In The Know: DA suing state after seat declared vacant while he was on active duty

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Osage and Pawnee counties District Attorney Rex Duncan filed a lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma alleging the state violated federal law by declaring his seat as district attorney vacated when he was called up for active duty with the Oklahoma Army National Guard. Pardon and Parole Board officials denied an accusation that they violated the state Open Meeting Act.

KJRH tested community college freshmen with sample questions from Oklahoma’s high school end-of-instruction tests and all 16 students failed. Some 200 community members voiced concerns at a public meeting about the loss of teachers due to budget constraints at a high-performing Oklahoma City elementary school. Preliminary renderings of a new downtown elementary were presented to the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. okeducationtruths writes that now is no time to be silent about school funding.

David Blatt writes in the Journal Record that we are having the wrong debate about welfare. The OK Policy Blog shows that as other agencies have been cut, a significantly larger share of the budget is going to roads and bridges. Morton Comprehensive Health Services CEO John Silva writes that community health centers are vital for expanding health care access to the uninsured and underserved. A backlog at the State Medical Examiner’s Office is up to 502 cases.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has received several reports of wells running dry in western Oklahoma due to severe drought. Felony offenders in Oklahoma County will begin paying a new fee to fund a program that puts local offenders to work cleaning graffiti, overgrowth and trash from public property.

In today’s Policy Note, Brookings explains what’s behind the presidential campaign controversy over Medicare cuts. The Number of the Day is the percentage of children in Oklahoma who live in working families earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

In The News

DA suing state after seat declared vacant while he was on active duty

Osage and Pawnee counties District Attorney Rex Duncan filed a lawsuit against the state of Oklahoma alleging the state violated federal law by declaring his seat as district attorney vacated when he was called up for active duty with the Oklahoma Army National Guard last year. The lawsuit, filed in Oklahoma County District Court on July 27, claims that Duncan is classified as an employee under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. Under that federal law, Duncan was entitled to be paid for at least a portion of his leave of absence and entitled to accrue retirement benefits while on active duty, the suit claims.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

State Pardon and Parole officials say no violations occurred

Pardon and Parole Board officials vowed to improve transparency and communication Wednesday, but they steadfastly denied having violated the state Open Meeting Act. The action comes in the wake of stinging allegations leveled at the board by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Prater accused the board of violating the Open Meeting Act because the board’s meeting agenda did not list the offenders who were being brought up early for consideration of paroles or commutations. He also accused the board of illegally recommending early release for offenders who are required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Prater said Tuesday that the board could commute such “85 percent offenders” but that doing so would violate the will of the people and the Legislature.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma’s end-of-instruction tests for high school seniors prove difficult for college freshman

Starting last year, Oklahoma high school seniors were required to pass a series of tests in order to graduate. Not everyone did. So we wanted to know just how tough these end-of-instruction exams are. We obtained a sample of the questions and recruited 16 students from Tulsa Community College’s Academic Strategies class. It’s a class aimed at getting primarily incoming freshmen more prepared for college. It’s an unscientific experiment, a very low-stakes approach to get a sense of what these high-stakes tests are all about. The results — all 16 students received an F average, a failing grade.

Read more from KJRH.

Community meeting draws 200 concerned about loss of teachers at OKC elementary school

Some 200 parents, teachers, students, administrators and community members packed into the auditorium at Cleveland Elementary School to voice concerns over changes many see as harmful to education as well as the neighborhood surrounding the school. Superintendent Karl Springer speaks to a crowd Wednesday at Cleveland Elementary to address concerns. At issue is the loss of a full-time science teacher last year and a reduction of arts and science opportunities at the school. “When outside decisions are made that chip away at the reputation of this school and what makes this school unique, of course we become defensive,” said Louis Paugh, who has one child at Cleveland. Paugh said he bought a home in the neighborhood because of the school.

Read more from NewsOK.

Preliminary designs presented for downtown Oklahoma City elementary

Preliminary renderings of a new downtown elementary were presented Wednesday to the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority with a pitch that the project, if successful, will accelerate development of new housing in the city’s urban core. John W. Rex Elementary School, a charter school to be located at Sheridan and Walker avenues, is one of the final school projects in MAPS for Kids and is thought to be part of a groundbreaking arrangement. The Oklahoma City School District could be the first public school district in the country to operate its own charter school, and will do so with nonprofit group Oklahoma City Quality Schools. Plans call for the $14 million, 79,000 square-foot school to open in fall, 2014.

Read more from NewsOK.

okeducationtruths: Your voice matters

Readers who have been coming to my blog since I started writing in April know that sometimes I will wake up and read something that totally sets me off. Today is one of those days. The editorial in the Oklahoman this morning basically tells teachers to worry about the things that go on in their classrooms and not concern themselves with policy decisions. I’m a big believer of the idea that life is too short to get worked up over things that are out of your control. Unfortunately, parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members don’t have a say in matters of public education policy and funding. But we do have a voice.

