In The Know: Gov. Fallin looks to voluntary school district consolidation

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 You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Gov. Fallin encouraged public school districts to consolidate or share services and said she will work next session to incentivize districts to consolidate voluntarily.  School officials are dismayed that the Board of Education, facing a budget shortfall from insufficient appropriations, cut statewide programs that help students meet stringent new mandates handed down by the legislature.  The Norman Transcript accused legislators of giving lip service to education during campaigns, and then shorting schools of urgently needed funding.  The Superintendent of Enid Public Schools said flat funding for education is disappointing and harmful to students. OK Policy recently laid out why this year’s budget seems to ‘Fund Education Last’.

The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes passed a resolution in support of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations in a federal lawsuit against the state over rights to water in southeast Oklahoma.  Gov. Fallin expressed continued commitment to mediation to settle the lawsuit.  A member of the criminal justice faculty at East Central University detailed and applauded a new law aimed at curbing methamphetamine in Oklahoma.  Outgoing speaker Kris Steele summarized a session of ‘productive policy’ in the House.

Catholic clergy and parishioners in Oklahoma have organized to demonstrate against a law that requires insurance companies to cover patients’ contraceptive care.  An agency that operates an Oklahoma County suicide hotline reported that increased awareness in high schools is helping boost call volume and prevent suicides among vulnerable youth.  Obesity among Oklahoma teens rose again in 2011.

Prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs for Oklahoma foster children have risen markedly in recent years.  A program to give military veterans charged with nonviolent felonies an alternative to jail continued to grow.  An agricultural researcher at Oklahoma State University called for more scientific study of gluten intolerance to counter growing ‘public paranoia.’

The Number of the Day is the percentage of bills considered by the Oklahoma Senate that passed without a single “no” vote in 2012.  In today’s Policy Note, the state health department released results of the Oklahoma Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which includes data on youth alcohol and drug use, injuries, sexual activity, obesity, and violence.

In The News

Oklahoma governor eyes voluntary consolidations of school districts

Oklahoma has 522 school districts, and that’s too many, Fallin told newspaper publishers and editors attending the Oklahoma Press Association’s annual convention.  “It is time to have a debate about the structure of our school systems,” Fallin said. “I can’t tell you what that debate will look like, but certainly to look at the funding, the sources, the needs, the growth. We have some school communities that are growing in population … and we have other school districts that are losing population.”  Fallin said she isn’t talking about forcing consolidation efforts.

Read more from NewsOK at

State cuts funding from reading, remediation programs

Tulsa-area school officials are disappointed that funding in next year’s state education budget has either been cut or eliminated for two key programs tied to legislative mandates.  More than $6 million in Reading Sufficiency funding – which used to ensure children are reading at grade-level by third grade – was eliminated. Achieving Classroom Excellence remediation money – which is used to provide extra help for high school students to pass the required tests to earn a diploma – was cut by $1 million.

Read more from the Tulsa World at

See also OK Policy blog: “Still stuck in a hole: Funding for education falls flat”

Legislature has terrible record of support

With the fall election coming up soon, we’ll be hearing lots of campaign promises from various candidates, both incumbents and challengers. Most of us don’t have to be told to take these utterances with the proverbial grain of salt, but you can be certain of one obvious falsehood.  If you hear a Republican candidate for state office say they support education, you know he or she is lying. The evidence in Oklahoma is overwhelming. The Republican-dominated legislature has a terrible record for supporting education at all levels.

Read more from the Norman Transcript at

Flat funding for education

“When funding education, priority must be placed on what is in the best interest of students,” said Shawn Hime, superintendent of Enid Public Schools. “Choosing to fund pet projects that benefit pre-determined private vendors, while making cuts to mandates like ACE — which requires students to pass end-of-instruction tests in order to graduate — does not follow this philosophy and will not improve educational opportunities for Enid’s children or others across the state.”  Hime said he was very disappointed with cuts to reading sufficiency programs that help younger students master reading and ACE funding that helps high school students gain skills needed to graduate.  “I’d rather they make those decisions based on student needs to help students across Oklahoma, and not just help the select few,” Hime said.

Read more from the Enid News & Eagle at

Intertribal Council supports Chickasaws, Choctaws in Oklahoma water dispute

The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes passed a resolution in support of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations as they face off with the state over water rights in southeast Oklahoma, the second tribal council to do so in the past several weeks.  The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes is scheduled to meet again in October, with the Okmulgee-based Muscogee (Creek) Nation set to host the meeting.  The council, meeting together for the first time in six years, passed the resolution and four others at the end of the two-hour session, drawing loud applause from the audience.

Read more from NewsOK at

Water task force

Fallin also was asked about the status of a task force that was formed last month to try to come up with a possible solution in a federal lawsuit over water rights in Oklahoma. The 19-member task force, which includes state, tribal, business and energy leaders, has met twice so far with the federal mediator assigned to the case, she said.  “We believe it’s in the best interest of the state for us to continue talking, continue mediating,” she said. “Legal processes that are long and drawn out and costly don’t benefit anybody. It’s not good for the state of Oklahoma. It’s not good for economic development.”

