In The Know: August 15, 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 you should know that the number of Oklahoma public school students in online programs has nearly quadrupled over the last three years. Oklahoma’s colleges and universities are spending more due to record enrollments and higher utility and health insurance costs, and some lawmakers see the increased budgets as a reason to give the legislature more control over higher ed. A new consolidated school building in Sapulpa was designed to meet Gold LEED certification for environmentally friendly buildings.

The Labor Department is experiencing difficulties collecting $1.6 million in penalties owed for failure to comply with Oklahoma’s workers compensation law. Documents show that two child welfare workers and a foster mother tried to warn DHS not to transfer Serenity Deal to the custody of her father before she was killed. The Tulsa Police Department saw a drop in public complaints after the FBI began investigating Tulsa police officers for corruption.

The Chickasaw Nation will take over one of the state parks scheduled for closure. Visits to Oklahoma state parks and productivity of agriculture have both dropped due to the heat wave and drought. The Okie Funk blog asks whether health insurance programs for Oklahoma teachers will be next now that retirement benefits have been reduced. In today’s Policy Note, Paul Krugman explains why the Texas economy is not as prosperous as its boosters claim. Today’s Number of the Day is the number of Oklahoma employees who work for private businesses that do not offer health insurance.

In The News

Online schooling seeing explosive growth in Oklahoma

A Tulsa World analysis of state records shows that the number of Oklahoma public school students doing schoolwork through computer-based programs has increased nearly 400 percent over the last three years. The state’s most recent official count of virtual students for 2010-11 was 5,429. While the programs are offered at no cost to students, most are operated by for-profit companies that contract with public school districts. White Oak, an unincorporated community between Chelsea and Vinita, boasts the most virtual students in part because of its early foray into online education as well as its partnership with K12, a Virginia-based company. K12 offers virtual programs in more than half of the U.S., and most are named for the state they serve. So when you see a commercial seeking out students for the “Oklahoma Virtual Academy,” they are actually seeking out kids in grades 1-8 to transfer into the White Oak district and kids in grades 9-12 to transfer into Wynona Public Schools, the company’s virtual high school partner. Those districts keep 5 percent of the state funding for virtual students and send the rest to K12.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

As other state agencies grapple with reduced budgets, most Oklahoma colleges and universities spending more

At a time when most state agencies are dealing with 7 percent budget cuts, 18 of Oklahoma’s 25 colleges and universities will be spending more this fiscal year than the previous year. Record enrollments are driving most of the state’s university and college presidents to spend more this fiscal year. From fall 2008 through fall 2010, enrollment has increased by more than 16,000 students. Universities and colleges also are faced with higher operating expenses, such as higher utility bills and increases in health insurance. But one legislator says increased budgets are an indication that the Legislature should change how higher education operates. “It is time for the Legislature to rein in the elitist, higher education establishment in Oklahoma,” said Rep. Tom Newell, R-Seminole. Gov. Mary Fallin said a working group assigned to look at education spending in the state that she put together shortly after she was elected in November plans to release its suggestions next month.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

New green school to welcome hundreds of Sapulpa students

Like many Green Country communities, Sapulpa made the difficult decision to close neighborhood schools. But it’s one of the few to invest millions of dollars and open a new building. The Sapulpa school board did its homework and decided it was cheaper to start from scratch than upgrade two older buildings. That’s when the board decided to close those two schools and move all 700 students to a new one. It’s also environmentally friendly. The districts waiting for the official word, but from the paint on the walls to the skylights — the school was built to meet the tough standards of Gold LEED certification.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

Labor Department faces difficulties collecting unpaid workers’ comp penalties

Among the surprises for the new regime at the state Department of Labor was the discovery that nearly 600 employers owed $1.6 million in delinquent penalties for failure to comply with Oklahoma’s workers compensation law. New Labor Commissioner Mark Costello promised to crack down on the scofflaws while announcing the department had been granted its first judgment, for $1,575 against an Oklahoma City fitness club owner. In practice, the job has perhaps turned out to be a little more complicated than expected. Much of the staff was new, many of the cases were cold and procedural precedents sketchy. The problem is that most of the amounts are relatively small – as little as $8 – and more than half are $1,000 or less. The largest outstanding amounts, meanwhile, may be practically unrecoverable. Of the employers with the 10 highest balances, at least eight appear to be out of business. Another has been sold.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Caseworker, foster mom warned DHS before Oklahoma girl’s death

