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.
Today you should know that thousands of people from across Oklahoma are expected to descend on the state Capitol today for what could be the largest rally for education in state history. The Tulsa World recalled a similar effort to rally for education funding before the passage of HB 1017 in 1990. Tulsa World editor Ginnie Graham wrote that kids with a day off from school could benefit from attending the rally. You can find more information here about the rally agenda and transportation options.
Oklahoma Watch examined the trend of growing advocacy by Tulsa-area school administrators. Tulsa schools are struggling to find enough teacher applicants due to low pay compared with nearby states. Lawmakers are facing pressure to revise many of the education reforms passed in recent years that critics say were too hastily put together without educator input.
As the Oklahoma Legislature reaches its halfway point, House and Senate leaders will soon begin working with the governor’s office to develop a budget while facing a $188 million shortfall. OK Policy has shared several ideas for how lawmakers can fill the budget hole without cutting services even deeper. A new analysis examines what’s behind the large rise in children entering Oklahoma’s emergency foster care system. Read the full report from The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group here. The head of Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services said the next report from monitors of a federal court settlement to improve the foster-care system will likely be negative.
The Oklahoman editorial board wrote that lawmakers should listen to pleas for more mental health funding. Insurers and other organizations helping with Affordable Care Act enrollment say they are prepared to handle a last-minute rush with the deadline for open enrollment today. Think Progress discusses how the states where residents struggle most to afford health care and medicine, including Oklahoma, have refused to address this issue by accepting federal funds to expand coverage. A two day conference in Shawnee will share work and research on Native American health issues.
An offender at an Oklahoma state prison was killed by a fellow inmate. The state Department of Corrections is not providing any details about the incident, including the names of the inmates involved, until they complete an investigation. A surprise drug screening at a private Oklahoma City halfway house this week showed more than half of the offenders were using illegal drugs. The community corrections center is operated by the same company that ran a Tulsa halfway house which was shut down following allegations of organized inmate fights. Julie Delcour discussed decrepit, cramped conditions at Tulsa County’s Juvenile Justice Center.
Oklahoma’s jobless rate dropped to 5.0 percent in February — the lowest since December 2008. As drought continues and oil and natural gas operations continue to expand throughout the state, companies are looking for ways to reduce the amount of freshwater they use. The southwest quarter of Oklahoma is in a fourth year of extreme drought.
The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s ranking for age-adjusted rate of death by diseases of the heart. In today’s Policy Note, the Economic Policy Institute discusses why claims of a skills shortage among American workers may be overblown.
In The News
Thousands of Oklahomans expected to descend on Capitol, press for more school dollars
Lawmakers are gearing up to receive tens of thousands of teachers, students, parents and school administrators from across the state on Monday morning at a rally for more education funding at the Capitol. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is anticipating as many as 30,000 people, many expected to arrive in caravans of school buses specially chartered for the event, which has been organized by a coalition of education organizations. State funding for public education is $230 million lower than it was before the recession hit in 2008, even as the number of students enrolled has risen by 40,000 and the state’s teaching force has been reduced by 1,500 positions because of budget cuts, according to the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, or CCOSA.
See also: Rally information from Oklahoma Education Coalition
Teacher rally recalls push for House Bill 1017
As Oklahoma teachers, parents and supporters prepare to rally at the Oklahoma state Capitol in support of education funding, it is appropriate to look back at a similar effort nearly a quarter-century ago. “Today truly is a day of excellence in Oklahoma. Today Oklahoma stands tall. A new day is dawning for education in Oklahoma. “Our state will never again take a back seat in education.” These words were spoken by Oklahoma Gov. Henry Bellmon on April 19, 1990, after the state Senate approved the emergency clause of the landmark $230 million education funding and reform legislation, House Bill 1017.
One way to spend your Education Rally day off from school
A day off from school doesn’t mean it has to be a day off from learning. Thousands of educators, parents and other supporters of public education are descending upon the Capitol tomorrow (Monday) to show support for additional funding. School districts, including Tulsa and surrounding suburban areas, agreed a couple of months ago to let employees have this day to let their voices be heard in the statehouse halls. Not all parents are happy about this, complaining about scrambling for child care and questioning this as a political move. First, schools aren’t babysitters so it’s offensive to equate it as such. Second, of course it’s political. Lawmakers hold the purse strings and have cut funding by more than 20 percent since 2008. Our elected officials have put Oklahoma at No. 1 in the country for making the most cuts to public education during the past five years.
Activist Voices in Tulsa Schools: Valuable or Divisive?
