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 bill could refuse people to adoption services if passed: Couples could be refused as foster care or adoptive parents in Oklahoma. State Representative Sally Kern’s bill, “The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2016,” is one step closer to potentially becoming a law. She said, in an exclusive interview with Tulsa’s Channel 8, child welfare providers in Oklahoma have a right to decline service to families looking to adopt or foster if there is a conflict with the provider’s religious beliefs [KTUL]. 

Superintendents Paint Grim Picture for Education in Oklahoma: The superintendents of Oklahoma’s two largest school districts told lawmakers Tuesday they are concerned about future budget cuts to education. And, they challenged legislators to prevent further damage. Rob Neu, the superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, told a crowd of lawmakers that next year his district won’t hire new teachers because they won’t have the money. Class sizes will just get bigger [KOSU].

State education and budget officials agree to work together on solution to school budget mishap: State education and budget officials announced Tuesday that they will be working together on a solution to a school-budgeting mishap that caused public schools across the state to expect a $19 million cut in mid-February that didn’t occur. As first reported by the Tulsa World on Tuesday, the omission of a $43.8 million cash balance from the previous year in a December budget report by the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization caused the confusion [Tulsa World]. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister urged schools to continue preparing for budget cuts [Oklahoma Watch].

Prosperity Policy: Bad choices: Should Oklahoma strip Medicaid health care coverage from people least able to afford insurance on their own? In a state that trails most of the nation in uninsured rates and health outcomes, who could defend this? Yet this is one of the many bad ideas now being considered in the Legislature. After years of damaging budget cuts, and huge shortfalls that are forcing state agencies to reduce vital services even more, the once-unthinkable is being thought [David Blatt / Journal Record]. OK Policy has proposed several steps for a balanced solution to our budget problems.

Leaders: Mental health funding saves lives, dollars: At first, Ted Streuli wasn’t sure what was happening to his son. Early on, Colby was a typical teenager. He loved hockey, video games and skateboards. But as Colby aged, he began to act more and more strangely. One day, Streuli picked a psychiatrist at random out of the phone book and made Colby an appointment. Soon, they had a diagnosis: schizophrenia with paranoia, a serious and lifelong brain disease. Streuli asked the doctor about Colby’s prognosis [Journal Record].

A Demographic Breakdown of the 2016 Legislature: In Oklahoma, women make up just over half of the state population but represent only 14 percent of the 2016 Legislature. About one in 10 Oklahomans is Hispanic, compared with 1 percent of legislators, meaning a total of two. There are five black or African-American lawmakers, or about 3 percent; that compares with 8 percent of state residents [Oklahoma Watch].

Why volunteer tax preparation is key to keeping Americans out of poverty: Millions of low- and moderate-income working families in the United States benefit from a couple of key tax credits that are among the most important ways that we keep people out of poverty and support children’s development. But to receive these tax credits, families need to file a tax return, which can be a costly and confusing task for Americans who are already working long hours and struggling to get by. Fortunately, working families across Oklahoma have a free option when preparing their taxes [OK Policy].

Oklahoma has chance to lead with forfeiture bill: Here is a novel solution to crushing student debt: Become a government prosecutor, use civil forfeiture to take property from potentially innocent people, and then use the proceeds to pay off your loans. That may sound far-fetched, but it is exactly the approach taken by one Oklahoma district attorney who used forfeiture proceeds to pay off his loans. In another case, a district attorney lived rent free for years in a home confiscated through forfeiture [Robert Everett Johnson / NewsOK]. New Mexico stopped civil asset forfeiture abuse; Oklahoma can, too [OK Policy].

Oklahoma legislation seeks statewide vote on beer and wine sales: Legislation seeking a statewide vote on full-strength beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores cleared the Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday. If passed by the Legislature, Senate Joint Resolution 68 would be referred to a vote of the people in November in hopes of changing the bulk of state alcohol laws. The aim is to give voters a chance to decide whether to bring Oklahoma’s alcohol laws in line with most other states, Jolley said [NewsOK]. 

Anti-LGBT Bills Are Still Flooding State Legislatures: Legislators in Oklahoma are weighing a bill that would ban people with HIV from getting married. In South Dakota, the state legislature passed a bill that would only allow transgender kids to play on sports teams consistent with the gender on their birth certificates. In Michigan, legislators declined to change an (unenforceable) sodomy ban that could theoretically get you thrown in prison for 15 years [Vocativ].

Earthquake suits pile up against Oklahoma energy companies: With a new legal challenge from the Sierra Club, some of Oklahoma’s largest energy companies now face lawsuits seeking class-action status in two counties and action in federal court aimed at holding them responsible for the state’s increasingly violent earthquakes. The latest lawsuit, filed Tuesday, comes just three days after the state’s third largest earthquake — measuring 5.1 — struck near the town of Fairview in northwest Oklahoma near the Kansas border [The Frontier].

Quote of the Day

“The bill that is being considered is incredibly destructive. This is not what we need right now. We have such a shortage in Oklahoma that we literally cannot find a third grade teacher, a second grade teacher, a kindergarten teacher.”

-Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist, voicing her opposition to an education savings accounts bill that passed committee Monday (Source)

Number of the Day

$1.03

Per pack state cigarette excise tax in Oklahoma, 58 cents lower than the national average

Source: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Bright black students taught by black teachers are more likely to get into gifted-and-talented classrooms: Why are black students half as likely as white students to be assigned to gifted classrooms in U.S. public schools? Only 2 percent of black students and 3 percent of Hispanic students are in gifted-and-talented programs, compared with 4 percent of white students and 6 percent of Asian students, according to an analysis of federal data since 1998. It’s always been the case that many more white children test high enough to enter these programs than black children.What’s less clear is whether academic aptitude entirely explains the racial gaps [The Hechinger Report].

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