In The Know: Gov. Fallin calls for audit of veterans affairs department

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 Gov. Mary Fallin called for an audit of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, which has come under recent scrutiny after the death of an 85-year-old veteran and multiple reports of abuse and neglect at the state’s veterans centers. High school students in Oklahoma City Public Schools improved so significantly in math on the state exams this year that the district’s data specialist said he hasn’t seen similar improvements in the past 30 years. The okeducationtruths blog discussed the state Department of Education’s disparate treatment of charter schools and traditional schools.

More than a dozen fires across Oklahoma have left an unpredictable path of destruction since Friday. Federal grants have been awarded to Oklahoma help pay for the cost of fighting the fires. The state Health Department is offering tetanus shots to workers and residents affected. Lawmakers said inadequate funding for volunteer fire departments and failure to manage the spread of eastern red cedars has made the problem worse. The Okie Funk blog warns against ignoring the role of climate change in increasing the likelihood of fires.

OK Policy is looking for one or two students for a paid part-time internship during the fall 2012 semester. Oklahoma health officials are working to reduce the number of cesarean sections in the state. Rep. Jason Murphey writes that free online education may soon begin competing with traditional higher education.

In today’s Policy Note, Brookings discusses a court battle in Pennsylvania that raises questions about states overriding local control of land-use in order to encourage fracking. The Number of the Day is the number of months since April 2010 where the temperature in Oklahoma was warmer than average.

In The News

Gov. Fallin calls for audit of veterans affairs department

Gov. Mary Fallin announced Monday that she has called for an audit of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, which has come under recent scrutiny after the death of an 85-year-old veteran and multiple reports of abuse and neglect at the state’s veterans centers. On July 28, the executive director of the department retired, citing her husband’s ill health. An audit is routine after an agency head resigns, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office. Weeks after the death of a veteran who was left in a scalding whirlpool at the Claremore Veterans Center, Fallin replaced eight of the nine members of the Oklahoma War Veterans Commission, which appoints the department’s executive director and administers veterans programs in the state.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Test scores jump for Oklahoma City schools

High school students in Oklahoma City Public Schools improved so significantly in math on the state exams this year that the district’s data specialist said he hasn’t seen similar improvements in the past 30 years. “The size of the jump is bigger statistically than you would predict,” said George Kimball, chief information officer. “I can’t recall ever having 7 percent or 9 percent gains or even going up 6 percent.” The most significant gains were in high school Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry end-of-instruction exams. Still, Oklahoma City Schools students lag significantly behind the state averages on all exam subjects across all grades. Superintendent Karl Springer said these latest test results indicate, however, that in some subjects, the gap is closing.

Read more from NewsOK.

Bizarre world indeed

When it comes to public school funding being diverted to charter schools, the two largest newspapers in the state have different views of reality. On one hand, the Oklahoman describes complaints from superintendents as a glimpse into the “bizarre world inhabited by some members of the education establishment.” On the other hand, the Tulsa World describes the SDE’s decision to reserve a higher percentage of funding from schools than is customary as “the latest blow to local districts that already were trying to contend with tens of millions of dollars in state funding cuts over the last few years.” The substance of the argument is that charter schools are being funded at the level of their potential enrollment. Meanwhile, traditional public schools are being funded at a level less than their existing enrollment.

Read more from okeducationtruths.

Oklahoma wildfires unpredictable in destruction

The fields around Connie Laxton’s home in Oklahoma were black with ash Monday after a roaring wildfire tore across her property and ran right up to her gray, brick ranch home — where it suddenly stopped. The fire line is marked in the grass a foot from house, and the smell of smoke permeates the inside. One side of the three 40-foot pear trees in the yard is charred gray and black, the other is leafy and green. The wildfire that burned through her area outside Mannford is one of more than a dozen that have hopscotched across Oklahoma since Friday, leaving only ashes in some spots, while property just feet away looks remarkably untouched. In some cases, the flames shifted with the wind, while in others, streams or ponds forced a detour.

Read more from the Associated Press.

