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 that a bill designed to provide schools with millions of dollars in extra “off the top” funding was approved by the House. If General Revenues increase 1 percent, schools would receive $57.5 million in automatic funding, which would increase by the same amount each triggered year until reaching $575 million annually. The budget situation could get complicated with a growing number of automatic spending and tax cut measures triggered by small increases in revenue. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed the trigger-happy Legislature.
The House voted to repeal Common Core education standards in Oklahoma, but Common Core bills did not get a hearing in the Senate. The House approved a resolution that would send to a vote of the people whether to call a constitutional convention to consider possible changes to Oklahoma’s Constitution. The Senate approved a State Question that would freeze property taxes for all Oklahoma seniors, regardless of income. Property taxes are already frozen for seniors making less than the median income of their county.
On the OK Policy Blog, we look at two bills (HB 2625, HB 2773) that would provide more leeway for parents and educators to decide whether to retain third-grade students who don’t pass a reading test. Tulsa Public Schools reported significant progress for students using a streamlined remedial reading program. The Jenks and Owasso school districts were exempted this year from field tests, which are practice tests used by the testing company to try out new questions, after parents in those districts began opting their kids out of tests.
Only 3.5 percent of the 700,000 uninsured Oklahomans have enrolled on the Affordable Care Act marketplace so far. The deadline for open enrollment is March 31. About 150,000 Oklahomans are blocked from affordable insurance because the state has not accepted federal funds to expand coverage. The Senate approved a bill allowing Oklahoma veterans to be provided with free oxygen treatment for traumatic brain injury. The Senate also voted to impose strict new regulations and requirements for abortion providers. Rep. Anastasia Pittman wrote in NewsOK that Oklahoman needs to do more to expand telemedicine access for urban and minority populations.
The Senate approved a bill (SB 1278) to create a new fund that pays nonprofits for successful prison diversion programs. The Senate also voted to put a moratorium on new wind farms in the eastern half of the state. A consumer alert issued by Attorney General Scott Pruitt against the Humane Society is coinciding with an ad campaign attacking the Humane Society sponsored by an anti-regulation advocacy group. Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus spoke in Tulsa about mounting evidence of global climate change.
The Number of the Day is the percentage of adult members surveyed who considered themselves satisfied with SoonerCare customer services. SoonerCare is Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. In today’s Policy Note, The New Republic explains why enrollment on the Affordable Care Act exchanges has not slowed down, contrary to media reports. The apparent slowdown comes from comparing a 35 day period to a 28 day period.
In The News
House bill would create ‘off the top’ education funding
A bill designed to provide schools with millions of dollars in extra “off the top” funding was approved Wednesday by the state House of Representatives. “There is a revenue trigger in the bill, but as long as revenues continue on their current track, schools can expect to see $57.5 million in ‘off-the-top’ funding for fiscal year 2015, and eventually as much as $575 million in ‘off-the-top’ funding, said state Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing.” Denney told House members the funding mechanism is like the one used to pump tens of millions of dollars in extra funding into the Transportation Department.
Common Core bills split Oklahoma legislature
The Oklahoma House and Senate went in different directions Wednesday on the Common Core standards that have become a divisive issue for Republicans facing upcoming elections. While Common Core supporters were successful in talking the Senate out of changing the program, the House voted 78-12 late Wednesday to repeal the Common Core statutes and replace them with homegrown standards that would become effective in the 2016-2017 school year.
House passes Constitutional Convention bill
The Oklahoma House has adopted a resolution that asks voters to decide whether to call a constitutional convention to consider possible changes to Oklahoma’s Constitution. The resolution by Republican Rep. Gary Banz of Midwest City was approved without debate Wednesday on a 72-4 vote. It now goes to the state Senate for consideration. The state Constitution requires that voters decide at least every 20 years whether a constitutional convention should be convened, but the last resolution on a constitutional convention was submitted to a vote of the people in March 1970.
Oklahoma Bill Sends Senior Tax Freeze To Public Vote
Oklahoma voters would decide whether seniors, regardless of income, should have their property tax rates frozen under a bill that has passed the Oklahoma House. The House voted 63-27 on Wednesday for the resolution by Oklahoma City Republican Rep. David Dank. The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration. The bill would send to a vote of the people a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow individuals aged 65 and older to have the fair cash value of their property frozen. Oklahoma seniors already qualify for the exemption, but only if their household income is below a certain level.
Prosperity Policy: Trigger-happy
Last week the Oklahoma House of Representatives followed the lead of the Senate and approved a cut to the state’s income tax, linking it to a trigger mechanism that puts a critical tax and budget decision on autopilot regardless of what our state’s future circumstances will look like. The trigger means that beginning in 2016, if income tax revenues grow modestly, the top tax rate will fall automatically. If the Legislature decides the state can’t afford a tax cut now because we’re struggling to fund core services, how do we know what the best policy will be down the road?
Revising the third-grade reading retention law
In 2011, the Oklahoma legislature approved major amendments to the Reading Sufficiency Act, a law originally enacted in 1997 to improve Oklahoma children’s reading skills. As of this year, the law requires third-grade students who score “unsatisfactory” on a state standardized reading test known as the OCCT to be retained in third grade, unless they meet limited criteria for an exemption. The legislature is now considering two measures – HB 2625 and HB 2773 – that mark a significant change of direction from the mandatory retention approach in current law.
Report shows significant progress in TPS third-grade remedial reading levels
Skelly Elementary School Principal Kristy Tatum says a new remedial program being used to help lagging readers throughout Tulsa Public Schools is improving more than just her students’ reading skills. “We are seeing an increase in their confidence levels,” Tatum said. “We had students in the beginning who didn’t even want to get on the computer, and that’s the really fun part. They were so used to being unsuccessful they didn’t even want to try anymore.” TPS streamlined its remedial reading program in the face of a five-year trend of declining reading proficiency across the district and a new state law that will require holding back most third-graders who don’t do well enough on the state reading test.
