In The Know: August 25, 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 Oklahoma school districts are delaying their lawsuit against the Board of Education over funding of employee health benefits because a deal may be in the works. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority said it will not pursue federal help to set up a health insurance exchange without legislative approval. We previously explained on the OK Policy Blog why existing efforts to set up an exchange in Oklahoma are inadequate and will likely result in federal takeover.

In a police corruption trial, one Tulsa officer was acquitted and the other was convicted on just 8 out of 53 counts. One juror said she did not trust the prosecutor’s witnesses and wanted to acquit because the officer had small children. The Tulsa mayor vetoed a city council measure that would call a referendum on replacing the strong mayor form of government with a council-city manager structure. The small business and rural venture capital tax credits came under heavy criticism at the most recent tax credit task force meeting. Oklahoma state pension funds earned nearly $4 billion in interest during fiscal year 2011.

New Census data shows Oklahoma is ranked near the top in the nation for divorces. Gov. Fallin is working on a plan to increase the number of college graduates in Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog has a guest post by KIDS COUNT research director Erin Lamey on strategies to improve workforce development by investing in early childhood. In today’s Policy Note, Miller-McCune examines the potential of mandatory teacher collaboration to improve school results. Today’s Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank nationally on students’ average ACT composite score.

In The News

School districts delay lawsuits over health benefits, may make a deal with state

Area school districts are holding off on their lawsuits against the state Board of Education over employee health benefits funding because a deal may be in the works. Local school officials contend the way the state school board decided to pay for employee health insurance benefits – also known as the “flexible benefits allowance” – doesn’t constitute full funding as required by state law. Both the Sand Springs and Jenks school boards voted to pursue a legal challenge to the state board’s decision. “We’re kind of in between right now, giving a little more time. But there will be a time, sooner rather than later, to come to an understanding or to move on,” said Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow. “There may be the possibility of some supplemental appropriations, but we’ll just have to see how the economy improves,” said Governor Fallin.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma health agency says they won’t pursue federal help to set up health exchange

U.S. Health and Human Services Department officials told Montana legislators this week that the agency is working on a new partnership model to let state agencies help run the exchange without the need to get legislative authorization, according to The Associated Press. State agencies are being invited to Washington, D.C. next month to discuss it. Jo Kilgore, a spokeswoman with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, which last year applied for a federal grant to develop an insurance exchange, said the agency hasn’t been informed about the latest proposal and doesn’t seem interested. “We’re not planning to attend if we are invited,” she said. “What we’re going to be doing is taking our lead from the state leadership.” Under the health care law passed last year and supported by Democratic President Barack Obama, the federal government will impose its version of an insurance exchange on states that don’t set up their own.

Read more from NewsOK at

Previously: Feds promise flexibility on state health insurance exchanges, but not complaisance from the OK Policy Blog

Tulsa police trial: One officer convicted on 8 counts; second officer acquitted

A jury convicted a decorated Tulsa police officer of eight counts of perjury and civil rights violations and acquitted his partner Wednesday. Officer Jeff Henderson was found guilty on eight counts; Officer Bill Yelton was acquitted on all charges against him. Henderson was found not guilty on 45 other counts after jurors deliberated for 23 hours over four days. Henderson was found guilty of one count of deprivation of civil rights stemming from a search of Carah Bartel and William Kinnard’s apartment and another civil-rights violation count in the case of Ronald Crawford. The six other counts on which he was convicted relate to perjury during testimony Henderson gave during a hearing in Crawford’s federal case.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Jury had ‘heated discussions’ in police case, juror says from The Tulsa World

Mayor vetoes ballot measure to change structure of Tulsa government

Mayor Dewey Bartlett vetoed on Wednesday a City Council ballot resolution that seeks to change the city’s strong mayor form of government to a council-city manager structure. “There is absolutely no groundswell of public desire to change the City Charter. It was solely driven by the council,” Bartlett told the Tulsa World. He said he also thinks the measure is in “direct conflict” with state law and strips away the checks and balances that currently are in place. The mayor said the council’s proposal is “neither in the best interest of the citizens nor in the best interest of promoting the effective, efficient and even-handed administration of our municipal government.” Several councilors who support the measure said they expected the veto, noting that it is Bartlett’s 10th. They also said they believe that the council has enough votes to overturn the veto.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Small business, rural venture capital tax credit days numbered?

