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New KIDS COUNT Data Book ranks Oklahoma near the worst in the nation for child well-being

A new report shows the youngest generation of Oklahomans face far-reaching challenges. The state ranks near the bottom in the nation for most measures of child well-being, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Overall, the report ranks Oklahoma 44th out of all 50 states for child well-being. Even in areas where Oklahoma has seen the most improvement recently, we’re not keeping up with the progress in other states. We have a high percentage of kids scoring below proficient in reading and math, a high rate of teen births, hundreds of thousands of kids living in poverty, and tens of thousands without health insurance. The 2018 Data Book shows that while Oklahoma has improved on some measures of child well-being, we still have a lot of work to do.

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What we know – and don’t know – about the revenue bill veto challenge

In late March, on the eve of an anticipated teacher walk-out, Oklahoma lawmakers approved a series of bills intended to provide pay raises for teachers, school support staff, and state employees. To pay for the raises, lawmakers approved a number of revenue measures, including HB 1010xx, which managed to overcome the three-quarter supermajority requirement for tax increases established under State Question 640.

In May, a group called Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite launched a veto referendum petition drive that, if successful, would submit HB 1010xx to a vote of the people to approve or reject the new law. This effort has been designated Repeal Petition 25 (R.P. 25); if it gets on the ballot, it will be State Question 799. On June 22nd, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the referendum petition, ruling that it was misleading and fatally flawed. The organizers subsequently announced that they were abandoning the petition effort, ensuring that both the tax increases and the pay raises would take effect on schedule.

This post addresses key questions related to the veto referendum effort. Language in bold reflects the Supreme Court’s June 22nd ruling, which renders moot much of the discussion on this page.  (Last Updated: July 9th)

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OK PolicyCast Episode 29: What Just Happened

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, SoundCloud, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre. If you have any questions for the OK PolicyCast, topics you’d like us to cover, or people you want us to interview, you can reach us at policycast@okpolicy.org.

The OK PolicyCast is back! In this episode, we look at what just happened in one of the most tumultuous legislative years in Oklahoma history. Bailey Perkins speaks about what it was like being at the state Capitol before, during, and after the teacher walkout. Carly Putnam shares some major developments in health care policy. And Ryan Gentzler talks about this year’s most important criminal justice legislation, both the good and the bad.

You can subscribe at the links above, download the podcast here, or play it in your browser:

Bill Watch: This year in #okleg

Last week, the Oklahoma legislature adjourned one of the more extraordinary legislative sessions in recent memory – one that followed one special session, ran partially concurrently with another, included nine days of protests at the Capitol, saw the Legislature raise revenues for the first time in nearly 30 years, witnessed a first step in criminal justice reform after years of efforts, and resulted in the largest funding bill in state history (although not if adjusted for inflation). But in all of the confusion and breaking news, it was easy to miss other developments. In the posts below, brief summaries by issue area lay out the major victories and defeats of this spring’s legislative session.

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SJR 70 could create tough choices for Oklahoma schools

by | April 26th, 2018 | Posted in Education | Comments (2)

As the dust settles in the aftermath of Oklahoma’s teacher walkout, advocates are still trying to understand what’s been achieved and what still needs to be done to fully fund the state’s education responsibilities. Now another wrinkle could emerge from a pair of bills — SJR 70 and SB 1398 by Sen. Stephanie Bice and Rep. Elise Hall — that could give local districts more flexibility in how they use their funding, but at the cost of creating some hard choices for schools.

SJR 70 would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow property tax dollars currently reserved for school “building funds” to be merged with general operating funds. SB 1398 would make the statutory changes needed to implement this amendment if it’s approved by a vote of the people. House and Senate versions of the bills still need to be reconciled, but it’s now likely that this will make it to the ballot as a state question in November.

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Will the teacher raise be delayed by a veto petition?

by | April 12th, 2018 | Posted in Education, Taxes | Comments (19)

Tom Coburn speaking at OK Taxpayers Unite press conference

[Note: The post has been edited to correct the information regarding HB 1024xx]

On March 28th, just hours before Oklahoma Senators were to vote on pay raises for teachers and other employees funded by new taxes, a group calling themselves “Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite” held a press conference at the State Capitol. Led by former-U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, the group warned lawmakers that they would lead a citizen initiative to overturn any tax increase. Senators disregarded the warning by approving HB 1010xx with the three-quarters support needed for revenue bills, and the Governor quickly signed the measure into law on  March 29th. But is the tax increase – the first to be approved by Oklahoma lawmakers in over 25 years – now in danger of being overturned at the ballot and dragging the pay raises down with it?

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Bill Watch: Next week in #okleg | March 30, 2018

In our weekly Bill Watch post, we discuss what happened and what to look for in the bills we’re following most closely in the Oklahoma Legislature. See our advocacy alerts page for more ways to take action on these issues.

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In a potential teacher walkout, communities must step up to fill the nutrition gap (Guest post: Brent Sadler)

by | March 29th, 2018 | Posted in Children and Families, Education | Comments (0)

Brent Sadler is Vice President of Community Investments for the Tulsa Area United Way.

With the potential for a teacher walkout on the horizon, one of our greatest concerns is food insecurity for our most vulnerable citizens – our children.  In Oklahoma, nearly 24 percent of all children live in food-insecure households, and 62 percent of Oklahoma public school students are enrolled in a free or reduced-price meal program.

The Tulsa Area United Way service area includes Tulsa, Creek, Wagoner, Osage, Rogers and Okmulgee counties, where the number of children eligible for free and reduced price meals program exceeds 98,000 students. This includes 30,000 eligible students in Tulsa Public Schools alone.  Without school, many students are at risk of being hungry.

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Bill Watch: Next week in #okleg

This week we’re launching a new weekly update to our blog that previews some of the bills we’re watching in the Oklahoma Legislature over the next week. Throughout the week, we’ll continuing sharing advocacy alerts with ways that you can take action on key bills. Although there’s always potential for surprises in the legislative process, we hope this update will help you to be better prepared and informed about these key decisions being made for our state.

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Oklahoma teachers’ real take home pay has shrunk for 10 out of the past 11 years

by | March 21st, 2018 | Posted in Education | Comments (1)

Most of the discussion on teacher pay in Oklahoma compared to other states has focused on the total compensation of teachers, since that’s what is typically used when making comparisons across states. As we recently discussed in our comparison of Oklahoma and West Virginia education funding, Oklahoma’s average 2016 teacher compensation was $45,276, ranking us lower than all but two other states.

However, in some ways that number actually overstates how Oklahoma’s teachers are faring by combining the take-home salary of teachers with the fringe benefits that pay for teachers’ health insurance. If teachers get health insurance through other means, they can use this flexible benefit allowance as taxable income, but most need it to cover their health insurance. Some districts add to those benefits by paying for things like dental, vision, life, and long-term disability insurance. These fringe benefits are important, but teachers can’t use them to cover basic expenses like food, rent, transportation, and other household needs.

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