In 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.
Today you should know that a public records request sheds light on the influence of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation and its corporate backers on Oklahoma’s education policies. Another public records request of e-mails from Insurance Commissioner John Doak’s office shows that Doak returned money meant to implement the Affordable Care Act following pressure from insurance brokers worried that exchanges would cost consumers less and make them obsolete. Three months after being asked to turn over emails related to her decision to reject tens of millions of federal health care dollars, Gov. Mary Fallin has yet to produce a single document. The Governor has signaled that she may invoke “executive privilege” to withhold some documents, even though this right does not exist in Oklahoma law.
The Muskogee Phoenix reports that the income tax cut proposed by Gov. Mary Fallin won’t mean much to the bottom line of typical Oklahomans. NewsOK writes that Gov. Fallin’s proposed budget does not fund the criminal justice reforms passed last year. okeducationtruths writes that Gov. Fallin’s budget does not fund major education reforms that directly impact students. NewsOK criticized the Governor for calling for more studies of problems rather than investing in fixing them.
A report by the State Chamber finds that Oklahoma continues to lag behind other states in the areas of workers’ compensation, education and health care. Schools and municipalities are working to minimize fuel costs as gas prices rise. The Professional Oklahoma Educators Foundation is promoting the value of smaller schools in “We Are Rural,” a documentary on school consolidation in Oklahoma. The executive director of Stand for Children Oklahoma has a NewsOK op-ed outlining the mission of the new organization.
Superintendent Janet Barresi defended the A-F school grading system and addressed school safety Friday in a community forum at Norman North High School. Oklahoma DHS workers say the state’s new welfare drug testing law limits their ability to help people find jobs and better opportunities. The Number of the Day is the additional amount budgeted to the Department of Corrections by the Governor for FY 2014. In today’s Policy Note, a Center for American Progress report shows that immigrants are a net positive for the economy and pay more into the system than they take out.
In The News
State education influenced by corporations
A new report sheds light on the influence of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation and its corporate backers on Oklahoma’s education leaders and latest policies. Through public records requests, a Washington, D.C.,-based advocacy group released a report called “In the Public Interest” that shows the Foundation for Excellence in Education is writing and editing education laws and regulations in six states in ways that could benefit its private funders. The group contends the arrangement is essentially a “pay-to-play” scheme in which corporations can influence policy and then reap the profits.
Emails show Oklahoma officials’ decision-making process on health care law
A 2011 decision by Oklahoma’s insurance commissioner to return a federal health care grant came just days after a prominent conservative encouraged state officials to reconsider their approach to Obamacare. Insurance Commissioner John Doak announced he would return $1 million in federal funds barely a week after Barry Goldwater Jr., board member at the Goldwater Institute, proposed in an email that the state return all money associated with the new law. Doak also received emails from insurance providers who complained an exchange could impact their bottom line. “Buying direct via an Exchange will cost the consumer less than through an agent or broker,” Tim Hendricks, owner of Tulsa-based insurance company Business Planning Group, wrote. “Unless Comm. Doak and our friends in the State Legislature can design a state Exchange that requires accessing broker services before an applicant can purchase health insurance, our profession is doomed.”
Governor Mary Fallin’s office yet to produce records on Affordable Care Act rejection
Three months after being asked to turn over emails related to her decision to reject tens of millions of federal health care dollars, Gov. Mary Fallin has yet to produce a single document. And she offered no timetable last week on when any might be expected. Personal notes made by policymakers during policy meetings or emails that pertain to actual litigation can be considered closed records under the act. But in an interview last week, Fallin said she may invoke “executive privilege” to withhold some documents developed during policy deliberations. Government transparency advocates have said if Fallin does invoke executive privilege she would be redefining state law and stripping the public and media organizations of rights secured under the Open Records Act for almost 30 years.
Taxpayers hesitant over proposed tax cut
To the typical Oklahoman, an income tax cut proposed by Gov. Mary Fallin and embraced by legislators won’t mean much to the bottom line. If enacted as the governor set forth in her State of the State address last week, the average taxpayer would save about $80 a year, according to the state’s revenue office. That’s a little over $6 a month — enough for 1½ gallons of gas, or 2 gallons of milk, or most of Netflix subscription. “I guess it could buy me another coffee,” Niki Palmer said with a laugh one morning at Coffee Slingers in downtown Oklahoma City. At her income, Palmer, the 26-year-old airman at Tinker Air Force Base would get back less than the average per year: $14, or as she put it, three coffees.
Fallin’s budget shorts corrections reforms
Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed budget does not fully fund key reforms passed last year in a highly touted criminal justice bill. “There are some items in the Justice Reinvestment bill that it does not appear to cover,” said Justin Jones, Department of Corrections director. Fallin released her executive budget on Monday. It called for a corrections budget of $464.7 million, which included a .2 percent – or $1 million increase – for the agency. The agency sought a budget increase of nearly $67 million and a supplemental appropriation of nearly $6.4 million to pay for legislatively mandated increases to private contractors, such as private prisons, and for offender growth, among other things.
A disappointing budget request
Governor Fallin proposed a budget for the state this week. It included supplemental funding for education, as well as a slight increase for education for Fiscal Year 2014. Unfortunately, her proposals neither come close to what Superintendent Barresi has requested nor what is actually needed. School districts are operating under mandates that have not been funded. Some of these mandates – ACE (high school graduation) and RSA (3rd grade retention) directly affect students. Failing to fund these programs is a huge mistake.
