In The Know: Audit shows Epic owes state $8.9 million | Eviction reforms needed | Oklahoma voter registrations increasing

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. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma News

‘Epic owes Oklahoma $8.9 million’: Improper transfers, chronic misreporting found by state auditor’s investigation: The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s much-anticipated investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools has found it sends about 1 in 4 taxpayer dollars it receives as a public school to its co-founders’ for-profit company. [Tulsa World] Auditors found that between 2015 and 2020, Epic, now the state’s largest school district, received $458 million — nearly all from state coffers. And more than one-fourth of that money — $125 million — went to Epic Youth Services, a for-profit management company owned by the school’s co-founders, David Chaney and Ben Harris. [Oklahoma Watch] After using Oklahoma tax dollars to fund a venture in California and allegedly violating a state law that limits how much money a charter school can spend on administrative costs, Epic Charter Schools owes Oklahoma $8.9 million, according to a report from the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office released today. [NonDoc]

Tenants and landlords agree that Oklahoma needs eviction reforms: With COVID-19 threatening to make Oklahoma’s already-high eviction rate jump even higher, tenant and landlord advocates both urged legislators Thursday to reform the state’s eviction laws. Both sides told a state House of Representatives committee hearing that evictions have become far too common across the state, but particularly in Tulsa, where the eviction rate is the 11th highest in the country, hurting tenants and property owners alike. [Tulsa World] OK Policy and its Open Justice Oklahoma program have been tracking evictions in Oklahoma and noted that policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Oklahoma’s closed eviction hearings are a transparency ‘black box,’ advocates say [Big If True]

COVID hospitalizations trending the wrong way in Oklahoma: A few weeks after Oklahoma’s coronavirus case counts began trending back up, hospitalizations have followed. In its daily coronavirus update Thursday, the State Department of Health announced 610 Oklahomans were hospitalized for COVID-19. That rivals some of the highest hospitalization rates the state has seen since the pandemic began. [KOSU]

Oklahoma Sees 116K Net Increase In Voter Registrations In 2020: Voter registration rolls in Oklahoma are surging ahead of the October 9 voter registration deadline, according to new statistics released today by the Oklahoma State Election Board. Voter registration statistics for the month ending September 30 show a net increase of more than 116,000 registered voters since January 15 – including a net increase of more than 34,000 registered voters in the past month. [KGOU] Oklahoma has 2,206,208 total registered voters as of September 30, compared to 2,090,107 on January 15 and 2,172,079 on August 31. [FOX25] | [CNHI via The Claremore Daily Progress]

Health News

State cites 45 long-term care facilities for violations during pandemic: Health inspectors have cited about one in seven Oklahoma nursing homes and assisted-living facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19 for violations that could lead to viral spread, but have issued no monetary penalties. [The Frontier]

EMSA contractor threatens to terminate contract: A company that contracts to provide paramedics for Oklahoma City’s public ambulance service said Thursday it had served notice of its intent to terminate the contract as soon as Jan. 31, less than halfway through a five-year deal. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

State’s former Mental Health Commissioner tells providers to make their needs known to lawmakers: With a spike in mental health needs expected due to the coronavirus pandemic, Oklahoma’s former mental health commissioner encouraged providers on Thursday to push state officials for increased resources. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Continued jobless claims fall for 14th consecutive week: The four-week average for continued unemployment claims decreased for the 14th consecutive week, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported Thursday. OESC continues to process payments for Oklahomans seeking Lost Wages Assistance, which further pushed the agency to revise its digital systems. [The Journal Record]

Lawmaker ethics accusations, State Question 805 opposition, recreational marijuana & more (audio): This Week in Oklahoma Politics discuss accusations against State Representative Terry O’Donnell who authored legislation which eventually allowed for his wife to take ownership of the Catoosa Tag Agency, a group forms to oppose State Question 805 to stop the use of sentence enhancements for non violent offenders and the state supreme court shoots down a recreational marijuana initiative petition. [KOSU]

Federal Government News

‘Huge missed opportunity’: Four of five tribes absent from AG Barr meeting on McGirt fallout: United States Attorney General William Barr visited the Cherokee Nation Capital in Tahlequah, Okla. on Wednesday to talk about some of the challenges and partnerships in the wake of the landmark McGirt v. Oklahoma decision that was handed down in July. [KOSU]

