In The Know: Anonymous donor saves 15 Tulsa teacher jobs

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 Tulsa schools has found sufficient funding from budget savings and an anonymous donor to save 31 or 32 of the 75 teacher positions that were recently eliminated. After the failure of a state bond issue, the leader of efforts to build an American Indian museum along the Oklahoma River is trying to raise $20 million within a month to breathe life into the project. Gov. Fallin signed two bills to increase funding to fix state and county bridges.

The New York Times’ Green blog reports on ambitious water conservation goals recently signed into law in Oklahoma. Senator Clark Jolley has been accused of violating campaign reporting rules. The OK Policy Blog shares a video on  the status of the American dream.

StateImpact Oklahoma shares feedback from readers on the huge barriers to finding a job after getting out of prison. OK Policy previously examined some counterproductive restrictions Oklahoma puts on employment for ex-felons. The Tulsa World writes that exempting online retailers from collecting sales tax is fundamentally unfair. A grassroots group is forming to curb distracted driving in Oklahoma.

The Number of the Day is how many state agencies were allocated the same or less for FY 2013 compared to the previous year. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for Public Integrity has an in-depth report on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s inability to act with urgency on well-known workplace hazards.

In The News

Anonymous donor saves 15 Tulsa teacher jobs

Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard announced Monday that sufficient funding has been identified from budget savings and an anonymous donor to save 31 or 32 of 75 teacher positions that were recently eliminated because of the end of federal Jobs Bill funding. “As we think about next year, there are still too many unknowns out there for us to say what we will do with the budget,” Ballard said. “I have gone to outside sources, and we have had an anonymous donor step up and pledge to us 15 teacher allocations, which costs a little over $600,000.” Ballard added: “That’s one time. You can’t do that indefinitely.” The remaining 16 to 17 teaching positions can be saved because vacant administrative positions will be held open for at least the next year, he said. One school – Eliot Elementary School – raised $42,000 to save the job of science teacher Brian Banfield, but Ballard said, “While I appreciate the work of the community very much and this is a great gesture, it’s a shame that the Oklahoma Legislature, when they have the wherewithal to do it, did not support the public schools.”

Read more from The Tulsa World.

American Indian Cultural Center hits roadblock, regroups

The leader of efforts to build an American Indian museum along the Oklahoma River is trying to raise $20 million within a month to breathe life into the project. Without that money, it won’t be possible to open the museum by December 2014 as planned, said Blake Wade, head of the state agency overseeing development of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. The state agency has been waiting three years for the $80 million needed to complete it. But last week, the Senate — for the third year in a row — defeated by one vote a proposal to issue $40 million in bonds and to match $40 million the museum directors had raised privately. Now the private funds, raised contingent on state matching dollars, could be in jeopardy. Wade said meetings are taking place with tribal leaders, the governor and the city of Oklahoma City to try to develop a plan with enough funding to keep the project moving.

Read more from NewsOK.

Fallin signs bills to increase funding for bridge repairs

Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday signed two bills to increase funding to fix state and county bridges. Fallin signed House Bill 2248, which will increase the allocation of state income-tax revenue to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation beginning in fiscal year 2014 to $59.7 million from $41.7 million. The amount will increase $18 million annually until the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Drivers Safety (ROADS) fund reaches $575 million. The measure raises the fund’s cap to $575 million from $435 million and will allow ODOT to repair or replace the remaining 167 of 706 structurally deficient bridges on the state highway system. Fallin also signed House Bill 2249, which beginning in January 2013 will increase by 0.5 percent the amount of motor vehicle fees going to the County Improvement for Roads and Bridges program, bringing the total allocation to 15.5 percent. In July 2013, a 2.5 percent increase will raise the total allocation to 18 percent. In July 2014, a 2 percent increase will bring the total to 20 percent.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma sets water conservation goal

For someone who writes frequently about California’s pioneering environmental policies, it was impossible not to do a double take at the news from Oklahoma. You see, California is the state crusading against human-caused global warming while Oklahoma’s senior senator, James Inhofe, has just written a new book excoriating that kind of focus. Nonetheless, the policy prescriptions approved by the Oklahoma State legislature and signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, seem somewhat akin to those of Sacramento. To whit, the assembly decided that the state must find a way to go about developing communities, generating electricity production and drilling for energy without compromising a natural resource: water. The Oklahoma law suggests that the state as a whole consume no more water in 2060 than it does now. One could speculate that last year’s phenomenal drought in Oklahoma and Texas was well timed in one sense. Living through last July, the hottest month experienced by any state ever, does focus the mind on the question of whether industries, farmers, homeowners, commercial enterprises and recreation spots will all have enough water in 2060, when, experts say, harsh droughts are likely to occur more often.

Read more from The New York Times.

