In The Know: Funding cuts result in overcrowded classes

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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that class sizes are rising in many districts due to teacher and funding cuts. Prosecutors are moving forward with the political corruption case against Rep. Randy Terrill and former Sen. Debbe Leftwich after the OK Supreme Court declined to hear Leftwich’s appeal. Labor Commissioner Mark Costello is defending his move to create an independent advocacy group to attack worker protections. The OK Policy Blog discusses how investments in technology improvements under health care reform and the stimulus law are improving health care in Oklahoma.

An advocacy group is questioning how much public input was utilized in the state’s water plan, set to be released in about a month. The Dallas Morning News made the case for allowing Texas to buy Oklahoma water. An oil well near Watonga exploded Monday night and continues to burn. The Tulsa World asks whether Oklahoma’s tax credit-based venture capital program has failed. The OK Policy Blog previously featured a guest post from Sen. Tom Adelson, former Treasurer Scott Meacham, and Finance Director Preston Doerflinger on how that tax credit may be subsidizing out of state businesses.

A grocery store owner said he feels like “Daniel in the lion’s den” on the alcohol task force. The OU Regents may have violated the state’s open meetings law by discussing conference realignment behind closed doors. Today’s Number of the Day is the amount in payroll tax relief an Oklahoma household with $46,000 in annual income would receive under the proposed American Jobs Act. In today’s Policy Note, The Century Foundation analyzes exactly how the Affordable Care Act will both strengthen health insurance protections and save money.

In The News

Overcrowded classes result of teacher, funding cuts

As Tulsa-area students get back into the school routine, district leaders have been scrambling to ease overcrowded classes by moving teachers around and combining classes. Many districts have had to cut the number of teachers available – even as enrollment grows – because of a 4.1 percent shortfall in state funding this year. The deficit follows state aid reductions the previous two years. For some, the cuts are felt more deeply than for others. Union Public Schools has lost $2.4 million in state aid this year, a figure based on the previous year’s enrollment, said Union Superintendent Cathy Burden. At Clark Elementary, some kindergarteners and first-graders were combined into multi-age classes to balance class sizes, she said. A similar situation has been playing out at Sand Springs schools, Superintendent Lloyd Snow said. Some classes in primary grades have had as high as 27 students, while some middle-school and high-school classes have had as many as 33 or 34 students, Snow said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Prosecutors ready to go forward with Oklahoma political corruption case

Prosecutors Monday said they will push ahead with a bribery case against a state representative and a former senator now that the state Supreme Court has refused to address a legislative immunity claim. Prosecutors ready to go forward with Oklahoma political corruption case The preliminary hearing for Rep. Randy Terrill and former Sen. Debbe Leftwich is set to begin Oct. 31 in Oklahoma County District Court. Leftwich was the one raising the immunity issue with the Supreme Court. She contended she was immune from prosecution because the Oklahoma Constitution states “senators and representatives … for any speech or debate in either House shall not be questioned in any other place.” A ruling in her favor would have benefited Terrill, too. Instead, in a three-page order Monday, a majority of justices decided the court will not take up her constitutional claim.

Read more from NewsOK at

State labor commissioner defends advocacy group

Labor Commissioner Mark Costello said Monday that there is nothing wrong with his use of a nonprofit 501(c)(4) organization to promote his personal brand of labor law reform. Costello came in for criticism last week after he announced formation of Parity in Oklahoma, an organization he said Monday is devoted to “the purpose of educating (the public) on public policy.” The Oklahoma Democratic Party is expected to denounce Costello, a first-term Republican, and his relationship with Parity in Oklahoma on Tuesday as improper and an abuse of the federal tax code. Originally defined loosely as “civic organizations,” 501(c)(4) entities have become a conduit for anonymous political spending in recent years. Contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are not tax-deductible, but can be kept confidential and can be used for lobbying and other political activities – although that is not supposed to be the organization’s primary purpose.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Health Care Reform (11): IT investments propel U.S. health system into the 21st Century

Over the last decade, many American businesses have radically transformed their operations with networked, computer-based processes, yet health care is one of the few industries that still relies primarily on paper records. To address the technology gap in the health care professions, the new federal health care law contains several provisions aimed at modernizing the American health care system. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act makes substantial investments in health information technology and introduces new regulatory standards for their adoption. This post explores how these new requirements and closely affiliated initiatives like the HITECH Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009, are being used to improve the quality of health care in Oklahoma.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at http://health-care-reform-11-it-investments-propel-u-s-health-care-system-into-the-21st-century/.

Advocacy group questions state water plan

With the state’s comprehensive water plan set to be officially released in about a month, a southeastern Oklahoma water advocacy group says it still has problems with the $15 million report. Officials with the group Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy questioned the value of the plan’s public input component, saying the plan doesn’t address non-consumptive water use for industries such as tourism and recreation. The water plan’s determination of excess and surplus water causes “heartburn and nightmares,” said ORWP President Charlotte Hearne. Residents from the southeastern part of the state, Hearne said, asked the state water board for recognition of non-consumptive uses such as tourism and recreation. That component, she said, was ignored by the water plan even in the public input stage.

