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Today you should know that two elementary schools destroyed in a Moore tornado are on track to reopen next month in time for the start of a new school year. A group that wants to build storm shelters in every public school in Oklahoma has restarted its petition drive to put a state question on the ballot in November. Of the 1,137 Tulsa Public Schools third graders who did not pass a reading test, 414 have received “good cause” exemptions and will go on to fourth grade; 723 children are still in jeopardy of being held back, but 550 are in summer school and will take the test again next week.
Federal officials say the number of immigrant children being housed at a temporary facility in Fort Sill has topped 1,100. Here & Now spoke with the director of a group that’s been working with unaccompanied minor immigrants since the 1980s about why the children are fleeing and what their future looks like in the U.S. The Associated Press shared the story of a 15 year old fleeing Guatemala who died crossing the Texas desert.
NewsOK spoke with the creator of a new website aimed at connecting people of color and other minorities in Oklahoma with companies looking to hire a diverse workforce. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discusses how legal challenges to recent tax changes in Oklahoma could bring a huge shift in the states’ tax and budget landscape. Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller says overall collections to the state treasury during the fiscal year that ended June 30 increased by more than 4 percent from the previous fiscal year. OK Policy previously explained why the state faced a large budget shortfall this year even as gross revenues increased — increased mandatory spending, corporate and individual income tax refunds, and rebates to the oil and gas industry all played a role.
Tulsa police officers have already saved three lives in the six weeks since they began carrying kits designed to save someone having a heroin overdose. State Rep. Fred Jordan, one of two remaining candidates for Tulsa County district attorney, has asked the state Supreme Court to take jurisdiction and make an expedited ruling on a challenge to his candidacy. A decades-old program that has allowed rural fire departments in Oklahoma to purchase surplus military vehicles could be ending, due to concerns that the vehicles don’t meet emissions standards.
The city of Norman may need to close 4 of it 32 wells for exceeding maximum levels of arsenic and radioactivity. Coming upgrades to Oklahoma City’s water system include plans to begin pumping treated wastewater back into Lake Hefner. Though large parts of the state remain in severe drought, last month was the second wettest June on record.
The Number of the Day is how many uninsured Oklahomans who would have health insurance by 2016 if Oklahoma accepts federal funds to extend coverage to low-income residents. In today’s Policy Note, Dissent Magazine shares how states and cities are stepping into the void left by congressional obstruction to address problems of inequality, economic stagnation, and climate change.
In The News
Two schools destroyed in Moore tornado on track to reopen for new school year
Two elementary school campuses destroyed when a tornado struck Moore and southwestern Oklahoma City on May 20, 2013, are on track to open next month in time for the start of a new school year. Moore Public Schools Superintendent Robert Romines said during this week’s school board meeting that construction is nearly complete on new buildings for Briarwood and for Plaza Towers, where seven children died in the EF5 tornado. Romines said each school will have a safe area large enough to accommodate all students and staff. The safe rooms are FEMA rated, which specifies designs be capable of withstanding wind speeds of up to 250 mph. All rebuilding costs were covered by insurance.
Group Files Second Storm Shelter Petition
A group that wants to build storm shelters in every public school in Oklahoma has begun collecting signatures to place an initiative petition on a statewide ballot. Tim Farley, spokesman for Take Shelter Oklahoma, says organizers began collecting signatures Wednesday. They must collect the signatures of 155,000 Oklahomavoters in 90 days to have the measure placed on the November ballot. The petition drive comes more than a year after a tornado struck Moore on May 20, 2013, destroying two schools and killing seven children at the Plaza Towers Elementary School. The petition drive calls for a $500 million bond issue for the shelters to be repaid from the state’s General Revenue Fund. It is the second petition launched by supporters. The first was abandoned in April.
‘Good Cause’ Exemptions Shrinking Number Of Held Back TPS Students
Hundreds of Tulsa Public Schools students are still at risk of being held back in third grade, despite a change in the law that gave students another option for advancement. Of the 1,137 TPS students who failed the reading test, just 723 are still at risk of being held back. 414 qualify for “good cause” exemptions and will go on to fourth grade. As it stands now, 723 children are still in jeopardy of being held back; 550 are in summer school and will take the test again next week. Any student can take the test again in late July, and in August. The district said most of the decisions about probationary promotion won’t come until the fall, when it’s more clear which students are ready for advancement.
Number Of Immigrant Minors At Fort Sill Tops 1,100
Federal officials say the number of immigrant children being housed at a temporary facility in Fort Sill has topped 1,100. Another 288 minors have been discharged from the facility since they started arriving there last month. The children are mostly teenagers from Central America who were detained while trying to enter the U.S. illegally. They are among more than 52,000 unaccompanied children who have been detained since October. The Defense Department has authorized the facilities to stay open for 120 days as officials try to find the children’s families or place them with a sponsor before being subjected to deportation procedures.
New website matches diverse talent with jobs at Oklahoma companies
Q: I understand you’ve launched a new website that connects Oklahoma businesses with diverse talent. What led you to create this site? A: DiversityConneX.com was created as a platform to connect diverse talent who are unemployed, employed but looking, or interested in a board position with Oklahoma organizations striving for workplace diversity. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to meet with quite a few business leaders to discuss diversity and inclusion and the common theme has been that they want and need to hire diverse people but don’t know where to find the talent. We also chose to focus specifically on diverse talent because we were alarmed by the significant employment disparities that exist between diverse individuals and the mainstream community.