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard calls the state superintendent and the education department “inept and incompetent.” Broken Arrow Public Schools Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall put out pamphlets last fall, paid for by the district, blasting the Oklahoma State Department of Education. He also helped recruit a candidate to run in the GOP primary this year against Superintendent Janet Barresi. Both districts will close schools Monday and send buses filled with teachers to Oklahoma City to join a rally at the State Capitol protesting what they see as inadequate funding.
Tulsa Schools Seeing Fewer Teacher Applicants Due To Low Pay
Many of Oklahoma’s schools will be closed Monday for an education rally at the State Capitol. Teachers will call for more education funding, less testing, and higher pay. Pay isn’t just a problem for teachers; it’s a problem for the people trying to hire teachers. They’re finding fewer applicants for every opening. Tulsa Public Schools has a teacher in every classroom, but not as many teachers as they need. The district is chronically short on teachers, despite paying above the state standard for salaries. The people who do the hiring for TPS say salary is the biggest factor.
State lawmakers hurry to fix education reform bills
Some key GOP-backed education reforms have undergone significant changes or are in the process of being revised. Republicans say many laws are tweaked not only theirs but those by Democrats as well. But others say highly touted education reform laws such as the A-F school grading system and requiring third-grade reading sufficiency to move up to fourth grade were hastily put together and without educator input.
Oklahoma budget and policy legislative wrangling to begin
Oklahoma’s governor and Republican legislative leaders agree in principle on cutting taxes, a multimillion-dollar overhaul of the Capitol and revamping the pension system for state workers, but each side has different ideas on the specifics. As the Oklahoma Legislature reaches its halfway point, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and new House Speaker Jeff Hickman are expected to begin working toward a compromise on some of those big-ticket items, and work with the governor’s office on building a budget with a $188 million hole in it.
See also: Filling the Budget Hole: Options for a balanced approach from Oklahoma Policy Institute
Oklahoma struggles to handle rise in emergency foster care needs
There is plenty of blame to go around as Oklahoma struggles to understand why a significant number of children have entered foster care in the past two years. To improve the rate, social workers need to spend more individually tailored time with families. Judges and district attorneys need to trust the safety plans available to build family relationships, according to a 44-page analysis by the Casey Family Programs. Also, substance abuse is playing a significant role, and the causes of the foster-care growth “are complex and stretch beyond the boundaries of DHS.”
Read the full report from The Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group
Oklahoma DHS director says foster care slowly improving
The head of Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services is bracing for criticism. The next report from monitors of a federal court settlement to improve the foster-care system is expected by the end of April. It likely will be negative, said DHS Director Ed Lake. But that is not the whole story. “It’s not an excuse, and we are not abandoning the goals, but there are reasons why it’s been a slower go,” Lake said. “It’s up to us to speed the process.”
Investing in mental health is crucial in Oklahoma
As director of the agency charged with trying to improve Oklahomans’ mental health, Terri White has what must be one of the most frustrating jobs in state government. White has reams of statistics that highlight the severity of the problem — and it is severe — and knows what is needed to ease it. What she doesn’t have, however, is the financial means to make a significant dent. And trying to convince the Legislature of the need to do more, particularly in this tight budget year, is a tough slog. So White will keep her fingers crossed that, as Gov. Mary Fallin has proposed, the budget for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services remains flat. However, she warns that without an additional $21 million next year, her agency will have to cut services. That’s the last thing Oklahoma needs.
Officials say they are ready for last-minute rush for ACA signups
Insurers and other organizations helping with Affordable Care Act enrollment say they are prepared to handle a last-minute rush of new customers Monday. Monday is the last day for open enrollment in plans offered under the federal health-care law. Federal officials say they will give people already started on the enrollment process by Monday more time to complete it but have not given a specific date for the extension. Nationally, federal officials say more than 6 million people have signed up for health-care plans under the law. The latest figures in Oklahoma show about 33,000 people have enrolled.
Most Of The States Where People Struggle Most To Afford Health Care Aren’t Expanding Medicaid
The majority of the states in the U.S. where residents struggle most to afford health care and medicine — Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas — have refused to address this issue by implementing Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion. According to a new report from Gallup, the people who live in Alabama are the most likely to struggle to pay for their health care needs. When Gallup collected the data in 2013, one in four Alabama residents reported there were times in the past 12 months when they didn’t have enough money to pay for health care and/or medicine for themselves or their families.
OKC Tribal Epidemiology Center Offers Public Conference On Native American Health Concerns
A two day conference allows a newly created organization to demonstrate its work and research on various health-related issues facing Native Americans in the United States. The sixth annual Tribal Epidemiology Center Public Health Conference’s theme is Where We Have Been, Where We Are, And Where We Are Going.
