In The Know: Bonuses for Oklahoma teachers with national certification may not return

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 even though lawmakers are looking for ways to finish paying bonuses to teachers who earned National Board Certification, the program may be put on hold or phased out after this year. The Department of Public Safety commissioner said that due to budget cuts, state trooper strength is at its lowest level in 22 years. Governor Fallin will release details of her plan to slash the income tax in today’s State of the State address. In the legislative session beginning today, tax cuts will be in competition with potentially costly plans to reform prisons, rebuild the state foster care program under a court settlement, improve college graduation rates, and improve state roads. Find more on the tax debate at OK Policy’s tax reform information page.

Terri White, the head of Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, will also serve as interim chief of DHS while the state conducts a national search to replace outgoing Director Howard Hendrick. OETA’s executive director is disputing a lawmaker’s claim that 17 states have quit funding public television without losing their PBS signal. The loss of 2,100 jobs at the Tulsa American Airlines facility is likely to ripple through the area economy.

After resolving court battles with affected landowners, the Keystone pipeline is ready to come through Oklahoma. The FBI created a fake Georgia company in 2008 so an agent could go undercover to secretly investigate the Oklahoma Legislature for corruption. Sen. Shortey is proposing several measures that would dismantle Oklahoma’s judicial branch of government. Janet Pearson writes about the need to invest in programs addressing a national epidemic of child abuse.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s national rank for state and local taxes paid as a percentage of personal income. In today’s Policy Note, President Obama is proposing performance-based funding for colleges and universities to rewards schools that keep tuition low.

In The News

Bonuses for Oklahoma teachers with national certification may not return

Ann Kennedy teaches government and history at Southeast High School in Oklahoma City. Her heart always has been with Oklahoma City students, but she hasn’t always been the best teacher, she said. Ten years ago, she went through the rigorous process of earning National Board Certification. “The first time I did it, it really helped me focus more on what I was teaching, why I was teaching, the outcomes I was getting,” she said. “The end result was that I became a better teacher.” Kennedy is one of about 3,300 Nationally Board Certified teachers in Oklahoma. Like the rest of her colleagues, this year Kennedy didn’t receive the $5,000 bonus promised to teachers who earn the distinction. Three state legislators have proposed bills this year that would finish paying bonuses to teachers like Kennedy. But what happens after that payout is where the lawmakers differ. One wants to phase out the program. Another wants to put it on hold. A third wants to reinstate it. In a year where the state faces a $100 million budget shortfall, the fate of a $15 million teacher incentive program is up in the air.

Read more from NewsOK.

Notes from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Judiciary and Public Safety

Below are edited notes taken during the meeting of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Judiciary and Public Safety held on Friday, February 3, 2012. It is not a complete transcript of the meeting. Michael C. Thompson, Department of Public Safety Commissioner: We’ve been cut about $14M over last couple years. FTEs are at 1,351 down from 1,664 three years ago. Down to 36 Driver’s License stations in the state right now. Our trooper strength is as low as it’s been in the last 22 years. Hard to provide level of service needed. Not trying to be alarmist, but at 759 troopers, we need to put money into our Highway Patrol or we will continue to struggle to provide the level of service. Putting troopers at risk by not having a partner. When nearest backup is 45-minutes away, a lot can happen in 45 minutes. We’ve lost 84 troopers to retirement since our last patrol school.

Read more from Oklahoma Watchdog.

Plan to slash income tax, overhaul tax code likely to focus of 2012 legislative session

While nearly 3,000 bills await Oklahoma lawmakers when they return to the state Capitol Monday for the start of the 2012 legislative session, none are expected to receive as much attention as those designed to overhaul the state’s tax code and slash Oklahoma’s individual income tax. The tax issue has been a top priority for GOP legislative leaders and Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, who are anxious to flex their political muscle, and who maintain that cutting the income tax will make the state more business friendly and attract more companies to the Sooner State. The implications are especially significant because the income tax accounts for more than one-third of the revenue that lawmakers spend each year. Fallin will release details of her plan on Monday, when she presents her executive budget and delivers her State of the State address to lawmakers.

Read more from the Associated Press.

