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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zebre.
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Today you should know National Association of State Boards of Education sent a letter to Governor Fallin arguing that the bill to repeal Common Core standards in Oklahoma violates the state constitution. By requiring any new education standards to be approved by the legislature, they say it violates the separation of powers that should go to the state Board of Education. Oklahoma educators expressed concern that starting the standards process over again would create chaos in schools.
The Oklahoman editorial board pointed out that a plan to schedule off the top funding increases for education based on a revenue trigger would have contradicted a tax cut based on revenue triggers, with no clear way to decide which takes priority. The education funding bill did not ultimately make it through the Legislature. Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill that overhauls the pension system for most new state workers. OK Policy previously explained how this change could endanger existing pensions and increase Oklahoma’s unfunded liabilities.
The Panola School District in southeast Oklahoma may shut down if it can’t find a way to close a $256,000 budget shortfall by the end of June. Educators from all over the state say the writing test scores coming back from the CTB/McGraw-Hill testing vendor appear to be full of flaws. A new petition drive will kick off Wednesday for a state question to fund storm shelters in all Oklahoma schools. On June 4 in Tulsa and June 5 in Oklahoma City, the Red Dirt Rangers are hosting a release party for a single and music video produced by more than fifty Oklahoma musicians to raise awareness of Oklahoma’s dire health statistics and opportunities to gain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved next year’s funding levels for Oklahoma college and universities that are largely unchanged from this year. Six universities across the state are aligning their coursework to make it easier for students to transfer between them while pursuing a degree. One month after a botched execution drew international attention, few public records have been released by the state and the Board of Corrections is preparing to discuss the matter in secret for a second time. In the weeks leading up to a botched execution, an Oklahoma assistant attorney general referred to defense attorneys’ warnings that the execution could go awry as “hysterical speculation,” records released to the Tulsa World show.
A campaign that seeks to house Oklahoma City’s chronically homeless population is showing results, with the city’s chronically homeless falling from 376 people last year to 260 this year. Vox previously discussed why it’s cheaper to give the homeless housing than to leave them on the streets. A new report ranks Oklahoma 47th in the nation for senior health, with low-income seniors reporting especially poor health. Garvin County in south-central Oklahoma is set to become the first public agency in the state to purchase a drone for firefighting and other emergency situations. An oil company seeking to build a disposal well in earthquake-prone Logan County was awarded a permit after agreeing to record additional pressure and volume measurements.
In The News
Group: Common Core Repeal Faces State Constitution Concerns
Three states are on the verge of dropping the controversial Common Core State Standards after lawmakers passed bills to repeal the academic benchmarks. But in at least one, a national education group is arguing that the manner in which the standards would be replaced could violate the state’s constitution. The National Association of State Boards of Education this week sent a letter to Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin – who has until June 7 to sign a bill to repeal Common Core – saying the problem isn’t the legislature’s desire to drop the standards, but rather that a portion of the bill repealing them would violate the state board of education’s constitutional authority as well as the separation of powers within state government.
See also: Gov. Fallin considers whether to scrap Common Core from the Tulsa World
Little planning evident in counteracting budget provisions
Lawmakers are often accused of voting for legislation without reading it. We almost hope that was the case regarding two bills dealing with tax cuts and school funding this year. If legislators actually read those bills, it means they were deliberately trying to pass counteracting laws designed to prevent at least one, if not both, measures from actually taking effect. Senate Bill 1246 cut Oklahoma’s top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.85 percent in two installments. House Bill 2642 would have earmarked money for schools, taking funds “off the top” before tax collections were deposited into the state’s general revenue fund. Here’s the problem: Both bills relied on triggers whose implementation could ensure enactment of one law delayed enactment of the other.
Gov. Mary Fallin signs bill changing pension program for most future Oklahoma state workers
Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill Friday that moves most future state workers away from a traditional pension plan where retirees get a fixed amount of money every month to a 401(k)-style plan in which the state contributes to employees’ savings. The law does not cover teachers or employees who perform hazardous duty, including firefighters and law enforcement officers. It does not change the pension system for current employees or retirees. “This bill allows flexibility for future state employees to take the money they have accrued if they change careers,” Fallin said. “That helps us to make state employment more attractive and aids in recruitment.”
See also: Moving new employees to 401(k)s would endanger existing pensions, increase cost to taxpayers from the OK Policy Blog
Tiny Panola schools facing financial crisis
In the tiny, one-church community of Panola, the school district is barely keeping the lights on. Teachers and staff are resigning because paychecks are no longer certain. Panola schools’ 102nd year may be its last. The district, east of Wilburton in southeastern Oklahoma, needs $256,000 to meet its obligations through the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30, according to the state Education Department. Without the funds, the schools could close. The Panola School Board paid two utility bills this month by dipping into its building fund, and it scraped together payroll for May. It laid off an administrator and three teachers, including last year’s “teacher of the year.”
I Smell Rotten Writing Scores
To paraphrase Shakespeare, something is rotten in the offices of CTB/McGraw Hill and/or the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Thank you to several readers who alerted me to some strange issues related to the 5th and 8th grade Writing Tests. These tests were administered in late February so CTB has had three months to score these assessments. It started with this comment from a Norman teacher on my Friday post. Any thoughts on the ridiculous preliminary writing test scores from CTB?? I responded that I had not had a chance to look at the scores and asked other readers to comment. The floodgates opened.
New Petition Planned For Oklahoma School Shelters
It’s been a little more than a year since seven Oklahoma children were killed when massive tornado destroyed their school. But their families and other advocates are no closer to the goal of building storm shelters in every Oklahoma public school. Organizers this week will begin circulating their second initiative petition calling for a statewide vote to fund the construction after abandoning the first one because of significant changes made by the Oklahoma attorney general’s office. The new petition drive kicks off Wednesday at an event that the Rev. Jesse Jackson is scheduled to attend.
