In The Know: 40 percent of OKC high school seniors have not passed test required for graduation

In The KnowIn 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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that 16 percent of Oklahoma high school students have yet to pass a state exam needed to graduate in May. In the Oklahoma City school district, 40 percent have not passed the exam, and in Tulsa Public Schools, 33 percent have not passed. The Los Angeles Times reports on tribes and small-town residents in Southeast Oklahoma worried that Oklahoma City and Texas will drain their water supplies. A Broken Arrow man is organizing a petition to put a state constitutional amendment on the ballot declaring that life begins at fertilization, which would make some forms of birth control illegal in addition to outlawing all abortions. A similar measure was defeated in Mississippi last week.

A for-profit company that provides halfway houses for state inmates met with House Speaker Kris Steele, staffers for Gov. Fallin, Secretary of State Glenn Coffee, and Department of Corrections officials to raise concerns that putting more offenders on GPS monitors would hurt their business. Oklahoma Correctional Industries, which makes a wide range of products using inmate labor, makes about $14 million in annual revenues and is expecting growth this year. The chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party said Friday that he favors raising sales taxes to help pay off a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over county jail inmates who were sexually assaulted by law enforcement officers.

At the urging of the Oklahoma business community, the state’s Congressional delegation is considering a move to require Internet retailers to collect sales tax. DHS is planning to reduce the number of hours a family member can be compensated for care. Scientists are investigating whether oil and natural gas drilling is linked to Oklahoma’s recent earthquakes, and the National Academy of Sciences will issue a report next spring. A report by the state Department of Commerce finds that Oklahoma’s military installations contribute $9.6 billion to state GDP and pay about 5 percent of all wages in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is how many months since the Great Recession began that Oklahoma has experienced job losses. In today’s Policy Note, the National Alliance on Mental Illness documents deep cuts in most states to spending on services for those living with serious mental illness.

In The News

16 percent of Oklahoma high school students have yet to pass new graduation requirements

About 5,400 high school seniors in Oklahoma still need to pass at least one state exam before they can graduate in May, according to numbers released by the state Education Department this week. “These are people who have been in school for 13 or 14 years, and they’re now a senior, and 16 percent of the kids in this state are being told that they aren’t going to graduate,” said Karl Springer, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools. The graduating class of 2012 is the first group of students to face state graduation requirements created by lawmakers in 2005 as part of Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE) legislation. Springer said in Oklahoma City schools about 40 percent of the district’s 1,300 seniors still need to pass at least one exam before they can graduate. In Tulsa Public Schools — the second-largest school district in the state — about 67 percent of the 1,666 seniors have met the graduation requirements.

Read more from NewsOK.

Tribes, small-town residents fear Oklahoma City will drain their lake

Over at the Sardis Lakeview Cafe, where the sign assures all “hillbillies and outlaws” welcome, folks can’t help but worry about losing the lake. With water scarce in western drought-dry Oklahoma and neighboring Texas, cities are trying to tap the lake in Southeast Oklahoma, a region dubbed “Little Dixie” due to an influx of Southern settlers after the Civil War. Sardis Lake has become a battleground, with local Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes suing state and Oklahoma City officials in federal court to block them from draining the lake. Some fear that if Oklahoma City wins the case, the precedent will open the floodgates for others, including Tarrant County in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which sued last year for access to the water.

Read more from The Los Angeles Times.

Broken Arrow man petitions for anti-abortion measure voted down in Mississippi

A Broken Arrow man hopes voters will give a fertilized human egg the same rights as an individual. Dan Skerbitz, who works in Tulsa as an accountant, is organizing an initiative petition drive to get a state constitutional amendment declaring that life begins at fertilization on the 2012 ballot. The petition effort comes after similar measures were defeated twice in Colorado and last week in Mississippi. He said the goal is to challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion and set guidelines for state restrictions on the procedure. The personhood measure proposed for Oklahoma would not ban contraceptives used to prevent fertilization, Skerbitz said. It does not make exceptions for rape or incest, he said.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Private halfway house provider talked to state officials about GPS ankle monitoring changes

In the weeks before a new law increased the use of GPS ankle monitors for Oklahoma inmates, a private halfway-house provider met with state officials to voice concerns about how the law could impact its business. Avalon Correctional Services, the largest for-profit provider of halfway-house beds for Oklahoma inmates, met several times in recent months with officials at the Department of Corrections and in Gov. Mary Fallin’s office, as well as with House Speaker Kris Steele, co-author of the new law. “They were kind of aggressively concerned about what this was going to do to their population,” DOC Director Justin Jones said. Records show that inmate counts at Avalon facilities for October through November 2011 have sharply decreased compared with the same period in 2010. Because DOC pays Avalon $33.75 per offender per day to house inmates, that decline can mean a revenue decrease greater than $4,000 per day or $120,000 per month for just one of Avalon’s facilities.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma Correctional Industries poised for growth after setbacks

Earlier in the year, when state lawmakers were looking at ways to fund corrections, it was decided that up to $5.2 million could come out of Oklahoma Correctional Industries’ operating account, which had reached $6 million by the beginning of the year. Oklahoma Corrections Industries shelled out $1.1 million in cash and provided an additional $500,000 in the form of in-kind contributions. The state corrections department’s agriculture-producing division paid roughly $460,000 in cash, with in-kind contributions totaling $435,000. Oklahoma Correctional Industries makes a wide range of products, manufacturing just about everything from raw materials. Its most popular products are furniture items, things like desks, tables, shelving, chairs and even modular office systems. What started out as a way to provide things the prisoners needed on a day-to-day basis — essentials such as food, milk, clothing and bedding — has turned into a small industry with revenues of roughly $14 million a year.

