In 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
State funding shortfall for public schools climbs to $18.1 million: Public schools learned Wednesday that their regular payment from the state of Oklahoma would be shorted for the second month in a row. The Oklahoma State Department of Education sent out a memo Wednesday ahead of Thursday payments to local schools notifying them that they will be shorted by another $8.4 million — that’s in addition to the $9.7 million they were shorted in January. The reduction in funding for schools is the result of below-estimate collections in a couple of state revenue streams that feed into state aid for common education, the primary source of state funding for public schools. [Tulsa World]
Weak Financial Accountability For Charter School Management Companies That Get Millions: With a nearly $900 million budget shortfall, Oklahoma lawmakers want accountability for every penny. But within the coffers of private charter school management companies are millions of dollars that lawmakers can’t see. Epic Virtual Charter School has about 8,000 students enrolled, and like many other charters, Epic is managed by a private company. This company, called Epic Youth Services, keeps 10 percent of all the state and federal dollars the school gets. For the 2015-2016 school year that was $2.9 million. And that $2.9 million, we don’t really know how the management company spent it, and they don’t have to disclose that information, because they’re a private company. [KOSU]
Across core services, Oklahoma underspends: State government has four core responsibilities – education, health care, public safety and transportation. It is those fundamental services on which the people depend to have productive lives. For businesses, those services done right provide an environment in which they can thrive. Analysis of data released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau, along with the most-recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Federal Highway Administration, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, shows that, even when adjusted for Oklahoma’s relatively low cost of living, funding for core services still lags the region and the nation. [State Treasurer Ken Miller / OK Policy]
Rep. Leslie Osborn On GRDA: Should We Be In The Electric Utility Business?: State Representative Leslie Osborn is the new chair of the powerful House Appropriations and Budget Committee, an influential position that gives her bills extra weight. StateImpact talked to Osborn about legislation she’s pushing to increase mining fees, and to explore the sale of the Grand River Dam Authority. The GRDA is a state-owned electric utility that provides power to northeast Oklahoma from hydroelectric dams, coal and natural gas plants. But GRDA also has important water quality monitoring, recreation and law enforcement responsibilities. [StateImpact Oklahoma]
Opposition, Challenges Grow for Governor’s Tax Plan: Gov. Mary Fallin’s plan to boost state revenues by charging sales taxes on health care visits, utilities and dozens of services already seems to be in peril. Hours after Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb resigned his post in the governor’s Cabinet over the issue, legislative leaders in both parties cast doubts that Fallin’s plan to raise $934 million by broadening sales taxes would pass. The proposal – coupled with other tax increases and decreases – is the centerpiece of the governor’s plan to bridge the state’s $870 million budget shortfall and bump funding for corrections, health services and other agencies [Oklahoma Watch]. On the OK PolicyCast, we discussed Governor Fallin’s revenue ideas and other options Oklahoma has to close this year’s budget shortfall [OK Policy].
