In The Know: Auditor: Charter school system ripe for abuse | State virus deaths pass 1,000 | McGirt decision to have financial impact

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.

New from OK Policy

Announcing OK Policy’s Fall 2020 interns and fellows: An often unsung element of OK Policy’s mission is the opportunity to engage college students and recent graduates into Oklahoma policy work. Our internship program is a paid program that allows college students and recent graduates to be mentored by OK Policy’s professional staff in policy analysis and advocacy, research and data, communication, and other areas of our operations. Our fellowships, meanwhile, are paid, year-long deep dives into a specific policy area. In just the past six months alone, our interns have been deeply involved in helping craft work in areas such as voting rights, health care, education, criminal justice, evictions, economic opportunity, and much more. [OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

In investigation of Epic, state auditor finds a system ‘ripe for potential abuse’: In presenting the findings of her investigation into Epic Charter School’s financial management, State Auditor Cindy Byrd opened her remarks at a Thursday news conference with a clarification that her audit was “not an indictment of charter schools or the charter school model.” But in her report, Byrd highlighted the ways in which current state laws, regulations and practices have failed to prevent the type of abuse she was accusing Epic of committing. She also recommended a significant change to how charter schools operate, including the end of for-profit organizations managing charter schools. [The Frontier]

  • Epic Charter Schools officials dispute state auditor’s findings [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma lawmakers sound off on scathing state audit of Epic Charter Schools [The Oklahoman]
  • Superintendent Joy Hofmeister responds to accountability failures cited in state audit of Epic Charter Schools [Tulsa World]
  • What you need to know about the Epic Charter Schools saga [The Oklahoman]

Tax Commission: McGirt decision will have ‘significant, immediate’ financial impact: A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s reservation was never terminated will have a ripple effect on state tax collections. A report from the Oklahoma Tax Commission indicates the decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma could reduce the amount of individual income tax and sales and use taxes collected by the state. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma families mourn as state surpasses 1,000 COVID-19 deaths: Oklahoma reached another grim milestone in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic last week as the state surpassed more than 1,000 deaths related to the virus. Days later, the world surpassed 1 million COVID-19 deaths, with more than 200,000 of those occurring in the U.S. The vast majority of the victims have been those who are elderly or have chronic health problems. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma is relatively low compared to other states. Per capita, Oklahoma has the 16th-lowest COVID-19 death rate, according to New York Times data from Thursday. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

Rise in childhood obesity adds to worries during COVID: Shape Your Future, a program of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, is making it easier to keep Oklahoma children healthy during the pandemic. Parents, teachers, health care providers and communities can visit to plug into easy ways to encourage kids to eat healthier, be active and sleep better, all of which help prevent obesity. [Stillwater News Press]

State Government News

Municipal government advocate predicts upcoming legislative battles over state versus local control: The executive director of the Oklahoma Municipal League, which advocates at the Capitol on behalf of municipal governments and their interests, said Friday the state legislature’s next session could be contentious over issues of whether emergency powers should rest with local versus state government. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Capitol Insider: Epic Charter Schools audit “deeply concerns” state auditor (audio): Oklahoma’s State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd said she is “deeply concerned” as she announced the initial findings of a five-year audit of Oklahoma’s largest school district, Epic Charter Schools. KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley discuss the report and how it might affect charter schools in Oklahoma in this Capitol Insider segment. [Capitol Insider / KGOU]

Opinion: Update needed to Oklahoma’s open records law: A dispute earlier this year between an Oklahoma sheriff and a university professor wound up in court, where a judge ultimately said the state’s Open Records Act “is due a legislative update.” Lawmakers should take that advice to heart. [Opinion / The Oklahoman Editorial Board]

Federal Government News

Hern says new energy bill protects low-income communities: U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern on Thursday introduced the Energy Poverty Prevention and Accountability Act. The Tulsa Republican said EPPA is intended to help Americans have equal access to affordable and reliable energy. EPPA protects vulnerable and at-risk communities by requiring transparency and accountability with new energy bills and regulations, he said. [The Journal Record]

Sen. Lankford quarantining after meeting with colleague positive for COVID-19: Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said Friday that he was quarantining after meeting with a Utah senator who tested positive for COVID-19. [AP News via Public Radio Tulsa]