Read more from The Journal Record [subscriber only] at

Dallas newspaper makes the case for water sales

This editorial was published Thursday in the Dallas Morning News: To our good friends in Oklahoma, we say this: Our two states could get into an expensive legal tussle over whether the Interstate Commerce Clause affects water sales to North Texas. Or the states could get down to business and come up with a plan that benefits both sides of the Red River. We’re talking about an arrangement between friends. You sell our state some of the water that your rivers and streams eventually would send into the Red River, and, in turn, that water sustains the homes and businesses of North Texas. Yes, you have the legal momentum. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relied upon complicated legalese to rebuff the Tarrant Regional Water Authority’s proposal to buy water from your rivers. It also returned to a lower federal court a case that Hugo, Okla., hopes will allow it to sell water to Irving. But how can it not be a good deal for you if your state reaps large bundles of money as a result of the bargain?

Read more from NewsOK at

Oil rig explosion rocks Watonga

An oil drilling rig continues to burn Tuesday morning as an oil and gas company works to extinguish the blaze that started Monday night. Representatives of Continental Resources, an oil and gas company based in Enid, have taken over the oil rig burning southeast of the city, a Blaine County dispatcher said Tuesday. Kristin Miskovsky, spokeswoman for Continental Resources Inc. of Enid, said an oilfield firefighting team, Wild Well Control is en route to the fire. The fire is contained and the sheriff’s department has released the scene to the company. The fire is continuing to burn, which is “the safest course of action,” Miskovsky said. No vehicles near the oil drilling rig have been damaged and no injuries reported.

Read more from NewsOK at

Has tax credit-based venture plan failed?

In the mid-1980s, the Legislature created the Oklahoma Capital Investment Board, whose job was to attract private-sector investment in Oklahoma start-up companies. It was a laudable goal, as these fledgling firms would hire Oklahoma workers and pay Oklahoma taxes. But according to a Readers Forum piece in Friday’s Tulsa World, written by three people knowledgeable in state finance (“Tax credit is subsidizing out-of-state businesses”), the experiment hasn’t worked, and as a result, the sale of state-issued tax credits has sent millions of dollars in investments into mostly out-of-state businesses. The piece, authored by Sen. Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa, Preston Doerflinger, director of the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, a Republican, and Scott Meacham, former state treasurer, a Democrat, is eye opening.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Previously: Guest Blog (Tom Adelson, Scott Meacham & Preston Doerflinger): Oklahoma tax credit is subsidizing out-of-state businesses from the OK Policy Blog

Grocery store owner feels like “Daniel in the lion’s den” on alcohol task force

The first meeting of the Task Force on the Sale of Wine and Beer in Grocery Stores was held Monday and one member of the task force felt outnumbered. Jeff Reasor, CEO of Reasor’s Foods, an Oklahoma employee-owned grocery store, told his fellow members that he felt like Daniel in the lion’s den because nine members of the task force who spoke before him all appeared to be opposed to the idea of allowing grocery stores to sell strong beer and wine. Reasor says that it’s possible some of the smaller liquor stores will close as a result, but added, “isn’t that competition?”

Read more from Oklahoma Watchdog at

Regents may have violated open meetings law in discussing conference realignment behind closed doors

A decision by the University of Oklahoma’s Board of Regents to talk about conference realignment in secret Monday has prompted questions about whether this discussion violated a state law favoring open meetings. The OU regents went into executive session at their meeting Monday afternoon in Tulsa to discuss the “legal ramifications” of conference realignment, according to their agenda. The Oklahoma Open Meeting Act allows closed-door executive sessions for public bodies like the regents to meet with attorneys, but those discussions have to be about a pending lawsuit or claim, and the board’s agenda must be specific about the case being discussed. The regents’ agenda did not go into which legal ramifications or which cases were to be discussed.

Read more from NewsOK at

Quote of the Day

We are asking the OWRB (Oklahoma Water Resources Board) to remember that what they face is more about managing scarcity than exploiting abundance.
Charlotte Hearn, president of Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy

Number of the Day

Amount in payroll tax relief an Oklahoma household with $46,000 in annual income would receive under the proposed American Jobs Act.
Source: Small Business Majority 

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Better Care For Less: How the Affordable Care Act pays for itself and cuts the deficit

The Congressional Budget Office has concluded that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law by President Barack Obama in the spring of 2010, will more than pay for itself, provide coverage for 32 million uninsured Americans, and trim federal budget deficits by some $210 billion over the ten years ending in 2021. In this issue brief, Maggie Mahar synthesizes the relevant numbers and offers in-depth analysis of exactly how the ACA will both strengthen health insurance protections and save money.

Read more from The Century Foundation at

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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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