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma lawmakers took right approach in trying to curb meth

Each year, the Legislature passes dozens of bills that are signed into law by the governor, most with little fanfare. When Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 2941 into law, however, it was a significant event for all of us who’ve collaborated during the past several months to address Oklahoma’s methamphetamine problem.  As a former law enforcement officer and police chief, I know the new law won’t eradicate meth production and abuse outright, but it does represent a significant step in the battle against meth — one that will give law enforcement and retailers new tools, while protecting law-abiding citizens’ access to popular and reliable cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma House speaker: Chamber placed policy over politics

These improvements were essential to the productive policy implemented by the House. Future Legislatures would be wise to retain and expand them.  Due to term limits, my time in the Legislature is ending. I’ll miss serving, but the beauty of public service is that it’s not about the individual — it’s about everyone working together for the greater good. As long as our public servants keep working in this manner, Oklahoma will continue to grow and reach its potential.

Read more from NewsOK at

Catholics organize ecumenical religious freedom rally in Oklahoma City

A group of Catholic laity has coordinated an ecumenical rally designed to educate the faithful about threats to religious liberty.  The Oklahoma City rally will take place during “Fortnight for Freedom,” a faith initiative created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, of which Coakley is a member.  Coakley said the initiative is a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom. He said it is one way the bishops hope to encourage parishioners across the country to weigh in on the “assault on religious liberty.”

Read more from NewsOK at

Calls increase to hotline for suicidal people in Oklahoma City

Five months after his son committed suicide, Rocky Dunham went to the grave with the intent of killing himself too.  Overcome with grief, Dunham took a gun that November day in 2008 to the cemetery where his 27-year-old son, Gordon Joel Dunham, was buried.  But instead of using the gun, he used a card for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that he had picked up at the Oklahoma City Zoo on a suicide prevention walk.  Dunham called Lifeline, planning to tell someone where his body would be located.  The call specialist in Oklahoma City persuaded Dunham not to kill himself.  “The one thing I do remember is they showed me more reasons to live than I could come up with reasons to die,” he said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Survey: Obesity among teens up in Oklahoma

Obesity is on the rise for Oklahoma high school students, but new behavior trends may provide optimism, according to health survey results.  Almost 17 percent of students in ninth to 12th grades are classified as obese, which is an increase from 14 percent in 2009, according to the Oklahoma Youth Risk Behavior Survey. It is an even greater increase from the 11 percent classified as obese in 2003, when the statewide survey was implemented by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.  Obesity is defined as having a body mass index at or above the 95th percentile for an individual’s sex and age.

Read more from the Tulsa World

Antipsychotic drug prescriptions high for Oklahoma foster children

Nearly 15 percent of Oklahoma foster children were on second-generation antipsychotic prescription drugs in 2007 — an increase of more than 48 percent in five years, according to a study released by PolicyLab at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  Antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed to address disruptive behaviors in children.  Nationally, children in child welfare systems have been prescribed such drugs at two to three times the rate of other children in the community, the study says.  Excessive prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to foster children is a matter of national concern, because the drugs have significant side effects, said Dr. David Rubin, one of the study’s authors.

Read more from NewsOK at

Court for troubled military veterans growing

Organizers of “vet court” told The Oklahoman that the increase is a good problem.  The Oklahoma County Veterans Diversion Program was started by Oklahoma County Public Defender Robert Ravitz and District Attorney David Prater in September. Those approved by Prater’s office sign a contract of commitment to seek mental or behavioral health treatment, to stay out of trouble and to seek or maintain employment.

Read more from KJRH at

Health claims prompt research shift

Paranoia about wheat gluten is prompting an expansion of research into the digestibility of modern varieties, says Brett Carver, Oklahoma State University’s chief wheat breeder and chairman of the industry’s Wheat Improvement Committee. Some observers refer to gluten sensitivity as an epidemic. Brett Carver, the chief wheat breeder at Oklahoma State University, has another term for it — “glutenoia” — a combination of gluten hyper-awareness and public paranoia.  “I think we’re taking a message and throwing it around and sensationalizing it, and we’ve made it to where people are scared,” Carver said.

Read more from the Ag Journal at

Quote of the Day

It is ironic that legislators are so concerned about third-graders reading and students scoring well on state testing that we impose serious consequences on the child … but there is no money provided to offer extra assistance and more learning time for struggling students.

Cathy Burden, Superindent of Union Schools

Number of the Day

67 percent

Percentage of bills considered by the Oklahoma Senate that passed without a single “no” vote in 2012.

Source: Tulsa World

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Oklahoma Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) 2011

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is a survey tool designed to evaluate health risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of mortality and morbidity as well as social problems facing our youth in the United States. The survey consists of six behavior categories: unintentional and intentional injury, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behaviors, dietary behaviors, and physical activity. The survey also analyzes body mass index (BMI), as it is self-reported, and asthma.  The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) promotes the use of the YRBS in two ways: randomized statewide CDC surveys, and self-selected, school surveys. Statewide surveys are administered using the established CDC protocol and in partnership with CDC every two years.

Read more from the Oklahoma State Department of Health at

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