In The Know: August 24, 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, Superintendent Barresi is calling for a review of the multimillion dollar contract with a standardized testing company after serious errors were found in test results sent to school districts across the state. Governor Fallin is weighing whether to apply for a Race to the Top grant for early childhood education. At a recent Smart Start Conference, former Governor Brad Henry said it “would be a shame” if Oklahoma did not apply for one of the grants.

A new study ranks Oklahoma City as the 22nd most dangerous large metro for pedestrians. Oklahoma bank profits grew 25 percent compared to the same period last year. Gov. Fallin has appointed several business executives and a tax attorney for Chesapeake Energy to the task force on changing Oklahoma’s tax laws. The governor said she is open to possibly commuting the life-without-parole sentence of a Kingfisher County drug dealer.

The Oklahoma Ethics Commission refused to offer an opinion on Oklahoma City election spending because they said members of the press did not have standing to make the request. The Oklahoma Gazette had asked for the Ethics Commission’s interpretation of rules. Cherokee Freedmen descendants are planning to protest the court ruling that ejected them from the tribe. Kurt Hochenauer calls for more discussion of whether climate change means this summer’s weather is part of an extended period of drought and excessive heat in Oklahoma.

In today’s Policy Note, Jared Bernstein explains why shifting more costs to seniors is not the same as saving on health care spending. The Number of the Day is how many adults are receiving a TANF cash assistance payment in Oklahoma.

In The News

Serious errors found in Oklahoma standardized testing data

State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi is calling for a review of the multimillion dollar contract with a nationwide testing company after serious errors were found in final standardized test results sent to school districts across the state this month. The most recent errors were discovered after many districts received the “final” data and took actions based on the results, Barresi said. “Educators need to depend on this data because from the data they are making decisions about instruction within their classrooms. … Parents are making decisions about the education of their children,” Barresi said. The state already has received $1.3 million in a settlement from Pearson Education Inc. because the company missed deadlines and made errors in testing results. Testing contracts account for more than half of the Education Department’s budget.

Read more from NewsOK at

Officials weigh applying for Race to the Top early childhood education grant

Despite Oklahoma’s national reputation on early childhood education, top state officials made it clear Tuesday that entering the Obama administration’s latest Race to the Top competition would not be a slam-dunk decision. From Oklahoma, both Gov. Mary Fallin and state Superintendent Janet Barresi expressed concern that the competition could leave the state in a financial bind once federal funds ran out. “I am committed to doing everything we can … to see that we continue to have a strong role in programs that have already been established for early childhood education.” Fallin said she doesn’t want to lose the state’s “wonderful reputation” in that area. Barresi sounded a similar note. “As a leader in early childhood education, Oklahoma has created its own path independent of the federal government,” she said. “As a result of that work, the state has received national recognition in the field of early childhood education. That work should continue.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Former governor and wife honored as “champs for children,” early childhood policies advocated at Smart Start conference from CapitolBeatOK

OKC named as among most dangerous metros for pedestrians

Oklahoma City is the 22nd most dangerous large metro area for pedestrians nationwide, according to a new Transportation for America study. The national policy organization combined pedestrian fatality data with census numbers to formulate the report, which calculates a Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) for each city. OKC sustained 167 total pedestrian deaths from 2000 to 2009 for a PDI of 89.5. By contrast, the metro area of Orlando-Kissimmee, Fla., suffered 557 deaths over the same time period, with a top-ranked PDI of 255.4. OKC has made strides since being named America’s least-walkable city by Prevention magazine three years ago. The MAPS 3 program includes $40 million for around 50 miles of new trails and $10 million for roughly 70 miles of new sidewalks. The trails are projected to be completed in 2017, while the sidewalks are expected to be finished in 2014.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette at

Oklahoma bank profits grown nearly 25 percent

Oklahoma banks boosted second-quarter profits, with net income up nearly 25 percent compared to the same period last year, according to figures released Tuesday by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Net income among the state’s 243 FDIC-insured institutions in the second quarter grew to $287 million from $230 million in the year-ago quarter. Nearly 97 percent of Oklahoma banks were profitable, up from about 92 percent a year ago. Nationally, about 84 percent of FDIC-insured institutions posted a year-to-date profit. But all growth in profits and assets came among larger state banks — the 131 institutions that each control assets greater than $100 million. Among the 112 Oklahoma banks that hold less than $100 million in assets, profits were flat while assets and deposits fell slightly.

