In The Know: Epic Charter largest abuse of taxpayers funds | State braces for winter storm | Hospitals still overwhelmed with virus | More

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. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma News

State auditor to lawmakers: Epic Charter Schools mismanagement is largest abuse of taxpayer funds ‘in the history of this state’: Oklahoma’s state auditor and inspector on Tuesday said mismanagement by co-founders of Epic Charter Schools is “the largest amount of reported abuse of taxpayer funds in the history of this state” — and she has no idea why the attorney general has not brought criminal charges in the case. [Tulsa World

First major winter storm of the season takes aim at Oklahoma: Oklahomans are bracing for freezing rain, sleet, snow and ice as the first major winter storm of the season heads for the state. National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Smith says travel will become an issue. [KGOU

  • Oklahoma Gas and Electric, Public Service Co. prepare extra staff, supplies for winter storm [The Oklahoman
  • Tribal nations prepare as winter weather arrives in Oklahoma [KOSU
  • Shelters open for homeless and those without heat [Public Radio Tulsa
  • Flights canceled in and out of Oklahoma City airport ahead of winter storm [The Oklahoman]  
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools, others closing Wednesday. Here’s a look at what schools are closed [The Oklahoman] | [Tulsa World]

COVID-19 cases show decline; hospitals still face struggle:  A decline in new cases of COVID-19 is a good thing – but hospitalizations have not slacked off yet, health care experts said Tuesday. In fact, the data shows Oklahoma hospitals have not yet borne the worst of it – and cases among children are spiking nationwide. [The Journal Record

  • Military medical personnel expected soon to help two OKC hospital systems — more than a week after COVID hospitalizations break records [Tulsa World
  • Where can you pick up free N95 masks in Oklahoma County? [The Oklahoman

Health News

Pfizer asks FDA to allow COVID-19 shots for kids under 5: Pfizer on Tuesday asked the U.S. to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, potentially opening the way for the very youngest Americans to start receiving shots as early as March. [The Black Wall Street Times

Oklahomans can help researchers answer questions about long COVID through research study: Oklahomans will have the chance to participate in a national study on long COVID-19 to help scientists learn why some people infected with COVID-19 suffer with symptoms long after their infection.  [The Oklahoman

Hope Network to help people, families battling addiction: The COVID-19 pandemic and its insidious side-effects of stress and depression have taken a heavy toll on Oklahomans – especially those who suffer from addiction. [The Journal Record

State Government News

Oklahoma leaders on state budget: ‘This is not the year to really spend’: With federal relief and infrastructure funds continuing to flow into Oklahoma, potential tax losses because of the McGirt ruling, a high inflation rate and continued disruptions to the labor market, the Legislature’s top budget officials plan to take an extremely cautious approach to appropriating money for the next fiscal year, even with a projected increase in the amount available to spend. [The Oklahoman

OK Policy in the News: The state will likely have more money to spend than usual next fiscal year, and a think tank says it ought to go to working Oklahomans. [Public Radio Tulsa]

State getting $78 million to cap leaking wells, an additional $200 million expected: Oklahoma could be eligible to receive as much as $300 million from a newly created federal fund to cap abandoned oil and gas wells, the state’s secretary of energy and environment confirmed Tuesday. [Tulsa World

Oklahoma lawmakers propose raise in minimum wage: Oklahoma’s $7.25 wage could be increasing. Lawmakers have filled two separate bills for the upcoming session in an attempt to make that happen. [KSWO]

From OK Policy: Raising the minimum wage would be a crucial support to our low-income families and state economy as a whole.

Tribal Nations News

Native American tribes in Oklahoma, U.S. reach $590 million opioid settlement: Native American tribes will receive a collective $590 million to settle claims that three drug distributors and drug maker Johnson & Johnson fueled the opioid crisis in Indian Country. The settlement — open to all tribes, regardless of whether they sued —  will be paid over seven years, according to documents filed Tuesday in federal court. [The Oklahoman

New from OK Policy: Oklahoma Policy Institute now includes tribal-state policy advocacy

Chief Hoskin signs law investing over $54 million to bolster Cherokee Nation Emergency Medical Services, stabilize Adair County Emergency Medical Services: Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. today officially signed new legislation investing more than $54 million into the Cherokee Nation’s Emergency Medical Services to help lower response times, reduce staff strains and improve training for community partners throughout the tribal reservation. [Indian Country Today]

Voting and Election News

OKC mayor’s race one of the most expensive ever, led by Holt’s nearly $800,000 in donations: With less than a week until Election Day, Oklahoma City’s mayoral race is proving to be one of the most expensive in OKC history thanks to incumbent David Holt’s massive war chest. [The Oklahoman

  • David Holt seeks second OKC mayoral term after turbulent first years of highs and lows [The Oklahoman

Four candidates look to unseat Norman Mayor Breea Clark: Although the four mayoral candidates challenging Norman Mayor Breea Clark span the political spectrum, they all agree public safety funding would be their top budget priority upon taking office. [The Oklahoman]

Longtime Baptist pastor Wade Burleson challenges Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas for House seat: Wade Burleson, a longtime pastor and former head of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said Tuesday he is challenging Rep. Frank Lucas for his congressional seat and that the race would be won “at the grassroots level.” [The Oklahoman

Redistricting means changes for some Oklahoma lawmakers and voters: Oklahoma’s shifting population means new district lines for the Oklahoma House of Representatives. And redistricting means changes for some lawmakers and their constituents. [KTEN

