In The Know: Public schools told to anticipate new state funding cuts up to $17 million

In The KnowIn 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

Public schools told to anticipate new state funding cuts up to $17 million: The Oklahoma State Department of Education on Wednesday notified school districts across the state that yet another shortfall in state revenue collections will likely cause their budgets for the current year to suffer. The Common Education Technology Revolving Fund, one of six sources of revenue that are combined to provide schools with state aid, has only received $26.5 million with two more months left in the fiscal year. That is $20 million, or 44 percent, shy of the $47.4 million expected [Tulsa World]. Oklahoma continues to lead the nation for the largest cuts to general school funding since the start of the recession [OK Policy].

Budget crisis: Proposal would cut 142 Tulsa Public Schools teaching positions, increase class sizes: A proposal that would cut 142 Tulsa Public Schools teaching positions and significantly increase class sizes to reduce the district’s budget by $8 million next year was announced on Wednesday. At a special meeting, the Tulsa school board learned the details of the plan for the first time in preparation for a vote set for 6:30 p.m. Monday. Chief Financial Officer Trish Williams said the school-staffing reductions are unavoidable, given that the school district has to reduce its 2017 fiscal year budget by $13.5 million to $20 million [Tulsa World].

#DoSomethingOK: Oklahoma’s massive budget shortfall means that lawmakers face stark choices this year. They can choose devastating cuts to Oklahoma public schools, health care, and other essential services. Or they can shore up the state’s finances and invest in a stronger economy and brighter future for Oklahoma [Together OK].

Fallin Signs Off On Criminal Justice Reform Package: Governor Mary Fallin signed into law four criminal justice reform bills Wednesday. Each bill is aimed at scaling back Oklahoma’s sentencing practices. The legislation comes as a result of Fallin’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Committee that met during the fall of 2015. HB 2751 raises the property crime threshold for a felony to $1000 from $500. HB 2479 lowers mandatory minimum drug sentences. HB 2472 allows district attorneys more discretion to file certain crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies, and HB 2753 widens eligibility for community sentencing and drug courts [KGOU]. Raising the felony theft threshold is smart — and overdue [OK Policy]. Governor Fallin’s new, inclusive approach to criminal justice reform is bearing fruit [OK Policy].

Oklahoma joins call for ‘convention of the states’ on balanced budget amendment, congressional term limits: Oklahoma will join a growing number of states calling for a national convention to propose a federal balanced budget amendment and term limits for Congress. The Senate on Tuesday passed Senate Joint Resolution 4 by Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, by a vote of 30-16. The measure will be sent to Congress. Article V of the U.S. Constitution allows for such conventions if requested by 34 of the 50 states. No such convention has ever been called [Tulsa World]. While there is widespread agreement that Congress must better manage its finances, pursuing this goal through a constitutional convention is very dangerous [OK Policy].

Medicaid rebalancing is not expansion: Increasing health-care expense and a decreasing state budget have made it difficult for the Legislature to fund care for Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens, the aged, blind and disabled, as well as children from low-income homes and pregnant women. The Medicaid Rebalancing Plan addresses the issue and is not Medicaid expansion. The Medicaid rolls actually will shrink rather than expand [Rep. Doug Cox / Tulsa World]. Here’s what we know about the plan so far [OK Policy].

Medicaid Rebalancing Act proves crisis breeds innovation: Long before Oklahoma had a budget crisis, it had a health-care crisis. Long before budget cuts threatened health care for hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbors, employer health-care costs were increasing, our most vulnerable residents were without care, physicians were fleeing the state and health-care jobs were being lost. The Medicaid Rebalancing Act is a prime example of crisis breeding innovation — a creative health-care solution that would solve a lot of budget problems [Mike Neal / Tulsa World].

EMSA officials warn of major rate increases if Medicaid rebalancing proposal fails: EMSA’s board on Wednesday discussed the ramifications that Medicaid reimbursement cuts would have on all levels of health-care providers if the Legislature doesn’t broadly support a recently proposed plan. Steve Williamson, CEO of Emergency Medical Services Authority, said the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s Medicaid rebalancing proposal would help mitigate the dire consequences of Medicaid reimbursement cuts that are scheduled to go in effect July 1 to address the state’s budget crisis [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma’s costly lack of foresight in not funding mental health care: Foresight. I underlined this word twice in my notes for the late Professor J. Rufus Fears’ “Ancient Rome” course. I was just a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma, but in that lecture, Fears said something that has resonated with me all my life: The difference between a mediocre leader and a leader of true greatness is not money, prestige, or charisma. It’s foresight, the ability to recognize problems on the horizon and create solutions that are good, not only in the short term, but in the long term as well [Tiara Blue / OK Policy]. Oklahoma has options for the budget emergency [OK Policy].

Autism coverage bill passes House, advances to governor’s desk: A bill setting insurance coverage minimums for autism treatment was given final approval by the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Wednesday and sent to the governor. House Bill 2962, by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, mandates coverage for up to six years of treatment for children younger than 9, with an annual maximum of $25,000. Payment for therapy can be discontinued if an individual does not demonstrate improvement, and insurers can be exempt from the coverage requirement if it causes premiums to rise more than 1 percent [Tulsa World].