Read more from NewsOK at

Fallin appoints business executives to task force on changing Oklahoma’s tax laws

Gov. Mary Fallin named five new members Tuesday to a task force that will study and recommend potential changes to Oklahoma tax laws. Fallin announced she is replacing five appointees that Democratic Gov. Brad Henry named to the Task Force on Comprehensive Tax Reform. Fallin also reappointed two of Henry’s nominations to the panel. Fallin’s appointees are Rick Dowell, a Norman small business owner; Don Millican of Broken Arrow, the chief financial officer of Kaiser-Francis Oil Co.; Chuck Mills, president of a Shawnee-based drilling manufacturing company; Dana Webber of Tulsa, president of a Sand Springs tubing product manufacturer; Nick Tricinella of Edmond, a tax attorney for Chesapeake Energy; Bryan Gonterman of Edmond, president of AT&T Oklahoma; and Garfield County Assessor Wade Patterson of Enid. Gonterman and Patterson were reappointed.

Read more from this Associated Press article at

Fallin to consider reducing drug dealer’s sentence

Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday that she is open to possibly commuting the life-without-parole sentence of a Kingfisher County drug dealer, even if it opens the door to his being released on parole. Earlier this month, the state parole board voted 3-2 to recommend a sentence commutation for Larry E. Yarbrough, 61. Yarbrough is serving life without parole stemming from a 1994 case alleging drug trafficking after five previous felony convictions. The board recommended that Fallin commute Yarbrough’s sentence from life without parole to 42 years, which would make Yarbrough eligible for parole consideration in one year. Fallin said she hasn’t seen reports on Yarbrough’s case, but she is willing to consider commuting his sentence as recommended by the board.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma Ethics Commission refuses to give interpretation of municipal election rules

A request by Oklahoma Gazette to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission for an interpretation on rules and laws governing municipal elections was denied during the commission’s Aug. 19 meeting. The Gazette filed the request for interpretation on June 10, and most of the questions were instigated by the 2011 City Council elections, in which two non-profit groups, Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum and Better Local Government Political Action Committee, spent more than a half-million dollars without disclosing donors. However, before presentations could be made, Ethics Commission Executive Director Marilyn Hughes said she had contacted Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, which had stated over the phone the morning of the Aug. 19 meeting that members of the press did not have proper standing to bring the request before the Ethics Commission and, therefore, the commission could not hear the request.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette at

Freedmen descendants protest tribal court ruling

Despite a ruling Monday by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court that expelled them from the tribe, Cherokee freedmen descendants are not accepting their fate quietly. Marilyn Vann, president of the Descendants of Freedmen of Five Civilized Tribes Association, announced Tuesday that the organization will stage a protest Sept. 2 outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ eastern Oklahoma regional office in Muskogee in response to the court’s decision to strip about 2,800 freedmen descendants of their tribal citizenship. Vann also said the freedmen descendants and their supporters would be on hand during the Cherokee National Holiday parade Sept. 3 to “publicize their plight.” “My nation and the nation of my ancestors has expelled us on our Trail of Tears over a century after our ancestors carried baggage on the original trail,” she said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Okie Funk: Hot summer deserves more scientific inquiry, discussion

Here’s two certain facts about the heat: Oklahoma is experiencing one of its hottest summers on record and the local media has failed to discuss it at any length in terms of climate change or the bellwether of an extended drought and hot period. Just yesterday, Oklahoma City broke the record for its number of summer days with a temperature of 100 degrees or more. Oklahoma recorded the hottest average monthly temperature in U.S. history in July. Is the Oklahoma record heat tied to global warming? Another subject worthy of consideration is whether this summer’s weather pattern will become part of an extended period of drought and excessive heat in Oklahoma. Joe Rumm, on his Climate Progress blog, recently noted, “. . . climate science projects a permanent dust bowl for the Southwest if we keep listening to Inhofe. It also projects that by century’s end, the state will be above 90°F for 135 days a year!”

Read more from the Okie Funk blog at

Quote of the Day

It’s disconcerting, especially in places where we’ve taken action based on those scores. Are the scores going to hold or are they not?
Steve Lindley, spokesman for Putnam City Public Schools. Preliminary test results from Pearson Education Inc. would have put 3 Putnam City schools on the federal list for needing improvement, but the final data put only one school on that list with no explanation.

Number of the Day


Adults receiving a TANF cash assistance payment in Oklahoma, June 2011

Source: OKDHS

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Shifting isn’t saving

When we’re debating the health care challenge we face in America today, there are a few very important themes that, IMHO, we should all keep in our heads First, the economic pressure from health care spending is not a government problem, it’s a systemic problem. If anything, spending is growing faster in the private than the public sector. Here’s a graph I posted a while ago that is highly germane to this post too, as you’ll see in a moment. Second, and this is most important in today’s climate of cut, cut, cut: cost shifting is not cost saving. When Rep Ryan argued he could save Medicare by providing a voucher that was worth a lot less than what a comparable policy would cost, he was shifting, not saving, on costs. And that’s also what we would be doing if we increased the eligibility age of Medicare from 65 to 67, an option that supposedly may be put before the Congressional super-committee tasked with more deficit reduction.

Read more from Jared Bernstein 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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