Read more from okeducationtruths.

Prosperity Policy: We are having the wrong debate about welfare

In recent weeks, welfare has been back in the news as politicians bicker over the rules about work requirements. It’s time we put election-year politics aside and get serious about making sure our country does everything possible to give people the tools to lift themselves out of poverty and become contributors to our economy. Sixteen years ago this month, President Bill Clinton signed a law that abolished the old welfare system and created a new cash assistance program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF. It includes stringent work requirements, lifetime eligibility limits, and strict sanctions for program violations, all intended to get single mothers off welfare and into the workforce.

Read more from The Journal Record.

You’re doin’ fine, transportation

The past several years have put severe constraints on the state budget. State appropriations remain below their levels of four years ago. Many state agencies have absorbed funding cuts of over 20 percent, and most have been forced to cut staff while eliminating programs and services. There are two notable exceptions to the hard times that have befallen most state agencies. The one frequently discussed exception is the state Medicaid program, which has required additional funding each year to cover rising health care costs and increased enrollment of low-income children. Less often noted is the Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT).

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Community health centers’ vital role

When we talk about value in health care, we need to focus on the quality of care delivered to patients as well as how far each dollar goes that is spent for health care. Today, having to navigate a health-care system that is disorganized, confusing, and increasingly unaffordable frustrates growing numbers of Oklahomans. Oklahoma has 624,000 individuals who are uninsured and are without adequate health-care coverage. Approximately 40 percent or 230,843 individuals of the state’s uninsured reside in northeastern Oklahoma, according to 2010 Census data. … In partnership with federal, state and local authorities and private foundations, Morton Comprehensive Health Services has been providing quality health-care delivery and services to the area for more than 90 years.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

OK Medical Examiner’s Office dealing with major backlog

News 9 has learned the State Medical Examiner’s Office has a big backlog. As of Wednesday afternoon, that backlog is up to 502 cases. It’s a situation that’s become considerably worse since a pathologist was fired late last month. Right now at the M.E.’s office, five pathologists are doing the work of 14. “I have one physician that has 2,000 hours of comp time. I have another physician that hasn’t had a day off in a month,” said Amy Elliott, Chief Administrative Officer of the Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s office. The M.E.’s office was already down doctors. Then, late last month, Dr. Andrew Sibley was fired from the Tulsa office, leaving an unexpected backlog of cases. Other doctors have had to pick up the extra workload including those in the Oklahoma City office. On any given day, two to eight bodies are transported from Tulsa down to Oklahoma City.

Read more from News9.

Drought, dry wells plague Oklahoma farmers and ranchers

As a crippling drought continues to weigh down on Oklahoma, some rural residents are finding themselves in a difficult position — their wells have run dry. The situation is particularly critical for farmers and ranchers, who, in some cases, are left without a way to irrigate their crops and keep their livestock watered. But the problem isn’t limited to farmers who irrigate using water wells. Farmers who normally irrigate from Lake Altus-Lugert in the southwestern part of the state weren’t allowed to pull water from the reservoir this year because of low lake levels.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma County to implement community service fee on felony offenders

Felony offenders in Oklahoma County will begin paying a new community service fee starting Thursday. The county’s board of commissioners voted Wednesday to approve a funding mechanism for a program that puts local offenders to work cleaning graffiti, overgrowth and trash from public property. The SHINE program, which stands for Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere, was interrupted last year after it was determined county highway funds could not legally be used to support it. Oklahoma County District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan said new legislation passed this spring allows for the program to be funded instead through the courts’ penalties and assessment procedures. It can also now be adopted by counties statewide.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

[The Pardon and Parole Board has] been doing docket modifications since 1989, and this is the first time since 1989 there has been an issue raised about the docket-modification process. It is not like there has been a firestorm going on for years about this, nor is it something we just started last month.

-State Pardon and Parole Board Vice Chairman Marc Dreyer, on an accusation by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater that the board is illegally recommending early release for offenders who are required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

Number of the Day

42.8 percent

Percentage of children in Oklahoma who live in working families earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, less than $36,620/yr for a family of three

Source: Working Poor Families Project

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Medicare Cuts: What is the fight about?

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate has moved Medicare to the center of the 2012 presidential campaign. Democrats have accused the Republican ticket of planning to “end Medicare as we know it” by turning it into a voucher plan that would leave seniors exposed to large and rising out-of-pocket costs. For their part, Republicans have accused President Obama of cutting Medicare by $716 billion to expand Medicaid and fund other provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Democrats have retorted that House Republicans overwhelmingly voted for a budget, drafted by Paul Ryan, that cut Medicare by the same amount and diverted the funds to purposes other than health care. This brief lays out the basic facts about the Medicare cuts.

Read more from Brookings.

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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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