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 Zébre.
Download today’s In The Know podcast here or play it in your browser:
Oklahoma officials are taking a second look at confidentiality agreements signed with railroads that prevent disclosure of information to the public about shipments of oil coming through the state. A new poll finds that Governor Fallin’s favorability with Oklahoma voters has fallen to 52 percent in early June, a 19-point drop from her high of 73 percent in September. The OK Policy Blog explained how despite Governor Fallin’s attempt to shift the blame to President Obama, the real reason behind state Medicaid cuts is Oklahoma leaders’ mismanagement of the state budget.
Authorities preparing for the renovation of Oklahoma’s state Capitol plan to authorize preliminary design work before millions of dollars in bond money becomes available. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett are beginning a campaign for changes in state law to reduce cities’ reliance on sales taxes, a sometimes volatile revenue source that can pit city against suburb in battles over big-box retailers. The Tulsa Regional Chamber released findings of a workforce analysis project with recommendations on improving job opportunities and skilled workers in Tulsa. You can find the full report here.
The Tulsa World reported that all of the immigrant children have been given vaccinations, and kids who test positive for communicable diseases have been quarantined in non-military facilities. A growing backlog of immigration cases has caused the average wait time for a hearing in an immigration court to exceed 1.5 years.
Oklahoma Watch continued a special report on how federal and state aid funds are helping to rebuild from damaging storms in Oklahoma. The latest stories look at who is receiving public disaster assistance and the recovery effort for Moore Schools. The Tulsa World editorial board discussed how Oklahoma’s decision to repeal Common Core standards is costing the state money and leaving teachers without clear guidance for the coming school year. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed how Common Core repeal could lead to more federal control of Oklahoma schools. The okeducationtruths blog discussed concerns about the non-profit Oklahoma Public School Resource Center’s (OPSRC) connections with groups pushing for controversial education reforms. The OK Policy Blog previously featured a guest post on services that the OPSRC is offering schools.
A student at Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma City said she was expelled from the private college because she married her same-sex partner. Oklahoma City Public Schools is teaming with Oklahoma Caring Foundation and Oklahoma City County Health Department to offer mobile immunizations at selected schools through July 24. The Tulsa Port of Catoosa brought in its 75 millionth ton of cargo since opening 43 years ago. The Number of the Day is the total tonnage processed by the Port of Catoosa in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, Quartz looks at how companies like QuikTrip, the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s, and Costco Wholesale are proving that the decision to offer low wages is a choice, not an economic necessity.
In The News
Oklahoma may reverse course on oil train shipment disclosures
Oklahoma officials are taking a second look at confidentiality agreements signed with railroads preventing disclosure of information to the public about shipments of oil from the fast-growing Bakken shale formation. After inquiries last week by The Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality said a commission acting as the clearinghouse for first responders on hazardous cargo information entered into confidentiality agreements with three railroads. The agreements prevented the release of the oil train shipment information to members of the public. But Thursday, officials said agency attorneys are taking another look at the agreements after the Federal Railroad Administration said the reports do not contain “security-sensitive information.”
Poll: Fallin’s favorability slips
The past year has taken a bite out of Gov. Mary Fallin’s approval rating, polling over the past four years indicates. Fallin’s favorability with Oklahoma voters dipped to 52 percent in early June, according to an Oklahoma Poll conducted for the Tulsa World by SoonerPoll.com. That represents a new low for Fallin in Tulsa World polling, and a 19-point drop from her high of 73 percent in September. Falling’s rating stood at 71 percent a year ago. Bill Shapard of SoonerPoll.com said some difficult political situations have likely cooled the enthusiasm of both conservatives and moderates.
Gov. Fallin blames Obama for Oklahoma’s Medicaid cuts. The real reason is closer to home.
Earlier this year, we warned that Oklahoma risked deep cuts to our state’s health care safety net if we didn’t increase state funding for Medicaid and mental health services. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which administers Medicaid, needed $90 million and the Department of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services needed $20.9 million in new funding just to maintain existing services. Instead, lawmakers budgeted flat funding for the Health Care Authority and just $2.2 million in new funding for mental health. As a result, Oklahoma has slashed Medicaid doctor reimbursements, hiked copayments for Medicaid patients, and reduced eligibility for services. Families who stand to lose behavioral health rehabilitation services have spoken out about the cuts. In response, Governor Fallin responded with a statement blaming President Obama.