A child welfare worker and foster mother tried relentlessly to warn others to slow down placing 5-year-old Serenity Anne Deal with her father before she was killed, The Oklahoman has learned. Child welfare worker Donald Wheeler killed himself during the investigation of the girl’s death. Wheeler, his supervisor and the foster mother, Donna Linn, of Chandler, all warned officials with the Department of Human Services that the 5-year-old suffered while visiting Sean Devon Brooks and expressed concerns about placing her with Brooks permanently, according to emails, logs and other documentation obtained by The Oklahoman. Wheeler shared the concerns with Jennifer Shawn, a DHS supervisor in Pottawatomie County, in an email March 17. Shawn and Randy Lack, who worked for Shawn and was the primary caseworker, were in the process of being fired last week, according to sources close to the case.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Tulsa Police Department sees drop in public complaints in wake of corruption probe

The number of complaints lodged by the public against the Tulsa Police Department decreased after federal officials began investigating the department and other local law enforcement, according to a Tulsa World analysis of police data. Indeed, since the FBI conducted an undercover drug sting in 2009, the number of citizen-generated complaint cases closed by police investigators declined 42 percent, according to the analysis. Some say complaints decreased because the public was fearful. But others dismissed the federal probe as the reason for any decrease in complaint numbers. Tulsa Police Capt. Jonathan Brooks noted that police layoffs in early 2010 “most likely” affected the decline in the number of arrests and filed complaints, Brooks said. Records show arrests have been on the decline in recent years, but the World analysis indicates that the number of complaints had begun to decline well before the layoffs occurred.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Chickasaw Nation to manage state park slated for closure

The Chickasaw Nation and the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation have signed an agreement for the tribe to assume management and operations of the Boggy Depot State Park near Atoka. Tribal officials announced last week that Gov. Bill Anoatubby and Tourism and Recreation Department Executive Director Deby Snodgrass signed the agreement that goes into effect Tuesday. It allows park operations to continue while the state Legislature works out details for long-term management of the park. Boggy Depot was one of seven Oklahoma state parks slated to close because of budget cuts. Towns have stepped in to keep several of the parks operating.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Heat affecting Oklahoma tourism, agriculture

Record-setting temperatures and drought are having an impact on the state’s tourism and agricultural industries. Visitation to state parks is down as a result of the heat, said Kris Marek, state parks director. Park visitors dropped to 1.4 million this June from 1.8 million visitors for the same month last year, she said. June is typically a great month for the state parks, but the unexpected heat meant many people chose not to visit, Marek said. While visitation is down, revenue is not down comparably because more people are opting to stay in cabins and lodges, which cost more than camping, she said. Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese said farmers will have significantly less than the $6 billion in products they produce in normal years.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Okie Funk: Will state cut teacher, state employee health insurance?

Could cuts to health insurance programs for Oklahoma teachers be next now that retirement benefits have been reduced? A recent editorial (“Health care costs for public employees—the next big issue?,” Aug. 12, 2011) in The Oklahoman argued that now that so called pension reduction reform in Oklahoma is ongoing it’s probably time for “political reform” of health insurance programs for teachers and state employees. The editorial cites a study by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, that argues public employees should essentially pay for all their health care costs except for catastrophic medical events. Obviously, according to the Manhattan Institute’s and the newspaper’s line of thinking, people who work in the private sector just accept they shouldn’t go to the doctor unless they’re catastrophically sick. The idea of preventative medical care or catching a medical condition early before it develops into something catastrophic doesn’t even appear to be an issue for them.

Read more from the Okie Funk blog at

Quote of the Day

Where you see a lot of the trouble is people who begin as independent contractors, working by themselves, then they get busy and add somebody and then somebody else. They may not even know they have to have worker’s comp.
Mitch Maurer, a Tulsa attorney specializing in workers compensation defense.

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma employees who work for private businesses that do not offer health insurance, 2009

Source: Dept. of Health and Human Services via Oklahoma Health Care Authority

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Texas unmiracle

As expected, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, has announced that he is running for president. If he wins the Republican nomination, his campaign will probably center on the alleged economic miracle in Texas, which, it’s often asserted, sailed through the Great Recession almost unscathed thanks to conservative economic policies. So what you need to know is that the Texas miracle is a myth, and more broadly that Texan experience offers no useful lessons on how to restore national full employment. It’s true that Texas entered recession a bit later than the rest of America, mainly because the state’s still energy-heavy economy was buoyed by high oil prices through the first half of 2008. Also, Texas was spared the worst of the housing crisis, partly because it turns out to have surprisingly strict regulation of mortgage lending. Despite all that, however, from mid-2008 onward unemployment soared in Texas, just as it did almost everywhere else. So where does the notion of a Texas miracle come from? Mainly from widespread misunderstanding of the economic effects of population growth.

Read more from The New York Times 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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