See also: Tax Reform Information from the Oklahoma Policy Institute

Session open, GOP plans to stay the course

With the state Capitol building literally crumbling around it, the Oklahoma Legislature returns to Oklahoma City and the task of rebuilding the state economy. “This Legislature committed itself to building a pro-growth Oklahoma and will remain focused on that mission this session,” said Speaker of the House Kris Steele, R-Shawnee. “From a policy standpoint, what we’re doing is working.” Meanwhile, Democrats argue it’s time to reverse course and fix the man-made problems the Republican leadership has brought the state. “First and foremost, our budget shortfalls over the past few years are a consequence of the decisions the Legislature has made,” said Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City. “We have a revenue crisis, not a budget crisis. Republican leaders are again calling for further cuts to state services, claiming there’s a budget shortfall and their hands are tied, but this reeks of hypocrisy given that our budget shortfall does not deter them from radical efforts to again further reduce the income tax for the wealthiest among us.” The state budget still hasn’t recovered from the impact of the recession, meaning state employees haven’t had raises for several years, teachers have been shortchanged on promised merit-pay stipends and taxpayers have seen the services offered by state agencies in decline. Meanwhile, potentially costly plans to reform prisons, rebuild the state foster care program under a court settlement, improve college graduation rates, improve state roads and reduce or eliminate the state income tax will be in competition.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma’s mental health chief to be DHS interim director

The head of Oklahoma’s mental health agency was chosen Friday to be interim director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. White said Friday she will continue in her current position as commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. She said she will work out of offices at both agencies. “Some days, I may be back and forth six times,” she said. DHS commissioners hope to choose a new director before July 1 after conducting a national search. White said she would not accept the DHS position permanently.

Read more from NewsOK.

OETA Exec disputes claims of lawmaker

OETA’s executive director is disputing a state lawmaker’s claim that 17 states have quit funding public television without losing their PBS signal. State Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle, has proposed cutting off state funding to OETA, Oklahoma’s public broadcasting network, over a five-year period so the money could be used for higher-priority issues. Osborn said 17 other states have eliminated funding for public television without any of the states losing their public television stations. John McCarroll, executive director of OETA, said the latest report from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting shows that only eight states provide no funding for public television. McCarroll said that in some states public television funding isn’t directly appropriated but comes through state institutions of higher education or community groups. Other states that aren’t funding public television now have never done so – so it’s not accurate to say that the states eliminated anything, he said. And it is unfair to compare some other states because they don’t have a statewide broadcasting mission like OETA’s.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

American Airlines layoffs likely to ripple through Tulsa-area economy

Each weekday just before noon, Milad Al-khouri’s Christy’s BBQ restaurant fills up with hungry aerospace workers from nearby Spirit Aerosystems, NORDAM and American Airlines. Now he wonders if change is on its way. “At least 20 or 25 percent of everyone who comes in here is from American Airlines,” Al-khouri said. “It’s scary for us, too, because it puts our business in jeopardy.” The future of Al-khouri’s business got a little hazier after Wednesday. That was the day American Airlines parent company AMR Corp. outlined plans to cut nearly $2 billion in costs and 13,000 employees, including at least 2,100 of the 7,200 positions at the 56-year-old Tulsa maintenance base. Tulsa Metro Chamber president and CEO Mike Neal said American Airlines maintenance base employees are spread across the region and contribute important spending to retailers, car dealers, hospitals and other local businesses.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Keystone pipeline is ready to come through Oklahoma

Oklahoma landowners who live, farm and ranch in the path of the Keystone XL oil pipeline fought their battles during the past three years and have now washed their hands of the matter even as it becomes a key issue in Washington politics. The Keystone XL pipeline would stretch from Canada to the Gulf Coast carrying crude oil to refineries near Houston. The pipeline, estimated to cost $7 billion, has been rejected by the U.S. State Department and President Barack Obama amid a number of concerns, including the path the pipeline takes through Nebraska. But in Oklahoma, a portion of the pipeline already has been built, and Howard said the company is 99 percent done with land negotiations for right of way in the state. TransCanada filed at least 60 condemnation cases against Oklahoma property owners in the past three years, according to court records. Harlan Hentges, an attorney representing property owners in Bryan County, said the company dropped its attempt to use eminent domain to acquire right of way on property owned by the White family. “It is a victory,” Hentges, of Edmond, said. “But they just went around them, and they had already basically threatened eminent domain against every other landowner that they went across in Oklahoma.”