Criminal Justice News

Inmates fear retribution from state plan to block contraband phones: The inspector general’s office concluded that inmates used contraband cell phones — smuggled into facilities by visitors, volunteers or staff — to coordinate fights. That discovery prompted Gov. Kevin Stitt to issue an executive order directing the corrections department to acquire technology that can detect and deter contraband cell phone use. [Oklahoma Watch]

Economic Opportunity

Finally, an oasis in a food desert: This week was the groundbreaking of a 30,000-square-foot Homeland grocery store. It will be the first full-service grocery store to open on the city’s predominantly Black northeast side in decades. Without a grocery store, those without a car or who are unable to drive out of the neighborhood are left to select from whatever prepackaged, processed foods might be available at local convenience stores, mini-marts and discount box stores. That’s what it means to live a “food desert.” [The Journal Record]

  • Second new grocery planned for OKC’s east side [The Oklahoman]

Police, social service agencies to reach out to homeless community next week: Tulsa police will partner with social service agencies next week to gather information about homelessness in the community. “Operation Direct and Connect” brings together officers and case workers to engage persons experiencing homelessness. [Tulsa World]

Seeking solutions: Enid organizations, individuals working to find solutions for homelessness: Enid residents, government and nonprofit organizations are working now on plans for how to deal with the homelessness issue in our community. [Editorial Board/ Enid News & Eagle]

Tulsa County approves CARES Act funding for nonprofit’s daycare program: Tulsa County has approved $1.4 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for the nonprofit Opportunity Project to offer no-cost or low-cost child care. County spokesperson Devin Egan said officials have heard the need for that right now is great. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Economy & Business News

Spirit AeroSystems to close plant in McAlester, move work there to Tulsa and Wichita facilities: Wichita-based Spirit AeroSystems plans to close its facility in McAlester, the company said Thursday. Over the next several months, Spirit will begin moving the work currently performed in McAlester to facilities in Tulsa and Wichita, the company said in a news release. [Tulsa World] | [AP News]

American starts layoffs in Tulsa, Spirit closing McAlester plant: Aviation industry layoffs hit northeastern Oklahoma on Thursday. About 180 American Airlines employees in Tulsa are included in the company’s furloughs of 19,000 workers that started Thursday. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Education News

COVID testing for teachers available across Oklahoma: Oklahoma’s State Department of Health has begun a program to provide free COVID-19 testing for school teachers across the state. The program will offer a monthly test to teachers and school staff who want to know if they have the coronavirus. So far, the program has administered 1,081 tests and of those nine school staff members have tested positive for COVID-19. [KOSU]

General News

Renaming OKC post office a lesson on civil rights: A bill renaming the downtown Oklahoma City post office for Oklahoma civil rights icon Clara Luper has been stalled in a Senate committee of which Sen. James Lankford is a member. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe’s office said that the bill has been referred to Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, one of Sen. James Lankford’s committees. Neither Inhofe nor Lankford have directly responded to questions about renaming the post office. [Gaylord News via The Norman Transcript]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“Every taxpayer, every parent has a responsibility to be involved with their public school district. It’s time that taxpayers in Oklahoma started using their voice and demanding answers.”

-State Auditor Cindy Byrd speaking about results of her office’s investigative audit into Epic Charter Schools. [NonDoc]

Number of the Day


New registered voters in Oklahoma since January 15, 2020. This represents a net increase of more than 34,000 registered voters in the past month. 

[Source: Oklahoma State Election Board]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Dirty Tricks: 9 Falsehoods that Could Undermine the 2020 Election: The 2020 election will be hard-fought and divisive. The Covid-19 pandemic has already caused major disruptions to our elections system, and the risk that other real crises — natural disaster, machine breakdown, foreign interference — will further disrupt the election is significant. But there is also a significant risk that political actors will manufacture crises to undermine election results they don’t like. These fake crises can undercut trust in the accuracy of election outcomes, inflame partisan tensions, and destabilize our democracy. Here are nine lies, misconceptions, and false arguments that we think voters will have to contend with in 2020 [Brennan Center for Justice]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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