In The Know: Emails reveal behind-the-scenes discussion of school report cards

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 the Tulsa World obtained emails showing how state leaders made the decision to move forward with the new A-F school grading system that more than 300 superintendents say is flawed. A Muslim man is seeking answers from federal law enforcement agencies about what he describes as their harassment of him and his family since his return to Oklahoma from the Middle East. Hours before a gunman opened fire at a Connecticut elementary school, police in Oklahoma arrested a teenager for allegedly plotting to attack his high school.

Wayne Greene discussed how the 2010 budget crisis was used to strike a tax deal with the oil and gas industry that is now costing the state dearly. OK Policy previously made the case for why Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry tax breaks are unnecessary and unaffordable. State budget cuts may soon kill the only source of free adult basic education courses and GED testing in Lawton.

Oklahoma hospitals remain determined to convince state leaders to expand Oklahoma’s Medicaid program. An Oklahoma City commercial real estate broker writes in NewsOK on why providing health care access is pro-business. See more resources from OK Policy on why expanding Medicaid in Oklahoma makes sense.

NewsOK reported on the challenge for incoming House Speaker T.W. Shannon to manage competing factions within his own party. Shannon has named new House Committee leaders and created a States’ Rights Committee. Oklahoma House Democrats say they can still be effective to challenge cuts to the personal income tax rate that could cripple state government. The Enid News and Eagle warned that legislators should proceed with caution on tax cuts, and the Tulsa World wrote that the renewed tax cut discussion is oblivious to Oklahoma’s circumstances.

 The Number of the Day is the number of schools in Oklahoma awarded a 2012 National Blue Ribbon for explemary high performance. In today’s Policy Note, the Huffington Post reports on why Walmart workers are especially vulnerable to going without medical coverage in states that do not join the Medicaid expansion.

In The News

Emails reveal behind-the-scenes discussion of school report cards

Emails between state leaders about the new A-F school grading system show the politics and behind-the-scenes communications that went into the decision to move forward with a grade calculation method more than 300 superintendents say is flawed. The Tulsa World reviewed nearly 2,000 pages of emails from Gov. Mary Fallin’s office and the Oklahoma Department of Education and interviewed officials involved in reforming school evaluations. The public process was contentious, as superintendents criticized some new state measures as unfair. There was as much activity behind the scenes.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Muslim man from Oklahoma seeks justice department inquiry

A Muslim man is seeking answers from federal law enforcement agencies about what he describes as their harassment of him and his family since his return to Oklahoma from the Middle East. The day after Thanksgiving,  the man’s sister Ava Anderson said, she and her brother were followed as they attempted to leave McAlester for Oklahoma City. She said she became concerned and drove to the McAlester Police Department, where she was greeted by numerous police who drew guns on her and her brother and also placed them in handcuffs. Anderson said she was told by a McAlester police official that this treatment was because the FBI had called the police department and asked for help in apprehending someone. Anderson said an FBI agent approached her and told her in a sarcastic manner that he had been trying to get her to pull over so he could apologize for the inconvenience.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma teen arrested in school shooting, bombing plot

Hours before a gunman opened fire at a Connecticut elementary school, police in Oklahoma arrested a teenager for allegedly plotting to attack his high school and trying to recruit classmates to help him. Police in Bartlesville arrested 18-year-old Sammie Eaglebear Chavez shortly before 5 a.m. Friday on charges of conspiring to cause serious bodily harm or death. Layne Jones, an assistant principal at the school, alerted police to the alleged plot on Thursday, according to a probable cause statement. A student told authorities that Chavez had tried to “recruit other students to assist him with carrying out a plan to lure students into the school auditorium where he planned to begin shooting them after chaining the doors shut,” police said.

Read more from the Huffington Post.

Sweet deal for oil producers costs state dearly

In crisis, there is opportunity. It’s a cliche, because it’s true. Relatively recent state history provides a great example – 2010’s state budget crisis turned into a jackpot for the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma. 2010 was, by any fair assessment, a year of crisis for the state budget. When legislators left for the year, the state budget was balanced. State agency budgets had been cut severely. Federal stimulus money and the state “rainy day” fund helped out, although state leaders pointed out that neither fund could be counted on for funding in the future. And, not as closely noted, a new tax deal was struck with the petroleum industry, with sweet long-term implications for their horizontally drilled wells.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Previously: Unnecessary and Unaffordable: The Case for Curbing Oklahoma’s Oil and Gas Tax Breaks from the OK Policy Blog

Budget cuts threaten adult education program in Lawton

Shrinking budgets may soon kill the Lawton Area Lifelong Learning Center the only source of free adult basic education courses and General Equivalency Diploma testing in the city. Patty Neuwirth, former LPS Board of Education member, former president of the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association and chairman of the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, wrote a letter to Gov. Mary Fallin Oct. 18 alerting her to the possibility the LALLC may close before the next academic year if state funding is not restored to adult education programs that help people earn GEDs. Neuwirth said state funding for the LALLC went from $73,545 during the 2010-2011 school year to zero in 2011-2012, when the legislature cut all funding for basic adult education programs statewide. Sheila Fountain, director of adult education at the LALLC, said she was informed by LPS officials that the district will not be able to continue to fund the program next school year if the allocations from the Oklahoma Department of Education are cut again.

Read more from the Lawton Constitution.

