In The Know: Education voucher bill narrowly clears Oklahoma House panel

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Today In The News

Education voucher bill narrowly clears Oklahoma House panel: Public money could be spent on Oklahoma students who attend private schools under a Republican-backed voucher program that has narrowly cleared a House committee. The House Education Committee voted 9-8 on Monday for the bill by Oklahoma City Republican Rep. Jason Nelson and it now heads to the full House. Nelson says the bill called the “Education Savings Account Program,” is intended to provide parents with more education options for their children [Associated Press].

Oklahoma school consolidation effort fails to get out of legislative committee: An early attempt at school district consolidation, one of the priorities mentioned by Gov. Mary Fallin in her State of the State speech, failed miserably Monday. A bill by Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, was trounced in a House committee. Oklahoma has more than 500 school districts. Some state leaders have suggested consolidation as a way to reduce administrative expenses and bring more resources to the classroom [NewsOK]. School consolidation won’t fix the funding gap [OK Policy].

Multiple fees, fines and bail charges add to Oklahoma County jail crowding: Multiple fees, fines and bail charges add to Oklahoma County jail crowdingThe stacking of fees, fines and bail amounts have turned the Oklahoma County jail into an overcrowded debtors’ prison. A newly released report by the Vera Institute of Justice doesn’t flat-out call the jail a debtors’ prison — but it sure describes it as one. “Currently, money plays an outsized role in who occupies pretrial beds in the Oklahoma County Detention Center,” the Vera Institute said in its initial 14-page report [NewsOK]. Read the initial report [Vera Institute of Justice]. A 2013 Tulsa World report found a similar dynamic in the Tulsa County jail [Tulsa World]. Excessive fines and fees are one reason that every sentence is a life sentence [OK Policy].

Data should drive move to end Oklahoma tax credits, exemptions: How difficult is it to eliminate or alter tax incentives and tax credits, something Oklahoma lawmakers are considering in this brutal budget year? The head of the Senate Finance Committee is finding out. One day after the committee passed a bill placing a two-year moratorium on nearly two dozen tax credits, Gov. Mary Fallin — who has pushed for reviewing Oklahoma’s sales-tax structure, although not necessarily tax credits — warned that lawmakers need to be careful because too much tinkering can be a problem [Oklahoman Editorial Board].

Oklahoma governor, Senate leader clash over tax subsidies: Even as a hole in Oklahoma’s budget grew Thursday to more than $1.3 billion, Gov. Mary Fallin and Senate GOP leaders clashed over a proposal to suspend millions of dollars’ worth of tax subsidies for businesses. Fallin warned Senate leaders that a bill passed earlier this week that would put those breaks on hold for two years already is threatening to derail some projects [Associated Press].

Lawmakers Urged to Support a Rollback of the Latest State Income Tax Cut: Members of the State Senate Finance Committee are scheduled to vote tomorrow on a measure to halt the most recent income tax cut. Citizens are being asked to call lawmakers and urge them to roll back the cut. David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute calls the cut ‘ill-advised’ at a time the state is facing a one-and-a-half billion dollar shortfall  [Public Radio Tulsa].

Education sales tax? Crews ready to collect signatures: The group promoting a state sales tax hike to fund education — including a $5,000 raise for teachers — has recruited and trained more than 200 volunteers and paid staff to collect signatures on an initiative petition beginning Tuesday. Oklahoma’s Children — Our Future will launch its signature-gathering drive in support of a penny sales tax to fund education at an event Tuesday. At that time, organizers will announce the locations of the first five town hall meetings to be held across the state to discuss the need to support education in the wake of massive state budget cuts [NewsOK]. Read our statement on the proposed ballot initiative [OK Policy].

Costs of consolidation: Merging Tourism, Commerce could add to expenses: Last year, the state agencies that attract business and recreational visitors to Oklahoma began working closely together. The Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation moved into offices at the Department of Commerce. The agencies share a public information officer and are preparing to combine their vehicle fleets. Because they’re working so well together, the Legislature should think twice about a statutory consolidation, the agencies’ spokeswoman, Leslie Blair, said Monday [Journal Record].

New Mexico stopped civil asset forfeiture abuse; Oklahoma can, too: Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) introduced a bill last session to reform the civil asset forfeiture system in Oklahoma, and OK Policy joined with groups on the left and right in a broad coalition that supports reform. This year Sen. Loveless has come out with a modified proposal in response to feedback from law enforcement and others. If these reforms make it into law, Oklahoma would move from among the worst states on this issue to among the best, just as New Mexico did after they passed similar reforms last year [OK Policy].

Guns in the wrong hands connected to half of domestic violence homicides in Oklahoma: For the past three years, Oklahoma has ranked in the top 10 among states with the highest number of women killed by men. A large portion of that figure comes from the number of fatal domestic violence cases in the state, according to the most recent report from the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt says he will push to set execution dates after grand jury report’s release: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt told CapitolBeatOK, in a recent interview, he will press to renew executions in Oklahoma once the multi-country grand jury has released its report. The grand jury has been investigating a botched execution process, including the near-execution of Richard Glossip last September, when prison officials came within hours of using the wrong drugs for lethal injection [CapitolBeatOK].

Corporation Commission readies to release plan after 5.1 magnitude earthquake: The state Corporation Commission will unveil a plan on Tuesday to address earthquakes on the western side of the state. The plan calls for a large-scale reduction in oil and gas wastewater disposal, according to a press release, largely focusing on a 5,000 square mile area in western Oklahoma. The OCC estimates more than 200 wells in the Arbuckle formation will be affected. The plan comes on the heels of one of the state’s largest earthquakes in history: a 5.1 magnitude shake centered in Fairview, about 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City [KFOR].

Tax cuts succeeded at starving revenue stream: Has the “real live experiment” in Kansas tax policy been a success? Did it live up to its billing? If we simply judge whether it met publicly stated objectives, then, no, the plan failed miserably. But in another important respect, the plan achieved exactly what many lawmakers hoped for – the squeezing down of state government [Duane Goossen / Wichita Eagle]. The Kansas tax cut experiment has a close cousin in Oklahoma [OK Policy].

Ten Commandments monument removal prompts Oklahoma bills to bring it back: A court decision forcing the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the Statehouse grounds last year so angered Republican leaders in Oklahoma that several measures have been introduced in an effort to bring it back. At least four resolutions — two each in the House and Senate — seek a public vote on whether to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to remove the language that prohibits the use of public money or property from benefiting a religion [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“Many fees are imposed on people convicted even of minor offenses. The myriad fees imposed by every actor in the local justice system (jail bed fees, court fines, court costs, drug and mental health courts, district attorney probation, community supervision, etc.) keep people mired in a cycle of debt and poverty.”

-Vera Institute of Justice report on overcrowding at the Oklahoma County jail, which opened in 1991 with an inmate capacity of 1,200 but housed 2,651 people in November 2015 (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma farms owned by individuals or families in 2012

Source: USDA

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Importance of High-School Mentors: In her job as a “dream director,” Jessica Valoris is tasked with unleashing the potential of disadvantaged students at an inner-city high school in Washington, D.C. Her employer, a New York-based nonprofit called The Future Project, embeds mentors like Valoris in public schools, characterizing her role as a “midwife of dreams” and “warrior of possibility.” The Atlantic’s video team has documented the power that mentors like Valoris can have at a defining juncture in the lives of disadvantaged young people: high school [The Atlantic].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

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