In The Know: August 4, 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 Sand Springs Superintendent expects 100 to 300 school districts to join his lawsuit against the state over funding of school employees’ insurance premiums. NewsOK summarizes the controversies surrounding the Epic One on One online charter school. Unemployment is up in all 77 Oklahoma counties, due to both expected seasonal factors and a faltering economic recovery. Disconnection notices due to unpaid electricity bills increased in the first half of 2011.

Legislative leaders named members of the new joint committee on water issues, and lawmakers says the current drought highlights the need for a water plan. With preliminary cost estimates out for all of the MAPS 3 projects, the controversy over whether to use $30 million of the convention center budget to pay for relocation of an OG&E substation is coming to a head.

The OK Policy Blog replays a post on how the private sector also suffers from public sector decay. In today’s Policy Note, Dana Goldstein discusses recent speeches by Arne Duncan and Matt Damon to give an overview of the debate over teacher-quality. The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank nationally for wind power generation in 2010.

In The News

More school districts weigh lawsuits against state board

Area school districts are weighing their options after the Jenks and Sand Springs school boards authorized the filing of lawsuits against the state Board of Education over funding for employee health insurance. Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said his office has been fielding calls right and left from other school districts and statewide education organizations. He expects 100 to 300 school districts to likely join in filing the lawsuit. A budget approved by the state Board of Education last month does not include full funding for health insurance premiums for school employees, also known as the Flexible Benefit Allowance. Many local leaders have said that shorting districts by a total of $34 million violates state law, because state law requires that school employees’ insurance premiums be paid.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Flap over online school stokes long-simmering feud

Twentieth-century school policies met 21st-century technology last week. The result wasn’t pretty. Dozens of parents had their children’s school plans disrupted and were left scrambling to make alternate plans. Oklahoma City schools Superintendent Karl Springer complained about a virtual charter school possibly trying to “franchise” all over the state in violation of its contract. The charter school in question — Epic One on One Charter School — maintains its on-site plans weren’t actually schools. And state education officials were left to referee two issues pertaining to charter school law and school transfer policy, apparently to the full satisfaction of no one.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Unemployment up in Oklahoma City and all 77 counties

Unemployment rose in all 77 Oklahoma counties in June, but Oklahoma City still logged the lowest jobless rate among the nation’s biggest cities with 5.7 percent — a sizable jump from 4.9 percent in May — according to state and federal statistics released Tuesday. The hike in the jobless rate from 4.9 percent to 5.7 percent represented an unemployment increase of 16.3 percent. The highest unemployment rates again were concentrated in the southeastern part of the state, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Latimer County, at 10 percent, posted the highest jobless rate, followed by McCurtain County at 9.5 percent and Okmulgee County and Sequoyah County, both at 9.3 percent.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

OG&E electricity disconnection notices rise in 2011

Disconnection notices have increased in the first six months of this year for customers at Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. as the sluggish economy and higher bills take their toll on family budgets. The utility mailed more than 750,000 disconnection notices to customers from January to June. That’s about 2.1 percent higher than the first six months of 2010, according to data provided by the company. Disconnection notices are up about 8.6 percent from the same period in 2009. OG&E said this week it will suspend residential disconnections for August as temperatures are expected to remain at or near triple digits. Oklahoma Corporation Commission rules forbid electric utilities from disconnecting delinquent customers if the temperature or the heat index exceeds 100 degrees.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Legislative leaders name diverse group to water committee

A diverse group of legislators will serve on the House-Senate special committee looking at water policy, Oklahoma legislative leaders announced today. In the midst of the worst drought in modern state history, the session drew widespread attention. Sen. Brian Crain of Tulsa will be co-chairman of the water committee, with Rep. Phil Richardson of Minco as the House co-chair. The Joint Legislative Water Committee will begin meeting August 17, with the stated assignment of exploring state water needs for the coming five decades. In addition to members of both House and Senate, included on the water panel are advocates and foes of water sales to Texas, defenders and critics of water supply infrastructure for Oklahoma City, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article here.

See also: Drought highlights need for water plan to protect Oklahomans, lawmakers say from 23rd and Lincoln

Will the substation transfer be included in the MAPS 3 convention center budget now that the location is changing?

The exact amount of money going toward the convention center has long been an elephant in the room, as city and MAPS 3 staff have operated under the assumption that $250 million would be used for the convention center, while those on the convention center subcommittee and other boards have stated that the public was promised a $280 million convention center. The argument comes down to an OGE substation south of downtown that sits on the original site suggested by the 2008 Core to Shore plan for the convention center. Very little was mentioned about moving the substation in the run-up to the MAPS 3 election in late 2009, but Mayor Mick Cornett (pictured) later said that $30 million was added into the convention center budget specifically to move the substation to make room for the convention center, and if the convention center was not going to go on that site, to move the substation away from the MAPS 3 park.

Read more from this Oklahoma Gazette article at

Private sector suffers, too, from public sector decay

Anyone following the news finds daily stories of the public sector under assault. Across the nation and in Oklahoma, cuts to state government continue into their third straight year, while in Washington, the rhetoric around budget cuts has reached a fevered pitch, much of it couched in terms of the need to downsize government to allow the private sector to thrive. We thought this an opportune time to re-post a blog entry that we first ran last summer that takes aim at the idea that cutting government jobs and spending best serves the private sector.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Quote of the Day

More droughts and extreme weather are sure to come, and if we’re not prepared, water supplies will dry up and infrastructure will break down.
Rep. Phil Richardson, co-chair of the newly formed joint legislative water committee

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank nationally for wind power generation, 2010

Source: Department of Energy

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Matt Damon, Arne Duncan, and the divisive teacher-quality debate

Last weekend, two very different speeches on the future of the teaching profession made news. The first was from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who appeared Friday before the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, the organization that runs the elite National Board certification process for teachers. The United States must follow the example of the nations that out-perform us educationally, Duncan said, and begin to recruit most of our public school teachers from the top thirds of their college classes. To do this, he argued, we will need to raise average starting salaries from $30,00 to $60,000 and average salary caps from $70,000 to $150,000. The second speech was from the actor Matt Damon, a public school graduate and son of a teacher who made news in March when he slammed the Obama administration’s teacher evaluation and pay proposals.

Read more from The Nation 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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