Read more from NewsOK.

FBI created fake company for corruption probe of Oklahoma legislature

The FBI created a fake Georgia company in 2008 so an agent could go undercover to secretly investigate the Oklahoma Legislature for corruption. No one was ever charged out of the sting operation, and the company ceased to exist last year. The bogus company was named Road Safety International LLC. Its address was a suite in Alpharetta, Ga. To look legitimate, it filed organizational paperwork with the Georgia Secretary of State, created a website, printed up promotional material and paid $750 to join an Oklahoma association. A male FBI agent posed as a company executive. Undercover with him was another man, believed to be a retired agent. They eventually hired an unsuspecting Oklahoma lobbyist, Andrew Skeith. The existence of the undercover operation came to light after Skeith, former Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan and prominent Oklahoma City attorney Martin Stringer were indicted last year.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Shortey sets sights on ‘dismantling’ third branch

The Legislature convenes Monday, which means that lawmakers will spend the coming months addressing a long list of important issues and a whole bunch of half-baked, half-cocked and half-arsed measures. Out of a crowd partial to Ripley’s-Believe-It-or-Not legislation, freshman Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, towers above the rest. This year, Shortey has decided that the state really doesn’t need a third branch of government. Toward that goal, Shortey proposes to put two state questions before voters. One would ask them to abolish the state Court of Criminal Appeals and the second, to eliminate the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s power to review the constitutionality of laws. It’s unclear what replaces the Court of Criminal Appeals that handles hundreds of criminal appeals and writs affecting life and liberty. Shortey does, however, specify what gets subbed in for the Supreme Court on judicial review – a body called the “Ad Hoc Court of Constitutional Review” – players TBA later. My guess is the Legislature gets to pack that “court.”

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Child abuse, neglect a growing epidemic

We’ve all known it’s been a really bad problem for a long, long time. But across the nation, new data are surfacing to illustrate just how bad the problem is – and what must be done to keep the epidemic of child abuse and neglect from worsening. Just last week, a 23-member legislative committee issued its report on the state’s foster-care system, recommending, among other steps, that state leaders “adequately fund” the child-welfare system. Oklahoma, recent national reports suggest, is not alone when it comes to the daunting challenge of protecting children. Child abuse and neglect is such a huge problem one federal agency now is calling it a major public health problem. The problem has become so serious Congress is now considering adopting federal legislation to look into child-welfare systems and what ails them. The Center for Disease Control cited findings that show “each death due to child maltreatment had a lifetime cost of about $1.3 million, almost all of it in money that the child would have earned over a lifetime if he or she had lived.” Though the enormity of the problem makes progress difficult, there are ways of addressing it. “A promising array of prevention and response programs have great potential to reduce child maltreatment. Given the substantial economic burden of child maltreatment, the benefits of prevention will likely outweigh the costs for effective programs,” CDC concluded. In other words, sometimes you do have to throw money at a problem.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

I honestly spent more time, and I got more out of doing my National Board Certification, than I did my master’s degree.
Ann Kennedy, who teaches government and history at Southeast High School in Oklahoma City

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s national rank for state and local taxes paid as a percentage of personal income, 2009

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Obama’s higher ed plan prompts debate

In laying out his vision for performance-based funding for colleges and universities last week, President Obama issued a warning to higher education institutions. “If you can’t stop tuition from going up,” Obama said in a speech at the University of Michigan on Friday, “then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down.” Obama’s plan also includes a “Race to the Top”—similar to his earlier K-12 initiative—that would reward states with bonus funding for results such as limiting the cost of higher education. Some officials liked the concept. “He’s proposing a form of performance funding for a portion of federal spending, and my view is that, whatever level of funding we’re talking about, that’s the approach we ought to take,” Bill Powers, president of the University of Texas, told the Times. Still, many college officials also were skeptical. Illinois State University President Al Bowman objected that a focus on controlling costs would risk degrading the quality of higher education. “You could hire mostly part-time, adjunct faculty,” Bowman told the Associated Press. “You could teach in much larger lecture halls, but the things that would allow you achieve the greatest levels of efficiency would dilute the product and would make it something I wouldn’t be willing to be part of.” University of Washington President Mike Young objected that the plans would punish schools for something out of their control, since state funding plays such a large role in determining tuition costs.

Read more from Stateline.

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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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