At least two state tax credits, for small business and rural venture capital projects, may soon be wiped off the statute books. Speaking for The State Chamber, former State Treasurer Scott Meacham said there are structural problems with the tax credit programs that have survived several legislative fixes since the idea for increasing venture capital in Oklahoma was initially launched. “It is our position that those credits have got to go,” Meacham told lawmakers on a joint task force studying tax credits Wednesday. He said a chamber group has been working to come up with a targeted incentive. Some good projects have been aided with the tax credits, Meacham acknowledged. “You had someone else who saw it as an opportunity to put a lot of money in their pocket,” he said. A key challenge with the tax credit idea is the capital company structure itself, which presents a basically uncontrollable problem, he said.

Read more from the 23rd and Lincoln blog at

Oklahoma pension funds report strong investment earnings

The state’s two largest pension funds reported investment gains of more than 20 percent for the past fiscal year, but the recent volatility on Wall Street has put a damper on that good news, the investment consultant for the Oklahoma State Pension Commission said Wednesday. “We don’t know the effects of the down market,” said Allan Martin, a managing partner with NEPC, which has more than 300 clients. The stock market, even after Tuesday’s rally of 322 points, is still down about 11 percent for this fiscal year, which started July 1, Martin said. Overall, the state’s seven pension funds earned nearly $4 billion in interest during the 2011 fiscal year, growing from $17.9 billion to $21.5 billion, according to information presented by Martin. Stocks make up anywhere from 52 to 68 percent of the seven pension funds’ total portfolio.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma ranked at top in nation for divorces

With marriages at an all-time low, states in the South and West rank among the highest for couples hearing wedding bells. But many of these states also have higher rates of divorce. The first-of-its-kind analysis by the Census Bureau, released Thursday, also finds that people are waiting longer before marrying for the first time. In all, there were 19.1 weddings performed per 1,000 men and 17.6 per 1,000 women across the U.S. in 2009, while divorces became final for 9.2 of every 1,000 men and 9.7 of every 1,000 women. Maine, Alaska, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Nevada, ranked at the top for divorces, while Utah, Wyoming and Arkansas — which had the highest marriage rates — were also higher than average in marital breakups. New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York ranked among the lowest in divorces.

Read more from The Associated Press at

Fallin aims for increase in college graduates

Gov. Mary Fallin said she is working on a plan to ramp up the state’s economy by producing more college graduates. Her goal: 1,700 more college graduates a year. “We need a much higher number of college-educated graduates in our state,” Fallin told a town hall meeting on the Oklahoma State University campus. The state currently produces about 27,000 college degrees a year. Fallin said she will reveal details of the state’s part in the Complete College America program next month, but she said it will involve a new emphasis on retaining college students through to graduation. The program also will address transfer issues between state colleges and work with private employers to make sure state colleges and universities are producing graduates with the kinds of skills they need, she said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Guest Blog (Erin Lamey) — Workforce readiness: Investing in Oklahoma’s human capital

Many young people entering Oklahoma’s workforce year-after-year are unprepared for the challenges that life in the “real world” brings. In fact, one out of four workforce-aged adults in Oklahoma lack the basic skills needed to succeed in an occupational training course or knowledge-based job. This is troublesome to Oklahoma employers seeking to recruit and retain qualified applicants. Employers want employees who are productive and require little supervision. Oklahoma KIDS COUNT released a new issue brief today that discusses strategies to improve workforce development. We have highlighted four areas that research shows to be most effective in workforce development. By the time children turn 3, approximately 85 percent of their core brain structure has developed. Healthy brain development is key to many life skills including language ability, problem solving, and social skills.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Quote of the Day

I wish we could have acquitted him of everything. I feel that way because he has small children… I understand a lie is a lie and you can’t commit perjury and you can’t violate people’s civil rights.
A juror in the trial of two Tulsa police officers charged with civil rights violations, drugs and firearms offenses, and witness tampering. One officer was acquitted and the other was found guilty on just 8 out of 53 counts.

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank nationally on students’ average ACT composite score, 2011

Source: ACT

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Teacher collaboration gives schools better results

Five years ago, Sparks Middle School hit bottom. Its test scores were some of the worst in the district. A chain-link fence was locked after hours to prevent gangs from tagging the open-air hallways. Between classes, members of rival tagging crews would fight. Word came down to the La Puente, Calif., school from the Los Angeles County Office of Education: We may shut you down if you don’t come up with a plan. Sparks embarked on a makeover. Sherri Franson, the school’s new principal, took down the chain-link fence because she thought it made the school look like a jail. She lengthened the school day by 20 minutes, increased the number of periods from six to seven and hired two literacy coaches. Low-scoring students were required to take double periods of math or English. Every student received a “glory binder” and was taught how to take notes. And Sparks provided something else: more than six hours each week for teachers to learn from each other.

Read more from this Miller-McCune article 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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