See also: Oklahoma health department offers tetanus shots to workers, residents affected by wildfires from the Associated Press; Federal grants to help pay costs of fighting Oklahoma wildfires from NewsOK

Lawmakers say lack of funds, too many cedars hamper Oklahoma firefighters

As wildfires continue to burn in Oklahoma, two lawmakers say the state has failed to give firefighters the money and the policy they need to be successful. Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, said the Oklahoma Legislature has short-changed volunteer fire departments in the state budget for the second consecutive year. The budget allows for $5,000 grants to properly certified volunteer firefighting units, which is all the state funding the departments get for fuel and equipment.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Fire coverage needs global perspective

There was some great video footage of the recent wildfires delivered up by Oklahoma City television stations, but unfortunately the local corporate media here seems to be missing a key element of the story. That key element is that Oklahoma has become an epicenter and poster child of global warming, as predicted by climatologists long ago. I didn’t watch the fire coverage every minute on every news station locally, but I did watch enough to know that global warming wasn’t a major, if any, part of the story. That’s both unethical and a tragedy.

Read more from Okie Funk.

Fall 2012 student internship with OK Policy

OK Policy is looking for one or two students for a paid part-time internship during the fall 2012 semester. Students would be expected to work between 8 and 15 hours over one to three days per week, depending on their schedules and availability. Work will be primarily in our Tulsa office, with occasional opportunities to work from home or school. The work will primarily involve collecting data, conducting research, and offering analysis on state policy issues, including poverty, economic development, health care, education, and other subjects. We are looking for highly-motivated students with strong writing and quantitative skills, research experience, and a demonstrated interest in public policy. Students should be in at least their junior year. The job will primarily be office-based but could include occasional attendance at meetings in Tulsa or Oklahoma City. We are happy to cooperate with an institution’s requirements for academic credit.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Oklahoma health officials work to reduce cesarean sections

It has been about 512 years since Jacob Nufer allegedly performed a cesarean section on his wife. In 1500, the Swiss man performed what’s thought to possibly be the first written record of a mother and child surviving a c-section, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The procedure has been around for several centuries, and thanks to significant advances in medical technology, c-sections are known as relatively safe procedures. But in the past few years, attention in Oklahoma has shifted to the medical community about whether c-sections that are performed are always medically necessary.

Read more from NewsOK.

Rep. Jason Murphey: In the future higher education will be free

How much would you pay to take a higher education course from MIT? Earlier this year, 154,000 students signed up for one of this prestigious university’s online courses for free! Some of America’s best universities are planning to revolutionize education. Based on the success of the MIT program, Harvard and MIT have each invested $30 million in their own online free education platform ( They are inviting other institutions to use the platform, and the University of California Berkeley has already joined. You can register for the Artificial Intelligence course from Berkeley — the class starts on Sept. 24. Or perhaps you would rather take Introduction to Solid State Chemistry from MIT starting Oct. 15. … I don’t think we are far from the day when these free online programs will be accredited just like in-person classrooms.

Read more from the Edmond Sun.

Quote of the Day

We didn’t fund the volunteer [fire] departments at an adequate level last year, and then we gave them the same amount of money this year while we’re continuing in the drought and then expect them to do miracle work on very little resources.

-Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs

Number of the Day


Number of months, out of the last 28 since April 2010, where the temperature in Oklahoma finished warmer than average.

Source:  Oklahoma Climatological Survey

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Fracking, legislation, and the court

The ink was barely dry on far-reaching new Pennsylvania legislation to regulate hydraulic fracking practices before a state appellate court recently overturned key provisions as an unconstitutional encroachment on traditional land-use policies. This ruling serves as a reminder that few governance issues are as contentious as governmental battles over land-use decisions. Federal and state policies that restrict land-use preferences have routinely been assaulted by waves of litigation, many aiming to return authority to private and local hands. But many of the very organizations so outraged by top-down governmental control have been remarkably quiet as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted far-reaching legislation that dramatically shifted one major form of land-use from local to near-total state control. This is why last week’s decision by the Commonwealth Court to overturn key legislative provisions will only serve to draw more attention to this issue, as a larger national debate likely begins on all facets of governance related to fracking.

Read more from Brookings.

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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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