More than 50 Oklahoma musicians release song to raise awareness of Affordable Care Act
On June 4 in Tulsa and June 5 in Oklahoma City, the Red Dirt Rangers are hosting a release party for a single and music video produced by more than fifty Oklahoma musicians. The new song, “Stand (Let Your Voices Be Heard)”, aims to raise awareness of Oklahoma’s dire health statistics, opportunities to gain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and the need for Oklahoma to accept federal funds to extend coverage further. The event will also raise money for the Red Dirt Relief Fund, which provides assistance for Oklahoma musicians facing a medical emergency without health insurance.
Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education makes few changes to college funding levels
Oklahoma’s colleges and universities will see few changes to their budgets this year. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education met Friday to approve funding levels for institutions and higher education programs. Those funding levels are largely unchanged from those colleges and universities received during the 2013-14 fiscal year. Among the few changes was a $783,864 increase in funding for the concurrent enrollment tuition waiver program.
Six Oklahoma universities align coursework
A collaborative effort among six universities across the state will make degree completion easier for students in Oklahoma, officials say. Representatives from the universities and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education gathered Wednesday on the campus of Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology to sign articulation agreements that align coursework so that the credits earned by OSUIT students will transfer seamlessly to any of the four-year institutions. The other institutions taking part are Langston University, Langston; Mid-America Christian University, Oklahoma City; Northeastern State University, Tahlequah; Oklahoma Panhandle State University, Goodell; and St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee.
One month after execution, few records released
One month after a botched execution drew international attention, few public records have been released by the state and the Board of Corrections is preparing to discuss the matter in secret for a second time. Attorneys and others connected to the case say the state’s silence on the April 29 execution of Clayton Lockett is depriving the public of information it deserves. Gov. Mary Fallin’s office estimates it will take six months to supply records requested by the Tulsa World related to the execution. Officials with the Department of Corrections and Department of Public Safety say they are reviewing pending records requests but couldn’t say when records would be provided.
AG emails detail discussions before botched execution
In the weeks leading up to a botched execution, an Oklahoma assistant attorney general referred to defense attorneys’ warnings that the execution could go awry as “hysterical speculation,” records released to the Tulsa World show. Assistant Attorney General John Hadden also wrote in a March 21 email that he was “not eager to answer a bunch of questions” from reporters about the state’s execution plans but worried about appearing “overly secretive.” “At the same time we do have an advantage due to the fact that we have actual facts and law on our side while the other side has nothing but a bunch of hearsay observations and hysterical speculation,” states Hadden’s email.
Chronically homeless population declines in Oklahoma City
Carl Schmitz had a hard time sleeping last year after he moved into his new apartment. It was too quiet, he said. In the decades he’d spent living on the street, Schmitz had gotten used to hearing birds, traffic and the click-clack of passing trains. Even now, he still wakes up a few times a night, expecting to hear something that isn’t there. Schmitz, 56, was one of more than 200 people who were placed into homes last year through 100,000 Homes, a campaign that seeks to house Oklahoma City’s chronically homeless population. A new survey of the number of people living on the city’s streets suggests those efforts are beginning to pay off.
Oklahoma ranks No. 47 in senior health
In Oklahoma, almost 60 percent of seniors with an income greater than $75,000 report their health is “very good or excellent.” Meanwhile, only about 24 percent of seniors with an income less than $25,000 report the same. That’s one of the health disparities pointed out in the United Health Foundation’s 2014 senior health report. Overall, Oklahoma ranked No. 47 in the nation in senior health, receiving the ranking because of the state’s poor senior health outcomes and other factors that affect residents’ overall health. Oklahoma was in the bottom five worst states among our usual company: “Mississippi is the least healthy state for seniors, followed by Louisiana (49), Kentucky (48), Oklahoma (47) and Arkansas (46),” according to the report.
County to Use Drone for Emergency Response
Garvin County in south-central Oklahoma is set to become the first public agency in the state to purchase and use an unmanned aerial system— commonly known as a drone — for firefighting and other emergency situations. County commissioners this week approved the purchase of the $2,300 small aerial device that’s equipped with a camera to help firefighters and other emergency responders. Garvin County Emergency Management director Bud Ramming says the department is still in the process of writing policies and procedures but it should be operational within the next few weeks.
To Get Permit in Earthquake Zone, Disposal Well Operator Agrees to Extra Monitoring
An oil company seeking to build a disposal well in earthquake-prone Logan County has agreed to record additional pressure and volume measurements to get a permit from the state’s oil and gas regulator. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Thursday voted 2-0 to approve the disposal well for Kansas-based Slawson Exploration. Commissioner Dana Murphy abstained from the vote “saying she wanted to wait until more seismic data was available,” The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports.
Quote of the Day
“I don’t think politicians should try to become educators. We have people who are trained in education who far better understand how a student learns. We’re getting into something most politicians don’t understand.”
-Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, on a Common Core repeal bill that would require any new state standards to be approved by the Legislature (Source: http://bit.ly/1rCeczo)
Number of the Day
Number of female students in Oklahoma who took AP exams in 2013, compared to 6,903 male students.
Source: The College Board.
Six reasons teen births are plummeting
The United States’ teen birth rate hit a new low in 2013, preliminary federal data published Thursday shows. The Center for Disease Control’s new report finds there were 26.6 births for every 1,000 women between 15 and 19 last year. That’s a 10 percent decline from 2012 — and also lower than any year on record. The drop in the teen birth rate has coincided with a decline in the teen abortion rate, which separate research shows is also at an all-time low. Taken together, those two numbers show that fewer American teenagers are getting pregnant right now than at any time the federal government has kept track.
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