Judge: EPA nominee Pruitt must provide records of meetings: An Oklahoma judge Thursday ordered state Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, to turn over documents related to Pruitt’s communications with coal, oil and natural gas corporations that an advocacy group has sought for more than two years. District Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons said “there really is no reasonable explanation” why Pruitt’s office has not complied with a request filed in January 2015 by the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy for communications between Pruitt and Koch Industries and other major energy companies as well as the corporate-funded Republican Attorney General’s Association. [Washington Post]
Pruitt’s delays with open records concern journalists: Two veteran journalists aired concerns Monday on Twitter about the speed with which the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office is completing open records requests. “I could talk about this all day. It makes my blood boil,” StateImpact Oklahoma reporter Joe Wertz said late Monday evening. “Open records aren’t for the press or the media or the nut-job media who can pursue them and fight with the nincompoops at some government agency, they’re for the public.” Frustrated by multiple records requests that he said have languished for months in Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, Wertz tweeted Monday to address the matter publicly. [NonDoc]
Maine Republican Susan Collins says she’ll oppose Scott Pruitt’s nomination as EPA head: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Wednesday that she will vote against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency because “[he] and I have fundamentally different views of the role and mission” of the agency. “That does not mean that I agree with every regulatory action that EPA has taken,” Collins said in a statement. “At times, the Agency has been difficult to work with and unresponsive to bipartisan congressional concerns. But the EPA plays a vital role in implementing and enforcing landmark laws that protect not only our environment but also public health.” Pruitt, she noted, had spent much of his tenure as Oklahoma’s attorney general filing lawsuits against the EPA. [Washington Post]
Payday loans called “predatory” by group seeking reform: As a pre-teen, Angela Basse saw her mother go through a hard divorce and then turn to a payday lender for help with a bad financial situation. Her mother had three children to raise by herself. “I was a part of the vicious cycle of payday loans,” said Basse, now the Coordinator of Youth Ministries at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. “The payday loans were very enticing. At the time, they were made to look simple.” And to her mother who was stretched close to the breaking point emotionally and financially, payday loans looked like the only way out, said Basse [Oklahoma City Free Press]. Oklahoma can follow the lead of 14 states that have stopped predatory loans by requiring an APR cap of 36 percent. [OK Policy]
Over objections, state House OKs federally compliant ID: The Oklahoma House has advanced legislation to comply with federal identification card rules set to trigger this summer. By giving residents the option of getting an identification card or driver’s license that meets Real ID standards, the state would ensure residents’ ability to visit military bases and U.S. government buildings. Homeland Security has also warned noncompliant states like Oklahoma that residents could be barred from boarding commercial flights once the restrictions are fully implemented next year unless they possess a card that meets security standards proposed more than a decade ago. [NewsOK]
Oklahoma City businesses close to show immigrants’ importance: Businesses along SW 29 in Oklahoma City and elsewhere across the metro closed Thursday as part of a national demonstration to show that immigrants matter when it comes to making the nation’s economy go. The closures and demonstrations held Thursday across the country were part of a national protest called A Day Without Immigrants, and they were aimed squarely at President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on immigration, legal and illegal, by such means as a wall at the Mexican border and recent deportation sweeps. [NewsOK]
Preliminary hearing set in criminal case against Oklahoma schools superintendent: A preliminary hearing has been set for Aug. 16-18 in the criminal case against state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, political strategist Fount Holland and three other defendants. At the court hearing, Oklahoma County Special Judge Kevin McCray will decide whether prosecutors have sufficient evidence for a jury trial. The judge may have to schedule additional days for later in the year to complete testimony. [NewsOK]
Fallin sets special election in wake of Rep. Dan Kirby’s resignation: Gov. Mary Fallin has called a special election to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of state Rep. Dan Kirby. Kirby, R-Tulsa, resigned earlier this month after a House panel recommended he be expelled from the House of Representatives following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. Kirby has denied wrongdoing. The filing period is Feb. 27, 28 and March 1. The special primary election is set for May 9. The general election is set for July 11. In the event that a special primary election is not necessary, the special general election will be May 9. [Tulsa World]
Quote of the Day
“Usurious rates of lending in payday lending are not for the purpose of helping people lift themselves out of poverty. It perpetuates poverty.”
-Rep. Kevin Calvey (R-Edmond), who is sponsoring HB 1596 to improve monitoring and regulation of payday lenders (Source).
Number of the Day
Percentage of Oklahoma children who are first-generation immigrants or have at least one parent who is foreign-born. Of these children, 87% are US citizens.
Source: KIDS COUNT
Universal Pre-K Is Hard to Find and Harder to Fund: Only three states — Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma — have what could be called truly universal programs in that they’re available to all 4-year-olds, regardless of parental income. The three states offer examples of the different ways in which the program’s funding source can affect its future. The soundest and most successful of the programs is Oklahoma’s, which has been in place since 1998. Today, 75 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds are in a pre-K classroom. [Governing]
You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.