The Oklahoman to hold live conversations with congressional candidates: Congressional candidates representing Oklahoma’s 5th District will participate in separate hour-long, live conversations at The Oklahoman in coming days. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma No. 3 for rate of women killed by men; 97% knew their killer, report says: Oklahoma ranks among the national leaders in acts of violence against women that end in death, according to an annual national report. Violence Policy Center, which ranks states based on the number of women killed by men, placed Oklahoma third on the list. With a rate of 2.31 per 100,000 women dying as a result of domestic violence, the state’s female homicide victimization rate is nearly twice the national average. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma City mental health emergencies outpace police trained to handle them: More than 50 times a day, Oklahoma City police respond to a mental health crisis and are presented with a critical choice: Should the individual be arrested? Detained and transported to a hospital or crisis center for care? Or do they just need the phone number of a counseling service? The answer is seldom clear, and fewer than 14% of the city’s officers have received the specialized training designed to help them make that call. [Oklahoma Watch] Diminished by state funding cuts, non-emergency mental health care for low-income and uninsured Oklahomans is limited. Advocates say with less available treatment, more people are deteriorating into crisis and leaning on police for help. [Oklahoma Watch]

Rift between judge, district attorney’s office slows justice in Comanche County: A conflict between the Comanche County District Attorney’s office and a district judge continues to roil the local justice system and, according to the prosecutor’s office, is slowing due process to a crawl. The Comanche County District Attorney’s office recently filed its 24th petition in less than a month with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in an effort to force District Judge Irma Newburn to act on a request to recuse herself or transfer a case. [Lawton Constitution]

Opinion: Open Letter to Chief Wade Gourley, Oklahoma City Police Department: To be honest, I was not happy when you were chosen to be the Chief of Police for the Oklahoma City Police Department. Your promotion told me our differences going back almost two decades had not been an impediment toward the advancement of your career, amounting to another invalidation of who I am as a person and who I was as a professional. [Opinion, Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW / OKC Free Press]

Op-Ed: Native American justice is a personal and professional mission: A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision concluded that Congress never disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation, thereby placing large swaths of Oklahoma — including much of Tulsa — within tribal jurisdiction. This decision triggered important questions about how public safety will be assured in non-native and Native American communities within the redrawn jurisdictional map. State district and appellate courts are now considering whether this decision might include the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole reservations as well. [Op-Ed, U.S. Attorney for Northern District of Oklahoma Trent Shores / Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

Op-Ed: Love your neighbor, don’t evict him: The Tulsa Housing Authority and Restore Hope Ministries began offering rental assistance to tenants and landlords in Tulsa County on Aug. 24, thanks to Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Tulsa County Commission. But something is amiss. Many tenants still have not received rental assistance, despite the fact that $20 million from CARES Act state and county funds are available. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Opinion: Teaming up to help tenants in tough times: Writing in The Oklahoman in May about the challenges presented early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the executive director of Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma said, “The Oklahoma Standard is visible daily in our legal profession.” Those words from Michael Figgins continue to ring true, as Legal Aid attorneys work with the housing assistance group Community CARES Partners to help keep residents from being evicted — at least for now. [Opinion / The Oklahoman Editorial Board]

Economy & Business News

State’s film industry ready to boom: The scene is already set for Oklahoma’s film industry to break out as the state’s next economic star, according to industry leaders who spoke on this week’s episode of JR Now. [The Journal Record]

Education News

OKCPS Return to Campus plan resumes with new infection-level trigger: Oklahoma City Public Schools will continue on its march toward bringing the youngest students back October 19 and the rest of the student body November 9. OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel sent another message to parents and staff Friday announcing that they were moving forward on their Return to Campus plan after setting a new, higher infection level trigger for shifting back to all-virtual. [OKC Free Press]

Tulsa parents push for district to return to in-person learning; superintendent’s recommendation to be made Monday: Tulsa Public Schools is spending the first nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year, which started Aug. 31, in distance learning. The experience has proved overwhelming for parents like Hayley Bump, who said she’s hanging on by a thread as she tries to juggle her job with helping her first-grader and fourth-grader navigate online schooling. [Tulsa World]

OU president says no campus-wide furloughs this fall, campus finances ‘in good shape’: The University of Oklahoma’s overall budget has not been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic this fall as classes returned in-person, and OU has ruled out any university-wide furloughs this semester, President Joe Harroz said Friday. [Norman Transcript]

The week in coveducation: Federal grants, canceled events and an Epic audit: Catch up on the week’s #coveducation news with this recap of headlines from around Oklahoma. [NonDoc]