Read more from NewsOK.

Delaware County sales tax proposed to pay off lawsuit

The chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party said Friday that he favors raising sales taxes for three years to help pay off a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the sheriff’s department. Chairman Michael Sperry organized a county meeting to discuss financing the $13.5 million settlement regarding the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office with a sales tax. Earlier, county officials said they might have to raise property taxes by 18 percent over the next three years to pay off the settlement in a civil rights lawsuit filed by 15 former female inmates. The women alleged in the lawsuit that they were raped or sexually assaulted by law enforcement officers at the county jail or in deputies’ patrol cars. “We could raise sales taxes 1 1/2 percent for three years,” Sperry said. This would bring Grove and Jay sales taxes to more than 11 percent.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Bipartisan legislation may boost momentum to collect sales tax on online purchases in Oklahoma

The effort to force Internet retailers to collect sales taxes for states and cities is gaining momentum in Congress, and the Oklahoma business community is urging members of the state’s congressional delegation to get on board. Oklahoma lawmakers said they still are studying the issue and would consider legislation that could result in large online retailers such as Amazon charging state and local taxes. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, said Oklahoma cities rely heavily on sales taxes to pay for their basic services and are losing revenue to pay police officers and fix their streets because of online purchases. Early this year, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett told President Barack Obama at a White House meeting that he should get behind federal legislation to help cities get sales tax revenue; Cornett estimated Oklahoma City loses between $10 million and $15 million a year.

Read more from NewsOK.

New rules slash home caregiver paychecks

Seventeen-year-old Trevor Morris is not easily understood. Since age 4, his health has deteriorated as a rare genetic mitochondrial disorder ravages his nervous system, robbing him of the ability to walk, speak clearly, feed himself or handle any routine functions of a healthy person. While Medicaid handles the cost of medical care, his grandmother Charlotte Morris has depended on the compensation she receives as his full-time caregiver. It is her only income. Morris had been paid for 84 hours a week as a habilitation training specialist. She is paid through the Oklahoma Department of Human Services development disability services division, which administers the federal program. In 2009, an advisory committee of the DHS disability division – made up of parents, providers and advocates – began the process of administrative rulemaking to limit the number of hours a family member can be compensated for care.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Scientists investigate whether drilling, Oklahoma earthquakes are linked

Scientists were swarming around central Oklahoma last week planting seismometers and digging through records in an effort to answer the question of the moment: Did oil and gas fracking cause last week’s unnervingly strong earthquakes? On the face of it, it seems ridiculous that the small amount of activity involved in drilling a well could unleash the vast energy that shook the ground across seven states. The tremors might, in fact, turn out to be purely natural events. Oklahoma has geological faults and a history of earthquakes. But while scientists doubt that the fracturing of rock around a well to unleash oil and gas by itself could cause earthquakes as powerful as the 5.6 magnitude Oklahoma temblor, the deep injection wells associated with oil and gas fracking, along with mining and other industrial uses, are believed by scientists to have caused earthquakes nearly that powerful. USGS seismologist Art McGarr said the agency hopes to have a preliminary answer within a couple weeks. The National Academy of Sciences is studying the seismic effects of energy drilling and mining and will issue a report next spring.

Read more from The Wichita Eagle.

OK military installations: $9.6 Billion Impact, 5% of All Wages and Salaries

Oklahoma’s five military installations have a $9.6 billion economic impact on the state’s gross domestic product, according to an economic analysis by the Department of Commerce. Collectively, Oklahoma’s three Air Force bases and two Army installations employ more than 69,100 with a total payroll of more than $3 billion in FY 2010, which is about 5 percent of all wage and salary disbursements in Oklahoma, according to the report.

Read more from State Impact Oklahoma.

Quote of the Day

There is a sense of urgency here unlike anything that public school students have had in the past 20 years.
Karl Springer, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools

Number of the Day


Number of months since the Great Recession began 45 months ago that Oklahoma has experienced job losses, including 800 non-farm jobs lost in September 2011.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

State Mental Health Cuts: The continuing crisis

In March, 2011, NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, released State Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis, a report documenting deep cuts to state spending on services for children and adults living with serious mental illness.1 These cuts, which occurred between 2009 and 2011, led to significant reductions in both hospital and community services for vulnerable individuals with serious mental illness. Today, with demand for public mental health services extremely high, especially at a time of severe economic distress, the crisis in mental health care continues.2 The impacts are felt throughout society as people go without the treatment they need. Increasingly, emergency rooms, homeless shelters and jails are struggling with the effects of people falling through the cracks due to lack of needed mental health services and supports.

Read more from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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