Inmate killed at Oklahoma state prison by another inmate
An offender at a state prison in Helena was killed by a fellow inmate, a state Corrections Department spokesman said Sunday. About 7:30 a.m. Saturday, an inmate at the James Crabtree Correctional Center assaulted another inmate, resulting in his death, said Jerry Massie. The homicide was the first in the prison’s history. Massie declined to offer any details about the incident, including the names of the inmates involved, until the department completes its investigation.
More than half of offenders fail surprise drug test at private Oklahoma City halfway house
A surprise drug screening at a private Oklahoma City halfway house this week showed more than half of the offenders were using illegal drugs. The state Corrections Department randomly tested 153 offenders Monday at the Carver Transitional Center, 400 S May Ave., and 78 tested positive. The community corrections center is operated by Avalon Correctional Services Inc., which ran a Tulsa halfway house where there were allegations of organized inmate fights. The vast majority of the drug test failures at Carver were for the active ingredient in marijuana. Others tested positive for PCP, methamphetamine and opiates.
Tulsa County juvenile facility: some dinosaurs never die
I know this to be fact because I’ve seen first hand that 46,000-square-foot obsoleteasaurus — the facility housing the Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau — standing in a floodplain, just out of sight of downtown. And, maybe that’s the problem: Out of sight, out of mind. The Juvenile Division of Tulsa County District Court is not something county residents encounter regularly. If they think about it at all, it’s likely in the context of: “Oh, yeah, that’s the place they’ll take that little punk who knocked down my mailbox, broke my window, snatched my purse, vandalized my car, punched my wife in the face.” It is that. And it’s also the place where the system gets a shot — maybe only one shot — at turning kids’ lives around.
Oklahoma unemployment rate of 5.0 percent lowest since 2008
Oklahoma’s jobless rate dropped to 5.0 percent in February — the lowest since December 2008 when it was 4.8 percent. Last month’s number was down from the 5.2 percent rate in January, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. As they often do, the household and establishment surveys that are used to compile job numbers point in different directions for February, said Lynn Gray, chief economist with the OESC. The smaller household survey shows a healthy gain more than 3,500 jobs in total employment, which includes farm jobs and self-employed people.
Oklahoma energy companies work on water recycling
As the drought continues and oil and natural gas operations continue to expand throughout the state, companies increasingly are looking for ways to reduce the amount of freshwater they use. While progress has been made, adoption levels vary widely from state to state and from rock formation to rock formation. Reuse and recycling is widely used in areas like Pennsylvania where disposal wells are not available. It is growing in popularity in the Permian basin of west Texas, where freshwater is more expensive and harder to find. But in most of Oklahoma, freshwater is available and relatively inexpensive.
Drought continues in Oklahoma’s oil patch
Several scattered rainstorms throughout 2013 helped alleviate some of the state’s thirst, but the break came far short of quenching an ongoing drought that has parched much of the region. While much of the state has avoided the severe water shortages facing California, parts of Texas and other areas, Oklahomans still must be cautious about how water is used, state leaders say. “Over the course of the last year, it certainly has improved conditions, particularly in the eastern half of the state,” said J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. “But the drought has essentially crept back in over most of the state. The southwest quarter of the state has not seen a break. They are in entering their fourth year of extreme drought.”
Quote of the Day
When we go to career fairs, especially at big universities, you can watch where graduates are going. They’re going to the districts and states that pay more. We joke about Texas, but Texas takes a lot of students away from here because their starting pay is almost $10,000 more per year.
-Ken Calhoun, Executive Director of Human Capital for Tulsa Public Schools, who said they are struggling to find enough teacher applicants due to the low pay in Oklahoma (Source: http://bit.ly/1ohFAkJ)
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s 2009 ranking for age-adjusted rate of death by diseases of the heart, after Mississippi and Alabama.
Why Claims of Skills Shortages in Manufacturing Are Overblown
In the past decade, two features have characterized the American job market: wage inequality and persistent unemployment. There is little doubt about the basic facts: Wage stratification has become more pronounced, and far too many people remain unemployed. However, there is debate about the causes. Two interpretations have been very influential: that inequality is driven by demand for skills that are out of reach of many workers and, in a similar vein, that persistent unemployment is caused by a mismatch between what firms seek and what potential employees can provide. Given manufacturing’s prominence in the U.S. economy and in the skills mismatch debate, this issue brief examines the extent to which these interpretations apply to this sector.
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