Over the years, Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Fent has been a big thorn in the side of Oklahoma policymakers. He’s filed a string of lawsuits that have led the state Supreme Court to strike down numerous laws as unconstitutional. This year, Fent’s back with two lawsuits challenging major bills from this past legislative session that would reduce Oklahoma’s top income tax rate and change taxation of oil and gas production. He contends that both measures violate a section of the Oklahoma Constitution pertaining to revenue bills. The original constitutional language says all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives and no revenue bill shall be passed during the five last days of session.
Oklahoma Treasurer: Gross Receipts Keep Climbing
Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller says overall collections to the state treasury during the fiscal year that ended June 30 totaled $11.7 billion, an increase of more than 4 percent from the previous fiscal year. Miller released figures Wednesday that show collections for the month of June also were up about 6.6 percent compared to the same month last year. He says collections have exceeded those from the same month of the prior year during 45 of the last 51 months. He says this is an indication of a steady economic expansion and a strong recovery since the recession ended in June 2009. The figures released by Miller’s office are gross receipts to the state treasury and not a reflection of how much revenue the state has available to spend.
Previously: The mystery of the disappearing revenue from the OK Policy Blog
Increase In Heroin Use By Public Has TPD Officers Carrying Life-Saving Kit
Heroin use is exploding around the country, including Green Country. Oklahoma is fifth in the nation for deaths from heroin overdoses and Tulsa County ranks 18th in the nation, per capita. Because of this, hundreds of Tulsa police officers are now carrying a kit that can save the life of someone having a heroin overdose. Tulsa police officers have already saved three lives with Narcan rescue kits and they’ve only been carrying them for about six weeks. They said it’s a safe drug and easy to administer.
Tulsa County district attorney candidate responds to suit challenging candidacy
One of two remaining candidates for Tulsa County district attorney filed a response on Tuesday to his opponent’s challenge of his candidacy by asking the state Supreme Court to take jurisdiction over and expedite the case. State Rep. Fred Jordan called Steve Kunzweiler’s suit, filed in Oklahoma County in June, “a political stunt” and maintained that the part of the state Constitution that Kunzweiler alleges prohibits Jordan from running for the post does not apply to him, he told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday. “I am filing an application for original jurisdiction with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, asking the court to take up this issue directly and render a final and nonappealable decision,” he said.
Ban on Defense Department vehicle sales to affect Oklahoma’s rural fire departments
A decades-old program allowing fire departments to purchase surplus military vehicles appears to be no more. An agreement between the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency, aimed at reducing emissions, will stop the sale of defense vehicles that don’t meet the EPA’s emission standards, the state forestry service reports. “This action will ultimately result in increased exposure of communities to loss of life and property associated with wildfire, as well as increased fire suppression costs,” said George Geissler, state forester and director for Oklahoma Forestry Services.
Arsenic forces wells to close in Norman
The city of Norman is making a renewed focus on water conservation. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality sent a notice to city officials on June 2, stating that the city is in violation because four of their 32 wells exceeded mandated levels of arsenic and gross alpha, a measure of radioactivity. “Those four wells will be sorely missed,” City Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. “We might have to buy more water on an emergency basis from Oklahoma City, we might have a rainy week.” The well water in question comes from the massive aquifer under central Oklahoma, which unlike Lake Thunderbird, naturally produces arsenic, chromium and uranium.
Reuse figures into plan for Oklahoma City water
Coming upgrades to Oklahoma City’s water system include plans to begin pumping treated wastewater back into Lake Hefner. The Water Utilities Trust on Tuesday agreed to a five-year, $1 billion plan that includes work on a second pipeline to ship drinking water from southeast Oklahoma, steps to integrate separate parts of the water distribution system, and improvements to enable reuse of water from Oklahoma City’s Deer Creek wastewater treatment plant. Treated wastewater would be of a consistently higher quality than the variable river water feeding Lake Hefner, said Marsha Slaughter, the utilities director.
Climate Data Shows Last Month Second-Wettest June On Record
Preliminary data from the Oklahoma Mesonet show the state averaged about 5.8 inches of rain in June – about an inch-and-a-half above normal for this time of year. Associate State Climatologist Gary McManus says six Mesonet stations in northern Oklahoma recorded at least 9 inches of rain this month. An inch of rain fell somewhere in Oklahoma on 19 of the months 30 days, and that helped relieve some of the drought in the state as well. Sixty-six percent of the state is in at least a severe drought, compared to 73 percent in May. The percentage of Oklahoma in exceptional drought, the worst category, dropped from 26 percent in May to 11 percent at the end of June.
Quote of the Day
“Oklahoma has done an exceptional job of creating high-quality preschool education and in this respect seems to be doing almost everything right—expanding access to large numbers, putting important quality measures in place so that students are taught by highly credentialed teachers, building some of the best facilities in the world in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Oklahoma should be a model for other states.”
-David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute (Source: http://bit.ly/1rbzaEb)
Number of the Day
The number of uninsured Oklahomans who would have health insurance by 2016 if Oklahoma accepts federal funds to extend coverage to low-income residents
Source: The Council of Economic Advisers.
Think Globally, Innovate Locally
Denial and indifference are two of the main congressional responses to the inequality, economic stagnation, and climate change that threaten America. But progressives can take heart in the creative, often inspiring initiatives flourishing in patches across the country. States and cities are increasingly stepping into the void left by congressional obstruction—proposing higher minimum wages, better labor standards, and projects that create jobs and improve communities. “The federal government should have a much more visionary strategy for meeting our current economic challenge,” said Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel, deputy director of the Partnership for Working Families (PWF), which pioneers local strategies. “But it turns out, actually, that cities have a lot of power.”
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