In The Know: Grand jury releases interim report on Epic Charter Schools | Rural Oklahomans can carry larger fines, fees burden | 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.

New from OK Policy

Rural Oklahomans frequently carry larger burden for court fines, fees: Data from the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Open Justice Oklahoma database, which draws from state court records, shows that fines and fees are harming Oklahomans statewide, with rural Oklahomans particularly impacted. Our analysis suggests that rural Oklahomans are asked to pay just as much, and often more, than their urban counterparts. More worrisome still, urban areas like Tulsa and Oklahoma counties have the most difficulty in collecting fines and fees, meaning rural Oklahomans are effectively contributing more of their money to fund the court system as compared to their urban counterparts. Far from being a uniquely “urban” issue, excessive court fees and fines are a statewide problem, and one that demands a statewide solution. [Andrew Bell / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

‘Concerning trends’: Grand jury releases interim report on Epic Charter Schools: Oklahoma’s current multi-county grand jury has been hearing testimony about Epic Charter Schools since December and has not completed its investigation, but the body released a 25-page interim report today to inform “the public, parents and policy makers regarding concerning trends which are emerging in the investigation.” [NonDoc] The investigation into a virtual charter school that has grown to become the largest public school in Oklahoma has been delayed due to inadequate transparency with public funds and a lack of cooperation by some employees, the state’s multicounty grand jury said in a report issued Thursday. [AP News] The state’s multicounty grand jury on Thursday called for the board of Epic Charter Schools to “extricate itself from its incestuous relationship” with a private management company formed by Epic’s co-founders. [The Oklahoman] It detailed the shifting of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars for school expenses into the private accounts of Epic Youth Services, the for-profit school management company that has reportedly made millionaires of Epic co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris, who themselves hand-picked school governing board members. [Tulsa World]

COVID-19 on the rise among kids in Oklahoma but vaccine could be available soon: COVID-19 is on the rise among Oklahoman children ages 5-14. Since mid-March cases have risen about 3% in that age group to account for about 12% of new infections. Vaccinations haven’t yet been approved for those so young, but Dr. Jennifer Clark of OSU’s ECHO Project says that may soon change. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • What COVID-19 had to do with an especially mild flu season in Oklahoma [The Oklahoman]

Health News

Local Health Care Worker Voices Concerns Over Privatized Managed Care Medicaid Expansion In Oklahoma: A local health care worker has sounded the alarm on the future of health care in the state, which could change starting on October 1. She thinks the quality of care will decrease if Oklahoma moves forward with managed Medicaid expansion. After firsthand experience working in a state with third-party managed care, Janell Johnson said she is pleading with lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 131. [News On 6]

Father’s effort to honor late third-generation soldier, curb veteran suicides, finds partners in Broken Arrow: After the suicide in 2015 of Army Staff Sgt. Michael K. Coon, his father had a decision to make. How was he going to deal with it? “I could have just rolled up in a ball and got in the corner and said I’m not talking to anybody. That’s what I wanted to do,” said Michael D. Coon, also an Army veteran. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Amid COVID, lobbyist spending drops in Oklahoma: Lobbyists are spending less money wining and dining Oklahoma lawmakers as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change how the public, including paid lobbyists, interacts with their representatives. Recently released Ethics Commission reports show spending by lobbyists is at the lowest levels since at least 2015. Lobbyists spent almost $187,000 the first four months of 2021, according to the latest disclosures. Nearly $400,000 was spent at this point in 2019. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma tax collections in April rise 38% from year before: Oklahoma tax collections in April rose by 38.3% from April 2020, the first full month of the economic downturn during the coronavirus pandemic, state Treasurer Randy McDaniel said Thursday. Collections totaled $1.49 billion, led by a $73 million, or 120.3%, increase in oil and natural gas taxes, according to McDaniel. [AP News] “April’s gross production tax generated more than $133 million, the highest monthly total in a decade. Consumption tax revenue is the highest it’s been in two years. This is the result of a number of factors, including an open economy and billions of dollars being pumped into the state economy,” McDaniel said. Every major revenue stream was up by double-digit percentages in April. McDaniel does not think last month’s boom is a one-off. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Judge dismisses lawsuit over COVID-19 curfew after Stitt lifts state of emergency orders: In the wake of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s announcing the end of the COVID-19 state of emergency in Oklahoma, a district court judge on Thursday ruled in favor of the state in a lawsuit over whether the governor had legal authority to impose a curfew on bars and restaurants during a surge in coronavirus cases. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma’s jobless claims continue to be mixed as state shifts focus to rebuilding workforce: Oklahoma’s initial jobless claims continue to fall while continued claims continued to tick up, the state said Thursday. For the week ending May 1, the advance number of initial claims, unadjusted, totaled 11,356, a decrease of 6,013 from the previous week’s revised level of 17,369, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. [Tulsa World]

