In 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that Gov. Fallin said she supports the new voucher program for special-needs students but has “not been advocating for vouchers statewide.” House Speaker Kris Steele promised to reform the Department of Human Services but said the fight over additional money would be fierce.
A majority of El Reno voters favored bond issues for school renovations, but they did not get the 60 percent required to pass. Edmond voters continued a streak of passing 54 consecutive school bond issues, and Norman approved a $3 million expansion of the city’s animal shelter. Tulsa voters rejected major changes to the city’s government structure, but they did approve shorter terms for city councilpersons and making city elections non-partisan.
The OK Policy Blog has a guest post from OETA Board Chair James Utterback on why public television is vital for Oklahoma. Speaker Steele formed a standing committee that will develop ethics standards for House members and evaluate questions of ethics in legislative business. Speaker-designate T.W. Shannon is pushing to sell some of the estimated 9,000 state-owned properties in order to fund renovations of other state buildings.
Senate Democrats elected Sen. Sean Burrage to succeed Andrew Rice as Minority Leader. Legislators were told that statewide purchasing contracts have saved $1.2 million this year, but they don’t always mean cheapest price for every product. The George Kaiser Family Foundation pledged $22 million to Community Action Project of Tulsa County for early learning programs.
The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank among the states for the export value of its wheat crop. In today’s Policy Note, Demos explains why cutting poverty is not rocket science, if we have the political will.
In The News
Fallin treads lightly around school voucher issue
Gov. Mary Fallin tiptoed around a question about school vouchers during a Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce luncheon Monday, saying she supports the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship but has “not been advocating for vouchers statewide.” The scholarship program has been resisted by several area school districts, who say it is a thinly disguised attempt to implement vouchers for all students – something many of the initiative’s supporters have all but conceded. Responding to a question from the audience of 450 at Northeastern State University-Broken Arrow, Fallin said: “I know we have school districts here that believe it will take too much away from their funding sources. I understand that. I have not been advocating for vouchers statewide, but in this particular case, when it comes to special-needs children and trying to get them into a facility that best suits that child’s needs and parents’ needs, I do support that.”
House Speaker promises DHS reform
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, promised Tuesday to reform the Department of Human Services, which he said “provides the most important services” in state government. Noting an ongoing investigation of the department, which has been beseiged by budget cuts, staff reductions and growing criticism over the deaths of children for whom it had some degree of responsibility, Steele said, “No stone will go unturned in figuring out what it is we need to be focusing on.” Most of the discussion has been on DHS governance and department structure. Whether more money will be part of the equation is something else altogether.
El Reno voters say no to district renovation; Edmond and Norman approve bonds
Voters in the El Reno School District turned down $44.5 million in bond issues that would have built a new high school and renovated almost every other school in the district. The 12-year bond issue would have increased property taxes by an estimated 6.6 percent which is about is an increase of $66 on a tax bill that’s typically $1,000. Oklahoma school bonds require a 60 percent majority to pass. The first proposition, for the new school and almost all the renovations, failed with 51 percent of the voters voting in favor of the proposal. A second smaller bond issue for transportation and technology improvements in the district also failed with almost 52 percent of voters approving of the indebtedness. In Edmond, voters continued a streak of passing the last 54 consecutive school bond issues over the past 50 years. In Norman voters approved a $3 million expansion of the city’s animal shelter.
Voters reject major changes to Tulsa government; shorter terms and non-partisan city elections pass
Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a pair of proposals that would have overhauled the city’s strong-mayor form of government. Two other proposals that will tweak the current system by reducing council terms and creating nonpartisan elections were approved by lesser margins. Proposition No. 1, which would have created a council-city manager structure, failed 24,501 votes to 7,558. The proposal was placed on the ballot by a majority of councilors. Initiative Petition Proposition No. 1, which would have added three at-large councilors and made the mayor the chairman over the council’s meetings and agenda, failed 23,780 to 8,675. Initiative Petition Proposition No. 2, which will return council terms to two years and align the election cycle with state and federal elections, passed 18,742 to 13,460. Initiative Petition Proposition No. 3, which will convert the municipal races to nonpartisan campaigns, passed 17,766 to 14,560 votes.