Jenks and Owasso left out of field tests after parents complain
We have known since October that Oklahoma districts would be expected to participate in “item tryouts” (field tests) for our new Grade 3-8 testing vendor, Measured Progress, along with the End-of-Instruction field tests conducted by CTB/McGraw-Hill. In a state department bulletin released last month, districts were told that students would be randomly selected to participate in one of these field tests, and that the testing would be scheduled after the operational testing window was complete in early May. Honestly, it was a pleasant surprise when we found out last week that students and schools in the Jenks district were NOT randomly selected to participate in ANY of these field tests. However, when we discovered that Owasso Public Schools had also not been “randomly selected,” several of us became a little suspicious.
Oklahoma Experts Report Low ACA Enrollment Among Uninsured
The Affordable Care Act aims to insure all Americans. But here in Oklahoma, more than 17 percent of the state is still without insurance as the March 31 enrollment deadline draws near. We look into the numbers new this evening to see why more uninsured Oklahomans aren’t signing up. Federal data shows that before the Affordable Care Act 700,000 Oklahomans were uninsured. In Tulsa County, nearly 115,000 people were without insurance. Now, under the Affordable Care Act, 25,000 Oklahomans have enrolled in the marketplace. That’s only 3.5 percent of all uninsured Oklahomans. That’s why there’s a push to get more Oklahomans enrolled.
New bill to allow veterans free treatment for traumatic brain injury
A bill allowing Oklahoma veterans to be provided with free hyperbaric oxygen treatment for traumatic brain injury has been approved by the state Senate. Senate Bill 1604, the Veterans Recovery Plan Act, states that any Oklahoma veteran who has been diagnosed with TBI, and prescribed HBOT by a medical professional, may receive free treatment at any licensed and equipped facility in the state.
Oklahoma Senate OKs strict new abortion regulations
A bill that would impose strict new state regulations and requirements for abortion providers in Oklahoma has easily passed the state Senate. With little discussion and no debate, the Senate voted 34-8 on Wednesday for the bill by Oklahoma City Republican Sen. Greg Treat. The measure now heads to the House, which has supported most anti-abortion legislation.
State Rep. Anastasia Pittman: Expand telemedicine in Oklahoma
Oklahoma has a severe shortage of health care professionals. State law allows for the reimbursement of Medicaid recipients in rural areas for telemedicine services. This is a good practice, but it leaves a large portion of the population unserved. Portions of the urban population, particularly minorities, also have limited access to health care and should be allowed to take advantage of the benefits of telemedicine.
Senate Targets Oklahoma’s High Female Lockup Rate
A plan to target Oklahoma’s highest-in-the-nation female incarceration rate with a prison diversion pilot program in Tulsa has unanimously passed the Oklahoma Senate. The Senate voted Wednesday for the bill by Republican Sen. Kim David of Porter that targets women convicted of drug or other nonviolent crimes. David says female offenders first must enter a plea of guilty, which a judge can withhold and waive if the woman completes the 12-to-18-month program.
Oklahoma Senate passes moratorium on wind farms in eastern Oklahoma
A moratorium on wind farms in the eastern half of the state passed Wednesday in the Oklahoma Senate. Senate Bill 1440, by Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, passed 32-8 after no debate. The bill places a moratorium on new wind farm developments east of Interstate 35 until 2017. It limits the moratorium to those areas where the wind potential is less than fair, according to a 2008 map by the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Consumer alert by AG Pruitt coincides with ad campaign against Humane Society
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt issued a consumer alert against the Humane Society of the United States on Wednesday just hours before an organization with a history of antagonism toward the animal rights group launched a week-long advertising campaign in the state. The Center for Consumer Freedom announced its advertising buy with a press release praising Pruitt and alleging “The Humane Society of the United States deceives donors with tear-jerking and manipulative images of dogs and cats, and then funnels the money to push a radical animal liberation agenda aimed at attacking farmers.”
Oklahoma climatologist presents mounting evidence of global climate change
Acknowledging that climate change is not always a popular topic in an energy state like Oklahoma, state climatologist Gary McManus told about 200 people Wednesday night at All Souls Unitarian Church that scientific evidence of a warming planet is mounting. Mother Nature herself is showing evidence of climate change, he said, with decreasing glaciers, rising atmospheric humidity, shrinking snow cover, earlier spring and rising sea levels.
Quote of the Day
If we are going to tie tax cuts to a trigger, how about we choose other benchmarks? We know that a well-educated workforce is what is most critical to our state’s prosperity, yet since 2008 we’ve made the steepest per-pupil cuts to education funding in the nation. Why not decide that we will only cut our income tax when per-pupil funding climbs back to where it was in 2008? When our teacher salaries are raised to the regional average? When our college graduation rate reaches the national average?
– OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt, on proposals to trigger automatic income tax cuts when there are modest increases in state revenues (source: http://bit.ly/1nlLDUQ).
Number of the Day
Percentage of adult members surveyed who considered themselves satisfied with SoonerCare customer services. SoonerCare is Oklahoma’s Medicaid program.
Obamacare Enrollment Didn’t Slow Down in February
The latest Obamacare enrollment figures got a pretty lukewarm reaction on Tuesday. One reason is that the number for February was lower than the number for January, creating an impression of waning interest. Here’s the lead from the Washington Post’s account: The pace at which Americans signed up for health plans slowed last month in the fledgling federal and state insurance marketplaces, according to new government figures showing that slightly fewer than 1 million people enrolled in February. The Obama administration said 943,000 Americans selected health plans, compared to 1.2 million in January. The facts are right but the interpretation is not.
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