In The Know: April 4, 2011

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 on In The Know, Gov. Fallin continues to push for using a federal grant to set up an Oklahoma insurance exchange, despite Senate leader Bingman’s refusal to consider the legislation. NewsOK looks at the history of insurance exchange idea, which originated at conservative think tanks. House Speaker Steele expressed confidence that an Oklahoma exchange will go through.

Oklahoma’s Chief Information Office Alex Pettit spoke with the Tulsa World about his plan to consolidate state IT services. The legislature has sent the final versions of its education reform proposals to the governor, including reducing powers of the school board and ending termination protections for teachers. With graduation requirements for Oklahoma high schoolers set to increase in 2012, some are concerned about the effect it will have on drop out rates. Teachers across the state participated in grade-ins to debunk the myth that teachers’ work day begins and ends with the school bell.

In light of recent indictments of former Senate leader Mike Morgan and lobbyist William Andrew Skeith, NewsOK examines previous ethical lapses in their careers. A team of scientists is seeking an EPA grant for a clean-up project at Spavinaw Creek, which has been polluted by decades of run-off from farms fertilized with chicken litter. The creek feeds into a lake that supplies water for 250,000 people. Visits to a clean-up project at Tar Creek are being scaled back because of a shortage of funds.

CNN did a report from Oklahoma City, highlighting quality of life improvements funded by the MAPS tax. CNN spoke with city leaders who made the case that future jobs will follow where people want to live. In today’s Policy Note, budget cuts proposed by congressional Republicans would result in the closing of seven open government websites.

Read on for more.

In The News

Gov. Fallin hopes to keep insurance exchange idea alive this session

Gov. Mary Fallin says she hopes to overcome a disagreement with the Senate leader on whether to use federal money to pay for setting up a system where Oklahomans could shop for health insurance. There will always be areas that we may not have the same road to get to the same end goal, but I’m certain that we’ll find a way that we’ll reach the end goal. It may just take a different path to get there.” The Republican governor and House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, want to use a $54.6 million grant from Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration to pay for the effort. Until last week, Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, agreed. But now he says the Senate will not hear the measure, House Bill 2130.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Conservative group first propose health insurance exchanges from NewsOK; Steele expresses confidence state-based plan will emerge from exchange debate from CapitolBeatOK

Self-described geek Alex Pettit has a multi-million dollar plan to consolidate state computer system

Depending on who you talk to at the state Capitol, Alex Pettit is either the $146 million man – the key to a more efficient, less expensive state government – or he’s the state’s Information Czar – an empire builder looking to take over the state’s technology system. But he says he’s neither. “I’m a geek,” Pettit said. A $160,000-a-year geek whose plan to make the state’s computer system work better and cheaper is key to the success of Gov. Mary Fallin’s state budget.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Legislature sends Fallin education reforms

The state Legislature has sent – or soon will send – final versions of two significant measures the Republican majority deems reforms, but which the Democratic minority considers attacks on teachers. Still coming in the weeks ahead are proposals to fix technical issues in the special needs program passed last year, and a new opportunity scholarship program. Even as progress on a range of conservative policy proposals is made, Democrats remain critical, and pointed out the majority missed the April 1 deadline for public school funding decisions. House Bill 2130 would ensure the State Superintendent of Public Instruction has clearly defined statutory authority to run the agency as she (or he) sees fit, with new limitations on the powers of the Board of Education. A second measure, House Bill 1380, would bring an end to the “trial de novo” process Republicans believe has impaired the ability of public school districts to fire poorly performing educators.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Raising bar for graduation worries some

The stress and stakes are high for 17-year-old Daniela Rodriguez, who has one more year to pass several exams required for graduation in Oklahoma. “My freshmen year, I had a lot of trouble with Algebra I,” Rodriguez said.