Repair work planned on Oklahoma Capitol
Authorities preparing for the renovation of Oklahoma’s nearly century-old state Capitol plan to authorize preliminary design work before millions of dollars in bond money authorized by the Legislature becomes available, officials said Monday. John Estus, spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, said authorities may tap a construction fund that contains about $700,000 to pay for an investigation of the building’s exterior to determine what repairs are immediately needed to areas where chunks of limestone and mortar have fallen from the building’s facade. “You can walk around the perimeter of this building any day and find pieces,” Estus said. “We’ve had pieces as small as a BB to as large as a football fall from this building.”
Oklahoma City, Tulsa mayors would like to see state reform sales tax laws
For Mayor Mick Cornett, tax reform means safer neighborhoods. Cornett and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett are beginning a campaign for changes in state law to reduce cities’ reliance on sales taxes, a sometimes volatile revenue source that can pit city against suburb in battles over big-box retailers such as Walmart. The scenario played out this summer in Oklahoma City, as the city council promised outdoor retailer Cabela’s $3.5 million in taxpayer-funded incentives to open a showroom on the northwest side. Deidre Ebrey, director of economic development and marketing in Moore, told a radio interviewer she probably would have offered Cabela’s more. Cornett and Bartlett hope to enlist other mayors to advocate for a more balanced tax system that can smooth out the kind of ups-and-downs affecting Tulsa, where sales taxes have missed projections, leading to a budget shortfall.
Chamber releases findings of Workforce Analysis Project
The Tulsa region needs to place a high priority on developing a career-awareness marketing campaign to educate residents about career and job-training opportunities in the area, a workforce analysis project says. On Monday, the Tulsa Regional Chamber announced findings and 11 high-level recommendations derived from a 24-week regional initiative to gauge the area’s workforce and draft a regional plan for its development. “We know that cities and regions with educated and skilled workforces attract the best jobs,” said Mike Neal, the chamber’s president and CEO. He added, “Many of our existing employers … really struggle to find qualified workers for the jobs they already have.”
Sick undocumented youth quarantined in non-military facilities
In writing a story about the media tour I took last week of the housing area for undocumented children and teens, details were important. My goal was to give specifics about what it looks like and sounds like inside the Fort Sill facility. It is housing up to 1,200 youth who have been detained at the Mexican border trying to cross illegally. The tour was scheduled for 40 minutes but lasted a bit longer. The two people giving the tour read from scripts and were instructed not to answer questions. The scripts contained a great deal of information, and the officials were as helpful as possible. Here are a few details that did not make the final story but may be of interest to readers.
Previously: Media tour Fort Sill facility housing immigrant children and teens from the Tulsa World.
Oklahoma immigration court backlogs growing; wait time exceeds one year
The wave of undocumented children and teens from Central America detained at the Mexican border is contributing to a growing backlog of immigration cases and lengthening wait times to get a hearing, according to a New-York based nonprofit’s recent analysis. At the end of June, the number of cases waiting before the administrative immigration courts hit an all-time high of 375,503, which is an increase of 50,000 since the start of the 2013 fiscal year, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. In Oklahoma, 1,240 cases were pending, with an average wait time of 563 days for a hearing, according to TRAC.
Part 2: Disaster-Aid Cash Could Flow for Years
In 2007, Oklahoma was blitzed by a series of deadly storms, including an ice storm in January that engulfed most of central and eastern Oklahoma and killed 32 people. Nearly seven years later, three of those federally declared disasters remain on active status. A handful of projects and audits have yet to be completed. The long process of dealing with recovery from those storms points to the likelihood that Oklahoma will be doing the same after the severe tornadoes and storms of spring 2013. “These disasters, people think, ‘When they’re done, they’re done,’” said Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, which oversees the state’s response and distribute disaster-aid funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But a key component of disaster aid, called public assistance, can go on for years. “Unfortunately, the public assistance portion takes a long time,” Ashwood said. Of the five major channels of federal disaster aid, public assistance often involves the largest amounts of cash aid and is vital at helping propel the first emergency responses.
Part 3: Mixture of Relief Aid Helps Revive Moore Schools
The smell of freshly cut lumber rides a south breeze to the front of the steel and concrete skeleton rising out of red clay. Construction workers and machines move about.The new incarnation of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died in the May 20, 2013, tornado, is set to open this fall. And in front on this day stand Mikki Davis and family members, there for a rally calling for the state to help pay for safe rooms in schools. Davis holds a picture of her 8-year-old son Kyle, one of the seven children who died. “I didn’t want him taken (from life),” Davis said. “I expected to come here (on May 20) and find him looking for mama to pick him up.” Returning to the site brings back memories and emotions. But knowing that the new school will have a safe room gives Davis some consolation. “If my son’s life was taken so that others in the future could be saved in the future, then that makes me proud to be his mom,” Davis said.