Guest Blog (Dr. James Utterback): OETA is vital to the public education mission of Oklahoma
In his acceptance of the Republican Presidential nomination in 1880, James A. Garfield stated that, “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) plays a vital role in enhancing the public education mission of our state. As Chairman of the Board for OETA, it has been exciting to witness over 24,000 Oklahoma families step forward to donate in excess of $2 million annually to support Oklahoma’s only statewide public television network. An additional $1.5 million is donated annually by Oklahoma foundations and corporations. In spite of such overwhelming grassroots support, a small group of Oklahoma Legislators are calling for the elimination of funding for OETA. As an educator and a concerned citizen who cares deeply about the future of our state, I believe this action would be reckless and irresponsible.
Speaker forms standing Ethics Committee
House Speaker Kris Steele has formed a standing House Ethics Committee, taking the advice of a special House investigative committee that looked into allegations against Rep. Randy Terrill that led to Terrill being charged with a felony bribery charge. Steele, R-Shawnee, said the Ethics Committee will develop ethics standards for House members and evaluate questions of ethics in legislative business. It will be an eight-member, bipartisan committee made up of four Republicans and four Democrats. “I want to be clear that this committee will be looking at only those ethical issues that may arise after it is fully formed,” Steele said. “It will not be delving into the past to look at past issues.”
Lawmakers eye sales of surplus state property
Oklahoma could generate millions of dollars by selling some of the estimated 9,000 state-owned properties and using the money to help fund basic infrastructure needs such as upkeep on the state Capitol and improvements to roads and bridges, a state lawmaker said Tuesday. Rep. T.W. Shannon, who is in line to become speaker of the House in 2012, conducted an interim study before the House Government Modernization Committee to explore the idea of selling surplus state property. Shannon wrote a bill last session that directs the Department of Central Services to compile a list of all state-owned property and narrow down the 5 percent “most underutilized state properties.” The bill, which took effect Nov. 1, requires DCS to publish a report by the end of the year. Shannon said he would oppose any effort to divert proceeds to the state’s general fund, arguing instead it should be used to fund capital improvement needs for many of the state’s aging and decaying buildings.
Democrats elect Sen. Sean Burrage as Minority Leader
Democrats on Tuesday selected Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, as the Senate minority leader. Burrage, 43, succeeds Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, who is leaving the Senate and the state. Rice’s resignation is effective Jan. 15. Burrage defeated Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, for the post. An attorney, Burrage is considered a conservative Democrat who is pro-life. He said Senate Democrats have not developed an agenda for the next session, but they are concerned about the future of education, including vouchers, the state’s failure to fully fund health benefits for teachers and the failure to provide a $5,000 stipend for teachers who attain National Board certification.
Statewide purchasing contracts save money but don’t always mean cheapest price for every product
A statewide contract on a wide variety of supplies has saved the state about $1.2 million in the past year, but the savings could be more if agencies would have more freedom to buy items that are being sold elsewhere at a lower cost, a legislative panel was told Tuesday. A box of 20-to-30-gallon trash bags cost more than twice as much on the statewide contract than the previous contract and agencies that don’t seek and receive permission from the state to buy the lower-priced items are stuck with paying the higher price, Mary Reznicek, purchasing director for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, told members of the House of Representatives Government Modernization Committee.
George Kaiser Family Foundation pledges $22 million to CAP for early learning programs
The George Kaiser Family Foundation announced a $22 million grant Tuesday to the Community Action Project of Tulsa County. The funding will be used to match state pilot program support of CAP programming and provide new classrooms at a number of the agency’s early childhood centers, including four new classrooms at the McClure Early Education Center that will allow for 68 more students. An additional six classrooms are planned for the Disney Early Childhood Education Center to house 160 more students, and there are plans to fund 162 more children at the Rosa Parks Early Childhood Education Center in the next few years. Community Action Project serves more than 2,000 low-income children at its 13 early childhood centers throughout Tulsa County.
Quote of the Day
This isn’t about the child with a grandfather who takes him to the bookstore. This is for those whose only opportunity is what we can give them through working together.
–Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard, speaking about early childhood education
Number of the Day
Oklahoma’s rank among the states for the export value of its wheat crop – worth $363.9 million dollars in 2010
Cutting poverty is not rocket science
Poverty is often described as one of the most intractable problems facing America. That’s nonsense. We know how to make big reductions in poverty with clear-cut public policy solutions. Last week, for instance, the Center for American Progress released Half in Ten, a new report that gives comprehensive guidance on how to reduce poverty by 50 percent in ten years. But amid the 2008 financial crisis, these recommendations never found the champion they needed — strange, given how obvious it was that the Great Recession would only perpetuate America’s poverty problem. At the core of the original CAP proposal were three recommendations that, by themselves, would have reduced the 2007 poverty rate by 26 percent.
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