Not sure what to do? Commission a study
Gov. Mary Fallin wants to restore the Capitol building. But first, a study. This may not end well. The bookshelves within Capitol offices are filled with studies that were supposed to show lawmakers how to solve one problem or another, but instead wound up being ignored in part or in whole. The most recent high-profile example was the 2007 study of Oklahoma’s correctional system. It cost nearly $1 million, was chock full of recommendations for reducing costs, was received with great fanfare by those who commissioned it — then was essentially abandoned. But hey, they studied the problem! In her budget for fiscal year 2014, Fallin includes $2 million to study what work needs to be done on the Capitol. The idea is that the study will lay out precisely what requires fixing and precisely how much it will cost to make those repairs and renovations. That sounds good in theory, but what the study won’t provide is a way to pay for those repairs.
Report details Oklahoma positives, negatives
Oklahoma continues to lag behind other states in the areas of workers’ compensation, education and health care, according to a new report. The recently-released 2013 Accountability for a Competitive Economic (ACE) book, published by the State Chamber Research Foundation, is a snapshot of Oklahoma’s business climate compared to that of other states. It examined business climate and competitiveness, economic development, innovation and technology, workforce development and infrastructure. Positives include Oklahoma’s low unemployment rate, its No. 1 ranking among the states in cost of living and its No. 4 ranking in the cost of doing business, according to the 2013 ACE book.
City, schools work to minimize motor fuel costs
Second only to depreciation, fuel is the second-largest public sector fleet expense. With gasoline prices remaining above $3 a gallon, organizations like the City of Edmond, Edmond Public Schools and the University of Central Oklahoma are working hard to keep costs down. On Friday, the national average price for a gallon of regular was $3.567, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report. A gallon of diesel was $4.019. Edmond Public Schools Associate Superintendent for General Administration Bret Towne said during the 2011-12 fiscal year the district used 217,195 gallons of diesel and 52,785 gallons of unleaded. The budget was $791,000 and the district spent $827,920.
Film, legislators tout smaller schools
The Professional Oklahoma Educators Foundation (POEF) held an event in Woodward on Thursday, Feb. 7 to showcase their recent film “We Are Rural,” a documentary covering the topic of school consolidation in Oklahoma. One audience member questioned a reference during the film in which some interviewees in favor of school consolidation suggested Oklahoma follow Florida’s method of school consolidation. In Florida, school districts have been consolidated by county, meaning that each county is one school district with one overall administration system for all schools in a county. The audience member asked the discussion panel what they knew about the effects of Florida’s consolidation. Tinney said that in order to see the effects, one needs to look at the end product and ask does consolidation result in an enrichment in the school system. She said that means looking at Florida’s graduation rate, which is one of the lowest in the nation, to see the end results.
Child advocate: Stand up for Oklahoma’s schools
In 1996, hundreds of thousands of advocates from across the country rallied in Washington, D.C., to bring attention to the importance of ensuring that every child, regardless of background, graduates from high school, prepared for and with access to a college education. Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks stood before of the crowd and offered these inspiring words: “If I can sit down for justice, you can stand up for children!” The result of that rally was the birth of Stand for Children, an organization that now operates in 11 states, including Oklahoma. It also sparked a national movement for education reform to ensure a promise — one rooted in the belief that a quality education is the foundation upon which our childrens’ dreams rest and upon which Oklahoma’s future economic viability is built. It’s also a promise that our organization is committed to Oklahoma classrooms, making certain that for every child, education will be the key that unlocks a lifetime of limitless possibilities.
Janet Barresi addresses new grading system, school safety in Norman forum
State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi defended the A-F school grading system and addressed school safety Friday in a community forum at Norman North High School as part of a tour of the Norman School District. The school report cards based on an A-F grading system are meant to be helpful, not punitive, Barresi said. The system indicates that schools with a greater population of lower-income children do not fare as well as other schools, Barresi said, but the intention is not to shame or punish them. “Do we want to hide our children of poverty? I believe the only way out of poverty is education,” she said. “If it points out poverty, we need to talk about what we can do for children of poverty. You can’t do that by hiding them.”
Welfare drug testing law limits how officials can help others, some say
After she’s spent almost 40 years at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, you might expect Linda Hughes to be burned out. Ask Hughes if she likes her job and she’ll tell you why she loves it. But ask Hughes about a recent law that changed Oklahoma’s welfare program and her tone might change. House Bill 2388, which passed during last year’s session, blocks people from qualifying for welfare money if they test positive for drugs. Hughes, a program manager for the welfare program, said the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program is set up to help people find jobs, technology education, or other opportunities to better themselves. But the new lawlimits that, she said.
Quote of the Day
I guess it could buy me another coffee.
-Niki Palmer, an airman at Tinker Air Force Base, on what she would get from the tax cut proposed by Governor Fallin
Number of the Day
Additional amount budgeted to the Department of Corrections by the Governor for FY 2014 – $59 million short of what the department asked for to address critical staffing shortages and overcapacity
Source: OK Policy
Immigrants are makers, not takers
With immigration reform heating up in Congress and the White House putting its muscle behind legislative action, immigration opponents are already campaigning against common-sense reforms. Their current line of attack is an unsubstantiated claim that legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States will be too costly for our nation. Playing to ignorant prejudice, these groups falsely suggest that immigrants are “takers”—people who use more public benefits than other groups—and that as a result, legalization would cost the United States trillions of dollars. Mainstream economists have thoroughly debunked this general stereotype of immigrants as takers, finding that immigrants are a net positive for the economy and pay more into the system than they take out.
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