Common Core repeal means higher costs, more federal scrutiny
As predicted, Oklahoma’s decision to repeal Common Core education standards will cost the state money, leave teachers without clear guidance while the issue is argued in court and provoke more vigorous federal meddling with the public school system. In other words, everything the proponents of repeal threatened would happen if we didn’t listen to them, is happening … because we listened to them. On June 5, Gov. Mary Fallin signed HB 3393, which tossed out Common Core math and English standards that were to be implemented by the 2014-15 school year. While the state is working on a replacement program, the old Priority Academic Student Skills standards will apply. Probably. But members of the state board of education are challenging the constitutionality of law to reject Common Core, and the board voted to put off reinstating the PASS standards — thus, with the school year on the horizon, Oklahoma teachers have no guidance on what standards apply.
See also: Common Core repeal could put Oklahoma schools under more federal control from the OK Policy blog.
They come bearing gifts
If you’re headed to Oklahoma City next week for the third and final Vision 2020 Conference (whoever wins the election will probably rename it), you may have received an invitation to an open house being held off-site for a new statewide service entity, the Oklahoma Public School Resource Center. Before you succumb to their promises of help to your beleaguered school district, however, here’s a little background information. Last September, if you’ll recall, the State Chamber of Commerce applied for a Walton Family Foundation grant. While the creation of the OPSRC is separate from that effort, it does involve a lot of the same people.
See also: Providing essential resources to schools without the financial burden (Guest post: Sarah Julian) from the OK Policy Blog
Student expelled from college after gay marriage
A woman said Monday that she was expelled from a private, Christian college in suburban Oklahoma City because she married her same-sex partner. Christian Minard, 22, said she received a letter last week from Southwestern Christian University notifying her of the expulsion after returning from her honeymoon in Las Vegas. Minard said she did not know how the university learned of her March 17 marriage in Albuquerque, New Mexico, although she did say she posted her marriage license on Facebook.
Immunizations will be available at several Oklahoma City school district sites through July 24
For the first time, Oklahoma City Public Schools will offer mobile immunizations at selected schools through July 24. The district is teaming with Oklahoma Caring Foundation and Oklahoma City County Health Department to bring Caring Van clinics to seven sites so students can catch up on their shots before school starts Aug. 4. The immunizations began Monday at John Marshall Mid-High School. “Students must have current immunizations to start school and we have thousands of children in the district who need updated vaccinations,” said Terri Bell, the district’s director of student support services. “In the past we have had students who miss the start of school to get their needed shots.” Students under the age of 18 are eligible for immunizations and must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Parents are encouraged to bring current immunization records, officials said.
Tulsa Port of Catoosa reaches milestone
A 1,460-ton load of steel coils shipped in last month was a weighty milestone for the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. On June 9, Cargill Metal Service brought in the 75 millionth ton of cargo shipped through the Tulsa Port of Catoosa since the inland transportation center and industrial park opened in northeast Oklahoma 43 years ago. “It really shows the innovative spirit that Oklahomans possess,” said Bob Portiss, director of the Tulsa Port of Catoosa. “An inland port might sound implausible to some, but without this waterway, our state would not have the transportation advantages that it enjoys today.” The steel shipment, like many other products headed in and out of the port, took a long journey. It started in Severstall, Russia, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the way to the Port of New Orleans. From there it went 600 miles up the Mississippi before connecting with the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System, which took it up the Arkansas and Verdigris rivers 440 miles to Catoosa.
Quote of the Day
“They start with the mentality of seeing employees as assets to be maximized.”
– Zaynep Ton of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, on retailers such as QuikTrip, Trader Joe’s and Costco Wholesale that are paying workers living wages. Such retailers consistently report better operational efficiency, better customer service, and better sales than their low-wage competitors (Source: http://bit.ly/1zDQV1z)
Number of the Day
Total tonnage processed by the Port of Catoosa in 2013.
Source: The Journal Record
The economic case for paying your cashiers $40K a year
The average American cashier makes $20,230 a year, which in a single-earner household would leave a family of four living under the poverty line. But if he works the cash registers at QuikTrip, it’s an entirely different story. The convenience store and gas station chain offers entry-level employees an annual salary of around $40,000, plus benefits. Those high wages didn’t stop QuikTrip from prospering in a hostile economic climate. While other low-cost retailers spent the recession laying off staff and shuttering stores, QuikTrip expanded to its current 645 locations across 11 states. Many employers believe that one of the best ways to raise their profit margin is to cut labor costs. But companies like QuikTrip, the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s, and Costco Wholesale are proving that the decision to offer low wages is a choice, not an economic necessity.
You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.