Criminal Justice News

Supporters of death row inmate Gilbert Ray Postelle want governor to delay execution: Even from Oklahoma’s death row, murderer Gilbert Ray Postelle managed to find love — twice. On Tuesday, his fiancée and ex-wife were joined by death penalty opponents at a rally calling for Gov. Kevin Stitt to delay his execution. [The Oklahoman

  • (Audio) Group holds rally at governor’s mansion, calls for halt to Gilbert Postelle’s execution [Public Radio Tulsa

Oklahoma Trump supporter wrote ‘LOCK AND LOAD’ after going into US Capitol Jan. 6, 2021: A Trump supporter from Oklahoma has admitted he illegally went inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, after warning in a social media post that civil war was imminent. Edward T. Spain Jr., 56, of Chelsea, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor count of illegally demonstrating inside the U.S. Capitol. [The Oklahoman

Economic Opportunity

U.S. inflation threatens sustainability of Black-owned businesses: The lingering effects of steady inflation are not only being felt by the consumer–Black business owners feel it too. Owning and operating a Black-owned Business comes with a unique set of challenges, and surviving the global pandemic has pushed many to the brink. [The Black Wall Street Times

Tulsa firefighters sue city to recoup overtime wages: Thirteen Tulsa firefighters have sued the city of Tulsa in federal court, claiming their employer has failed to pay overtime wages as required by law. The lawsuit claims the city is violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act in two areas of overtime pay to firefighters. [Tulsa World

Economy & Business News

Chambers identify legislative goals to benefit businesses: The State Chamber, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and the Tulsa Regional Chamber have unveiled a joint legislative agenda ahead of the 2022 Oklahoma legislative session. The agenda covers state issue areas and details specific policies agreed upon by the chambers related to economic development, education, health care and transportation. [The Journal Record

Education News

State regents’ $898 million higher ed budget requested to help address workforce needs: Citing the pivotal role higher education plays in workforce and economic development, leaders for the state’s public colleges and universities are emphasizing several key areas in their annual budget request. [Tulsa World] The OSRHE, the governing body for the state’s universities and colleges, is asking lawmakers to appropriate more than $897 million in funding during the upcoming legislative session – an increase of about $85 million from the fiscal year 2022 budget. [Tahlequah Daily Press

From OK Policy: Oklahoma among worst states for higher education cuts, harming students who already face the greatest barriers

‘They are spent’: Teacher survey shows high stress levels: A survey conducted Jan.18-26 by the state’s largest teacher union, the Oklahoma Education Association, indicated significant strain among the 706 responding educators, with the majority reporting COVID-related school closures, absent colleagues and a lack of substitute help. [The Oklahoman

Oklahoma Gov. Stitt touts paying Oklahoma teachers $100,000: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt says computer science education, an increased focus on career tech and higher teacher pay are keys to the future industries of Oklahoma. Stitt said he foresees the day in the not too distant future where Oklahoma teachers, who once were next to last in pay, will earn as much as $100,000 a year. [The Lawton Constitution]

School districts face new dilemma: snow days or distance learning: With the National Weather Service predicting up to 8 inches of sleet and snow in the Tulsa area this week, area superintendents are weighing not only whether it is safe and feasible to have in-person classes but also whether to go to distance learning versus calling a snow day. [Tulsa World

Oklahoma distributes $38.5 million for charter and traditional public schools from Redbud fund: More than $38 million of medical marijuana tax revenue was given to hundreds of school districts around Oklahoma last week to pay for infrastructure improvements. The effort is part of the new Redbud Schools Grants program. [KOSU

General News

City’s homeless program collapses, three employees quit: Three employees in the city’s homeless program quit, leaving city staff and the city council to decide its role among other agencies who help get people off the streets. [The Norman Transcript

Oklahoma Local News

  • Urban hens and FOP contract approved by OKC City Council [OKC Free Press] | [KGOU
  • Cheat sheet: Only 2 of 3 candidates on Edmond Public Schools District 5 ballot want your vote [NonDoc
  • Jones named new president at OCCC [The Journal Record

Quote of the Day

“I am shocked this hasn’t been prosecuted yet. I do expect charges to be filed — or an explanation for why charges will not be filed.”

– State Auditor Cindy Byrd speaking to lawmakers about the mismanagement of taxpayer funds by Epic Charter Schools [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s child poverty rate. The American Rescue Plan Act temporarily expanded the federal child tax credit (CTC) for one year, including some families formerly ineligible for the credit. It’s estimated this temporary increase cut the state’s child poverty rate roughly in half while it was in effect.

[Source: Tax Policy Center]

Policy Note

Cash Assistance Boosted Infants’ Brain Development, Study Shows: When mothers with low incomes received just over $300 in monthly cash assistance during the first year of their children’s lives, their infants’ brains displayed more high-frequency brain waves when they reached 12 months old, a major new study by a team of investigators from six U.S. universities and released this week by the National Academy of Sciences shows. These types of brain waves are associated with higher language and cognitive scores and better social and emotional skills in children as they grow older. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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Kristin Wells served as the Communications and Operations Fellow for OK Policy from October 2021 to July 2022. She previously worked as a digital content producer for News On 6. A native Kansas Citian, Kristin graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tulsa in 2020. While there, she was accepted into the Global Scholars program, spurring her interests in policy, social movements, global identities, and the importance of education and advocacy. She hopes to use her skills to continue to learn and create a more equitable future for Oklahomans. An avid sports fan, Kristin lives in Tulsa with her rescue dog and is passionate about college basketball, documentaries, and coffee.

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