SoonerPoll talks with Oklahoma Watch’s Brad Gibson about which of the seven state questions on the Nov. 8 ballot are leading, which are behind and which are hard to predict – and the reasons behind the trends [Oklahoma Watch]. Read our guide to the 2016 State Questions here.

How did your Oklahoma legislator vote? In the midst of a budget crisis across Oklahoma, all eyes were on the Legislature to find a solution to the $1.3 billion shortfall. Between the stress of state budget cuts and a series of controversial bills, Oklahoma lawmakers were heavily criticized last session. In fact, their decisions made national headlines. ‘Oklahoma Makes the Poor Poorer‘ was the headline of an editorial in the New York Times in May [KFOR].

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In The Know: Poll shows deep political frustration among teachers

by | October 17th, 2016 | 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.

Today In The News

Poll shows deep political frustration among teachers: A vast majority of public school teachers across the state have an unfavorable opinion of the state Legislature — 81 percent, according to SoonerPoll — which has some teachers seeing similarities between this year and 2014. “Before that election, I don’t think a lot of teachers were as engaged in the political process,” Jacob Rosecrants, an Oklahoma City teacher, said about a wave of frustration teachers had for then-state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi in 2014. Public school teachers across the state are projected to make up around 4.5 percent of the total electorate on Nov. 8, according to an analysis by SoonerPoll that compared registered voter lists with a list of certified teachers [NewsOK].

Amid Oklahoma Budget Cuts, Students Join Protests: Since 2008, the Oklahoma legislature has cut almost a quarter out of its per-pupil education spending. It’s the largest drop in the nation and has resulted in teacher layoffs, overcrowded classrooms, and a reduction in class offerings. We’ve written extensively about how the budget cuts have roiled state politics there, culminating this year in a ballot measure to raise the state’s sales tax and more than 40 teachers running for state office. Cassidy Coffey, a student at U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City, used social media to organize over a thousand students to walk out of school on May 16, 2016. In this video she tells us her story [Education Week].

After ho-hum year for state political contests, 2018 will be “transformational”: Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb will run for governor in 2018 and be the heavy favorite. Attorney General Scott Pruitt will either run against Lamb or try again for a seat in Congress. And a long list of current and would-be officeholders will try to replace Lamb and Pruitt. Those are the predictions of Oklahoma political experts polled by The Oklahoman with the promise of anonymity. A dozen elected officials, consultants and other campaign veterans — people who have run and won political races in Oklahoma — were asked to name the most likely candidates for the state’s highest offices two years from now [NewsOK].

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The Weekly Wonk: SNAP works, foster care, efficient health care, and more

by | October 16th, 2016 | 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

This week on the OK Policy blog, Policy Director Gene Perry highlighted a new report showing that SNAP works to feed Oklahoma children. Summer Intern Tara Grigson suggested that Oklahoma is relying overmuch on foster care to prevent child abuse and neglect. Policy Analyst Carly Putnam argued that Oklahoma has an efficient way to make health care more accessible – if lawmakers would choose to fund it.

In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis wrote that in the last weeks before Election Day, many candidates are running blind. Executive Director David Blatt’s Journal Record column noted that the Governor’s proclamation of Oilfield Prayer Day was an entanglement of government and religion that may become more common if SQ790 passes.

OK Policy in the News

The Woodward News cited OK Policy data in a discussion of food insecurity in northwest Oklahoma. KJRH quoted the OK Policy State Question Guide in their primers on SQ790 (religion and public resources), SQ776 (constitutionality of the death penalty), SQ777 (“Right to Farm”), and SQ792 (alcohol modernization). Our fact sheets about those State Questions, and more, can be found here.

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In last few weeks before election day, most candidates are running blind (Capitol Updates)

by | October 14th, 2016 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Elections | Comments (0)

blindfolded manSteve 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.

Just 24 days until November 8th, election day. That’s the day every candidate running for office — from President of the United States to local office — is looking for. Most candidates don’t know for sure whether they’re winning or losing. Some, usually incumbents, have a good feel for where they stand because they’ve been there before. They’ve learned how to gauge the response they’re getting from voters, and they can evaluate whether their challenger is running a good campaign. But they don’t know for sure.

And candidates never know what’s going to hit them between now and election day that could change the race. The last few weeks of a campaign can bring anything from the spreading of false rumors to your opponent unexpectedly going up on television with a blockbuster new message. If your opponent thinks he is losing, he may dig up something from your past that you won’t have time or money to explain. Campaigns can get nasty toward the end. No one likes to lose, and some will throw anything they can at you to see if it sticks.

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In The Know: Uncertainty Surrounds Right-to-Farm Even In States That Adopted It Years Ago

by | October 14th, 2016 | 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.

This post previously misstated the percentage of likely voters polled who supported SQ777. It has been corrected. 

Today In The News

Uncertainty Surrounds Right-to-Farm Even In States That Adopted It Years Ago: Oklahoma could become the third state to add a “right-to-farm” amendment to its constitution if voters approve State Question 777 this November. Voters in North Dakota and Missouri already adopted such a measure, but, the effects remain unclear there, even years after passage. North Dakota was the right-to-farm guinea pig. It was the first state to elevate farming and ranching to a constitutional right. And the 2012 vote there wasn’t even close: The measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin [StateImpact Oklahoma]. A poll found that 49 percent of likely voters support 777 while 36 percent are opposed. And 15 percent of Oklahoma voters remain undecided [NewsOn6]. OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ777 is available here.

New Study Evaluates The Impact State Question 779 Could Have On Cities: The state question that proposes raising Oklahoma’s sales tax one percent to pay for $5,000 raises for teachers could cause issues for city governments that also rely on sales taxes to pay for streets, fire stations, and other municipal projects. Two University of Oklahoma economists – Cynthia Rogers and Gregory Burge – looked to past sales tax increases to see how municipalities were affected [KGOU]. OK Policy’s fact sheet on SQ779 is available here. Our statement on SQ779 can be found here.

State Question 779 is a needed first step for Oklahoma: Last year at the state Capitol, it was hard to find an elected official who was against raising teacher pay. Equally hard was finding someone who had a plan to accomplish this task. Oscar Levant had a description for inaction when he joked, “Once I make up my mind, I’m full of indecision.” Indecision by our state leaders has led us to State Question 779 [Ed Allen / NewsOK].

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