General News

Experts: ‘McGirt’ doesn’t take your house: Headlines describing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma had some property owners and prospective buyers worried. The Washington Post ran a story under the banner, “Half of the land in Oklahoma could be returned to Native Americans.” Real estate professionals like Glen Cosper, a Realtor at Keller Williams Green Meadow who chairs the Government Relations committee at the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of Realtors, want to reassure people that the ruling does not affect property rights. [The Journal Record]

Unauthorized ‘poll watchers’ unlawful in Oklahoma: This past week President Donald Trump suggested supporters go to the polls and act as “poll watchers” in the upcoming November election to protect against voter fraud. Doing so in Oklahoma is illegal, and could land people in legal trouble. [Norman Transcript]

OKC violinist Angelica Pereira gets another chance in complex immigration case: U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn announced Friday that she has secured a review of the Oklahoma City violinist and music teacher’s denied application for permanent residency. A native of Colombia, Pereira was left in an impossible position in August when the coronavirus pandemic turned her path to U.S. citizenship into a dead end. [The Oklahoman]

Mary Sosa remembered as a South OKC ‘trailblazer’: Community members described Mary Sosa, who died Sept. 21, as a selfless leader, a trailblazer for the Latino community and a natural bridge builder who worked continuously to improve conditions for south Oklahoma City, especially her neighborhood. She served on multiple boards in Oklahoma City, including the Metropolitan Library Commission, Fundación Formula and the Neighborhood Alliance. She was a notary and frequently assisted the immigrant community. She gained notoriety in 2014 during her unsuccessful run to become the first Latina in the Oklahoma Legislature. [NonDoc]

Wayne Greene Column: If they can put a man on the moon (and a voter in space), why can’t they make vote-by-mail work efficiently and securely?: Astronaut Kate Rubins will be voting in November’s presidential election from 200 miles above Earth. And it won’t be the first time. The NASA flight engineer did the same thing in 2016, when she was previously on the space station performing the first DNA sequence in space. In fact, American astronauts have been able to vote from beyond the reach of gravity since 1997, when Texas lawmakers first permitted space voting. [Wayne Greene Column / Tulsa World]

City of Tulsa removes Black Lives Matter mural from site of Tulsa Race Massacre: The city of Tulsa removed a massive Black Lives Matter street painting Monday morning from the site of the 1921 Race Massacre, one of the nation’s worst episodes of racial violence. The sign was painted by activists in the historic Greenwood District without the city’s permission just days before President Donald Trump’s June 20 rally at the BOK Center and just weeks after George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis. [Tulsa World] Search for a home for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ street painting continues [Tulsa World]

Opinion: Dream Clock creator invites all to take the journey: In conclusion to the Oklahoman’s ongoing series for the Dream Clock, we turn to the project’s creator Clarence Hill Jr., to explain how all are invited to participate in learning how to improve race relations around them by learning more about your neighbors from different backgrounds and building bridges for a better future. [Opinion, Clarence Hill Jr. / The Oklahoman]

#StayWoke, The Oklahoma Eagle Editorial: Vote: Keep your eyes on the prize and they are trying to forget Breonna Taylor’s name: We are often told how important it is to vote, and sometimes the answer is our vote does not mean anything. This year it comes down to more than state questions and well-meaning candidates; this year we could be voting for our very lives and constitution. Does that sound like an exaggeration? This is a warning to do your part and save our nation with your vote. [Editorial / The Oklahoma Eagle]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“It frustrates me to hear people say (COVID-19) isn’t real when my dad had to go the way he did. It’s not fair. It really isn’t. He probably had 5 or 10 more years in him, easily.”

-Ralph Tall Bear, whose father died this fall from complications from COVID-19. Tall Bear said his 14-year-old daughter was ridiculed at school for wearing a mask as other students told her the virus is a hoax. [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Unemployment rate for Latinx workers in September 2020, compared with the 7.9% national average. 

[Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Coronavirus Economic Downturn Has Hit Latinos Especially Hard: The coronavirus outbreak has significantly harmed the finances of U.S. Hispanics. As the nation’s economy contracted at a record rate in recent months, the group’s unemployment rate rose sharply, particularly among Hispanic women, and remains higher among Hispanic workers than U.S. workers overall. With Hispanic households absorbing lost jobs and wages, many have said they may not be able to pay their bills. Yet even before the outbreak, Hispanics were concerned about their economic situation despite near record low levels of unemployment through the end of 2019. [Pew Research Center]

Note: In recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15 ), we will be sharing policy notes and numbers of the day that speak to issues facing Latinx communities in America. 

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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