Campaign complaint filed against Senator Clark Jolley

A state senator denied an accusation Friday that he violated campaign reporting rules by raising and spending money on his re-election bid before forming a candidate committee for his Senate race. Sen. Clark Jolley, involved in a heated Republican primary battle in Edmond, said money raised and spent for his Senate District 41 re-election bid was recorded in his Friends of Clark Jolley 2010 campaign committee he formed in November 2009 when he considered running for state attorney general. He changed the office being sought in the committee to undecided in April 2010. On March 31, he closed the Friends of Clark Jolley 2010 committee, and on April 1 he filed papers forming his Clark Jolley for Oklahoma Senate 2012 re-election committee. He transferred $217,361 from the Friends of Clark Jolley 2010 committee to the Senate re-election committee, according to a report filed with the Ethics Commission. Bob Donohoo, of Edmond, filed a complaint Friday with the state Ethics Commission questioning whether Jolley should have filed his Senate campaign report sooner.

Read more from NewsOK.

Watch This: Optimism and the American dream

The program Moyers & Company recently hosted PolicyLink Founder and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell to discuss the status of the American dream and the prospect of an equitable America. We’ve previously blogged about PolicyLink’s equity-driven economic development agenda. In this 45-minute segment, Blackwell makes the case for investing in the people and places that too often get left behind, while reflecting on her own personal experiences. She concludes, “And so this country, as a democracy, really cannot expect to continue to be proud on the world stage, competitive in the global economy, or having a democracy it can put forward as working in a multi-racial society if we don’t invest in the people who are the future.”

Watch the video at the OK Policy Blog.

Comment from a former convict: ‘Give me a chance’

Oklahoma imprisons more people per-capita than almost every other state in the nation. We lead the pack when it comes to incarcerating women, and the state spends a lot of taxpayer money on prisons — more than state cops and courts combined. About 8,000 people leave state prisons every year, and a big part of re-entering society is finding a job. Felons face myriad employment obstacles when they’re released from state prisons. Some are obvious, others are less so. When Michael Howell-El was released after a 23-year drug-related sentence, what little money he’d accrued while working in prison was wiped out by fees, fines and child support payments. Former inmates also face housing issues and difficulty getting drivers licenses reinstated, a requirement for many jobs. It’s a costly post-incarceration catch-22: It’s hard to find, get and keep a job without a home or drivers license — but how do you pay for housing and reinstatement fees without a job?

Read more from StateImpact Oklahoma.

Previously: Get a job: Why restricting employment for ex-felons is counterproductive from the OK Policy Blog

Tulsa World: Online sales tax issue lingers

There is plenty to disagree on when it comes to taxation, but surely most Americans would agree that a tax system ought to be fundamentally fair. In Oklahoma we have a system that is fundamentally unfair, at least in practice. Oklahomans who buy products from stores located in the state pay their fair share of taxes, while many who purchase products online pay no taxes at all. That situation could be addressed if state or federal leaders had the willpower to stand up to the anti-tax crowd. Texas has joined the growing number of states taking on the online retail giant Amazon, and as a result will get 2,500 new jobs, $200 million in capital investment, and an agreement to start collecting sales taxes on orders delivered to Texas customers. In return, Texas has agreed to drop its demand for $269 million in uncollected sales taxes. Another six states reportedly have reached pacts with Amazon, and another five are making the same effort. But apparently not Oklahoma.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Grassroots group out to curb distracted driving in Oklahoma

Having seen the Legislature repeatedly dismiss any meaningful distracted-driving measures, a group concerned about this issue is hoping a grass-roots approach will make a difference. Here’s hoping it does. AAA Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Safety Council are forming a task force to promote the dangers of distracted driving — particularly text-messaging at the wheel — and to compile resources that would be helpful for individuals and employers. David Koeneke, who heads the Oklahoma Safety Council, says the task force so far includes law enforcement from Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Shawnee and Norman, along with representatives from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, other state agencies and relatives of distracted-driving crash victims.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

Businesses and families don’t like to travel on gravel roads. They want to travel on roads that are safe and that are modern and having an outdated transportation system is not going to help us in making Oklahoma the best state in the nation for business development.
-Governor Mary Fallin

Number of the Day

46 of 78

The number of state agencies, of those that receive appropriated funds, that were allocated the same or less for FY 2013 compared to the previous year.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

OSHA rules on workplace toxics stalled

At 58, retired machinist Bruce Revers is tethered to his oxygen machines — a wall unit when he’s at home, a portable tank when he’s out. The simple act of walking to the curb to pick up his newspaper is a grind. His undoing was beryllium, a light and versatile metal to which he was exposed in a Southern California factory that makes high-tech ceramics for the space, defense and automotive industries. His bosses tried to keep the place clean and well-ventilated, Revers says, and he wore a respirator to shield his lungs from the fine metallic dust. Nonetheless, he was diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease in 2009. He will not recover. The federal standard in place to protect workers like Revers from beryllium is based on an Atomic Energy Commission calculation crafted by an industrial hygienist and a physician in the back of a taxi in 1949. For the last 12 years, an effort to update that standard has been mired in delay. A plan to address another toxic hazard — silica, a mineral that also damages the lungs — has been tied up even longer: 15 years. The sluggishness is symptomatic of a bigger problem: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s inability to act with urgency on well-known workplace hazards.

Read more from The Center for Public Integrity.

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.