Oklahoma hospitals determined to expand state’s Medicaid program

Despite Gov. Fallin’s position against Medicaid expansion, many hospital administrators are still educating themselves with the facts that they say will make Medicaid expansion both affordable and beneficial. As a result, the Oklahoma Hospital Association said they would continue to advocate Medicaid expansion. Under current conditions one in six or 636,000 Oklahomans are uninsured according to numbers released by the Oklahoma Hospital Association. Duncan Regional Hospital’s President and CEO Jay Johnson said that 15 percent of the patients that he sees throughout the year are without insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. With the current Medicaid eligibility rules, the general adult population is not eligible for benefits unless they are a pregnant woman or the parent of a dependent child at approximately 37 percent FPL. “There is almost no adult coverage,” Johnson said.

Read more from The Duncan Banner.

Providing health care access is pro-business

There are two things I always hear about Oklahoma, and I’m proud they are true. While attending various political, charitable and business gatherings in my native state, I often hear that we are “pro-business.” The other truth is that Oklahomans are willing to pull together and help each other. The combination of these Oklahoma values leaves me shocked when considering Gov. Mary Fallin’s announcement that Oklahoma doesn’t want to accept billions of dollars in federal financing to expand the Medicaid program and provide low-income families with access to health care.

Read more from NewsOK.

New House speaker faces challenges within own party

The biggest obstacle facing Oklahoma House Speaker-elect T.W. Shannon in the upcoming session may not come from the other side of the political aisle. Shannon, who is expected to be formally elected speaker of the House of Representatives in early January, will have to keep factions from being divisive among the largest number of House Republicans to ever serve in the lower chamber. Shannon will be the first black speaker of the House and, at 34, he’ll also be the youngest to serve in the powerful post. He said he will work to ensure that all voices are heard in his caucus. Republicans for the next two years will have a 72-29 majority.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma House Committee leaders named

A new House of Representatives committee will explore Oklahoma’s sovereign rights, and a lawmaker booted as chairman by the previous speaker is back in charge of the energy panel, according to committee assignments announced Thursday. House Speaker-elect T.W. Shannon kept many of the standing committees, and created two more, including the States’ Rights Committee. Shannon also splintered the education budget subcommittee into three separate panels — one each for higher education, common education and CareerTech.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma House Democrats will be relevant, minority leader says

Oklahoma House Democrats, down to their lowest number in state history, still can be effective to challenge cuts to the personal income tax rate that could cripple state government, their leader says. Kansas, which approved a plan this year that was similar to one being floated by many GOP lawmakers this past session, is discovering the tax cuts are expected to cause huge shortfalls, with revenues projected to drop more than $700 million. House Democrats, outnumbered 72-29 by Republicans, are developing their agenda but a priority will be to champion increased funding for public schools and the CareerTech system, which have been decimated by cuts over the last four or five years, Inman said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Fallin, legislators should proceed with caution on cutting state income taxes

Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders have brought up the idea of cutting the state income tax again when the Legislature returns in February. Fallin laid out a tax-cut plan last session, but it fell apart for a variety of reasons. Sure, we all would love to pay lower taxes. Who wouldn’t? But, state government also has a responsibility to provide the core services we all need, and the money for those services must come from somewhere. There’s education to fund, at the common school level and higher education. Our state’s roads and bridges continue to rank near the bottom. They’ve got to be repaired.

Read more from the Enid News and Eagle.

Tax-cut talk sounds familiar

With the next legislative session just around the corner, state leaders, right on cue, have starting talking tax cuts again. Maybe, while they’re in a talkative mood, they could visit with our neighbors to the north, in Kansas, where leaders are frantically trying to figure out a way to deal with the massive budget crisis created by the tax cuts they enacted earlier this year. It seems that cutting taxes has become such an article of faith among some conservatives that they feel compelled to embrace it, no matter the circumstances we’re facing. Last session, the pro-tax-cut lawmakers tried and tried to push through a far-reaching tax-cut plan, even amidst one revelation after another about growing state needs.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

We are all going to pay the taxes whether Oklahoma expands Medicaid or not. As we pay into this program, it would be like us opting out of Social Security and sending all of our social security dollars to someone else in other states. It would go to the federal government to use as they chose at that point.

Duncan Regional Hospital CEO Jay Johnson

Number of the Day


Number of schools in Oklahoma awarded a 2012 National Blue Ribbon for explemary high performance, out of 314 awarded total in the U.S.nationally

Source: U.S. Department of Education

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Walmart workers at risk in states rejecting Medicaid expansion

If state governors follow through on plans to oppose the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, one substantial group of low-wage workers appears vulnerable to going without medical coverage: people who work at Walmart. The world’s largest retailer recently outlined a new policy that will exclude from health coverage newly hired employees who work fewer than 30 hours per week, as The Huffington Post reported this month. Experts described that move as an attempt by Walmart to shift the burden of providing health coverage to the government — specifically, to Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor. A primary mission behind Obamacare was to ensure that people in low-wage service sector jobs — which typically do not include health benefits — would gain some form of medical coverage. But if states now threatening to forgo the Medicaid expansion follow through on those plans, many Walmart employees — along with others in low-paid, service-sector positions — run the risk of slipping through the cracks: They are likely to work too few hours to qualify for company benefits, yet earn too much to qualify for Medicaid under their states’ restrictive standards.

Read more from The Huffington Post.

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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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