OK Lawmaker Looks To Pass ‘Blue Alert’ Bill For Police Safety: A bill to enlist the public’s help in finding those who attack police will now go before Gov. Mary Fallin. Right now we have Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts. Soon we will likely add “Blue Alerts”, so citizens can keep an eye out for suspects who attack police officers and flee. The bill unanimously passed in the senate [News9].

Legislature breaks more than is fixes in defense of the Ten Commandments: For months, the Tulsa World has argued for taking certain steps necessary to return a privately funded Ten Commandments monument to the state Capitol grounds. The monument was proposed to commemorate the Ten Commandments’ role in our state’s legal history. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows it, and the people want it. But in a putative effort to bring the monument back to the Capitol, the Oklahoma Legislature has proposed a rewriting of the state Constitution that is so broad we cannot support it [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. The Ten Commandments fight could be a back door to private school vouchers [OK Policy].

Prosperity Policy: Breaking the impasse: There is at least one bold way out of the apparent impasse over negotiations on the state budget – if the leadership is there to pursue it. Facing a $1.3 billion shortfall with one month left in the legislative session, budget negotiators from the House, Senate and governor’s office are stuck between the rock of more damaging cuts to state services and the hard place of new revenues that are needed but politically unpalatable to some [David Blatt / Journal Record]. 

Schulz is selected as Oklahoma state Senate president pro tem designee: Sen. Mike Schulz is in line to become the next president pro tem of the Oklahoma Senate. Senators on Wednesday voted to designate him for the job, now held by term-limited Sen. Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. The pro tem leads the Republican majority in the Senate and helps set its agenda [NewsOK].

Voters Confront Lawmakers On State Budget: Dozens of people, fed up with the budget cuts, spoke with lawmakers Wednesday, as part of a grass-roots effort to get Oklahomans more involved in politics – an effort that started just three weeks ago. Debbi Childers works with children who have mental disabilities. Without her services, she says, many of her clients will wind up in prison or dead. The state has already cut funding to the company she works for, making it hard to find good help [News9]. 

Poll: Oklahomans Overwhelmingly Want To Fund Libraries: An overwhelming 89.5% of Oklahoma likely voters believe library services are important to their communities and a nearly equal number (87.5%) felt that they and their family members, or others that they know of, get good value from their local library, according to SoonerPoll’s Quarterly Poll. Oklahoma Libraries, which provide a wide array of employment, health and lifelong learning services for people of all ages across the state, have seen severe funding cuts in recent years [NewsOn6].

Bump in the road: Pothole damage claim brings up larger issues: Amber Clark’s $710 claim for pothole damages to the family car raised larger concerns from City Council members Tuesday about rising costs associated with the city’s infrastructure. Clark argued that the municipal government should have been well-aware of the conditions of SW 179th Street between Pennsylvania and Western avenues. She presented several examples of conversations on social media sites such as, photos from Google Earth and even City Council agenda items over the years that suggest the road conditions in the area were so bad that city staff could not have ignored them [Journal Record].

Muslims must ‘participate’ in U.S. democracy: The underlying stigma and hatred of Islam perpetuated by national political contenders like Donald Trump has left the 3.3 million Muslims in this country vulnerable and fearful of double standards in their own backyards. Most recently, Texan participants at the Muslim Day event in Washington, D.C., were denied a meeting with presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz despite their repeated efforts and despite the fact he represents them in Congress. The climate of fear surrounding Muslims in the news is harmful, and it tends to influence national and local politics in Oklahoma by further excluding an entire community from participating in political office [Aisha Shah / NonDoc].

Jury finds Robert Bates guilty of manslaughter: Former Reserve Deputy Robert Bates was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter by a jury Wednesday evening after about three hours of deliberation. The jury recommended that Bates, 74, serve four years in prison, the maximum possible sentence on the conviction. Deputies handcuffed Bates and led him from the courtroom. Bates was charged in the April 2, 2015, shooting death of Eric Harris [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“I don’t know how many people have to die. I don’t know how many people have to be out of nursing homes with no place to go. I don’t know how many people have to go without access to doctors. … The importance of this is grave.”

– Steve Williamson, CEO of Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA), warning proposed Medicaid provider cuts could lead to EMSA rate increases if lawmakers don’t act to raise new revenues (Source)

Number of the Day

77.9 years

Life expectancy for Oklahomans in the bottom income quartile, tied with Nevada and Indiana for lowest in the U.S.

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Growing Up in a Bad Neighborhood Does More Harm Than We Thought: The neighborhood in which you grow up is a major determinant of your economic success as an adult. That’s been known for a while, but new research suggests that the effects may be much larger than social scientists previously understood. These findings could fundamentally reshape national housing policy. The new insight is that much of our best evidence about the effects of growing up in a bad neighborhood comes from examining children whose parents work particularly hard to protect them from the dangers around them [New York Times].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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