She failed the state algebra exam, and this year must prep for both the algebra I and the geometry end-of-instruction exams. She is taking both classes simultaneously in addition to remediation and tutoring classes at U.S. Grant High School. Rodriguez is one of at least 20,000 students in the state who failed one or more of the exams required for graduation. The graduating class of 2012 — this year’s junior class — are the first Oklahoma students required to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams to receive a diploma.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Statewide grade-ins show teachers work after school hours

In the 1960s there were sit-ins, but on Sunday, groups of teachers across the state staged grade-ins, hoping to debunk a myth that teachers’ work begins with the first bell and ends with the last. Claudia Swisher, an English teacher at Norman North High School, red-marked papers, along with several other area teachers, while lunching in the Sooner Mall food court Sunday. “People think teachers only work six hours a day,” said Swisher, imitating the voices of what she thinks are misguided complaints of teacher work compared to teacher pay. “I spend at least 10 to 20 hours grading a week, but nobody sees that because I’m at home.”

Read more from this Norman Transcript article at

Ethical scrapes nothing new for indicted former Oklahoma Senate leader and lobbyist

The federal indictments this past week of former state Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan and lobbyist William Andrew Skeith should not come as a total surprise to longtime Oklahomans. Both men have survived past ethical scrapes that were highly publicized. For Morgan, the ethical questions began even before he was elected to office. Morgan was a Stillwater municipal judge in 1996 when he first decided to run for the state Senate. He continued to serve as a judge while campaigning for office, which prompted an Oklahoma State University student to file an ethics complaint with the state court administrator accusing Morgan of violating the state Code of Judicial Conduct.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

State could benefit from EPA funds for water cleanup

Spavinaw Creek might be the site of a $1.3 million demonstration project that could significantly address the taste and odor problems plaguing the city’s drinking water. “This could be an excellent opportunity to obtain federal funds for a project that could be a partial solution, and if expanded, a solution to quality issues in lakes Eucha and Spavinaw,” said Dan Storm, a state environmental scientist. Storm is leading a team of scientists and engineering experts who are applying for $794,000 in Environmental Protection Agency funds to construct an alum-injected wetland system for the removal of phosphorus. The two-year project also will use matching funds and in-kind services totaling $528,000 from the city and Oklahoma State University.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Tar Creek project short on funds from the OU Daily

CNN visits Oklahoma City

Tom Foreman is a veteran reporter with CNN who takes the time to actually find out what’s going on between the two coasts. In addition to his network reports, he write a blog in which he fires off friendly notes to the president about his discoveries. Here’s what he said about his recent visit to Oklahoma City: “I made my first trip to Oklahoma City about 26 years ago, and back then it was just a relatively uninspiring western town. Tidy. Busy enough. I recall a big, abstract sculpture downtown and a great rock and roll radio station. (Called something like The Cat?) I heard the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing,” for the first time as I passed through OKC. But beyond that, the town did not strike me as remarkable. How times have changed.”

Read more from the OKC Central blog at

Also: Watch the video from CNN

Quote of the Day

The past paradigm has been that people went to where the jobs were, and what I believe is that in the future, the people are going to go to the cities where they want to live, and the jobs are going to follow the people.

OKC Mayor Mick Cornett in an interview with CNN

Number of the Day

$228.3 million

Amount claimed by Oklahomans for the first-time homebuyers credit in FFY 2010. The credit was claimed by 33,239 homebuyers

Source: IRS

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Congress weighs deep cuts to funding for federal open government data platforms, and other five other websites that offer platforms for open government transparency are facing imminent closure. A comprehensive report filed by Jason Miller, executive editor of Federal News Radio, confirmed that the United States of Office of Management and Budget is planning to take open government websites offline over the next four months because of a 94% reduction in federal government funding in the Congressional budget. Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation first reported the cuts in the budget for data transparency. Schuman talked to Federal News Radio about the potential end of these transparency platforms this week. Cutting these funds would also shut down the Fedspace federal social network and, notably, the FedRAMP cloud computing cybersecurity programs.

Read more from govFresh at

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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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