Electric, hybrid vehicles the focus of new Oklahoma laws: Governor Kevin Stitt has signed off on two bills that concern how Oklahoma would tax both electric and electric/hybrid vehicles. House Bill 1712 creates the “Road User Charge Task Force” which would study how to best record and report public road usage, specifically for electric and electric/hybrid vehicles. [KOSU]

Tribal Nations News

‘We’re not going to give up our jurisdiction’: Chickasaw Nation Gov. Anoatubby on McGirt impact: “We’ve been operating, since I came to work for the Nation, as though we have boundaries,” Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said while talking about the recent Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decision that affirmed what he already knew: the Chickasaw Nation’s reservation boundaries were never disestablished. [KOSU]

  • Two charged in Craig County murder now face federal charges due to McGirt ruling [Tulsa World]
  • Appellate court orders death-row inmate’s conviction overturned, reversing lower court ruling [Tulsa World]

Muscogee Nation drops colonial-era name: Leaders of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation say they are dropping “Creek” from the tribe’s name as part of a rebranding effort that also features a new logo. But not all citizens of the nation are on board with the new developments, and some say their identity is being stripped away from them and what they’ve known their entire lives. [Gaylord News / NonDoc]

Criminal Justice News

Sentencing reform committee wants prisoners to serve more time: In 2018, Attorney General Mike Hunter was charged with reclassifying prison sentences in Oklahoma. But instead of working to reduce incarceration rates, the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Council has released recommendations that would make it more difficult for incarcerated people to serve shorter sentences. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Economic Opportunity

Eviction moratorium could be ending, but rent assistance is still available: A protection for people facing eviction could be going away. In a 20-page opinion, a U.S. District Court judge has ruled that the CDC didn’t have the authority to put an eviction moratorium in place. The Department of Justice has already filed an appeal. That means the moratorium will stay in place for now. [FOX25]

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma excited to welcome back volunteers after a year without them: The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma is setting the stage to welcome volunteers back to its warehouses for the first time in more than a year. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

High farm incomes lead to rising land values: Farmers and investors seeking to expand are paying more for agricultural land in the Midwest. The value of good cropland in Corn Belt states like Iowa and Indiana has increased about 10% since last fall, according to Randy Dickhut, the senior vice president of real estate operations for Farmers National Co. [KOSU]

Education News

Editorial: Majority of Oklahoma State School Board out of touch with the public districts they represent: With more than one-third of public school districts suing the Oklahoma State Board of Education, it demonstrates a united front against a decision that would shift tens of millions of dollars to charter schools. The tidal wave of opposition ought to make the board’s majority reconsider its vote and how it governs the children they represent. [Tulsa World]

How much money will Oklahoma school districts get from the American Rescue Plan?: Earlier this week, Oklahoma’s State Department of Education announced how much of the $1.5 billion individual school districts would receive from the American Rescue Plan. The state’s more than 500 school districts will each benefit from the record influx of federal money. The biggest totals will go to Oklahoma City and Tulsa Public Schools. They’re getting $164.7 and $130.7 million respectively. But it’s big money everywhere. [KGOU] OK Policy has published a webinar exploring what the American Rescue Plan Act means for Oklahoma.  

  • Tulsa Public Schools, partners launch summer programming portal with COVID-19 relief funding [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma education standards label 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre a “riot”: Noting that her father didn’t talk much about the past, Ms. Craft was shocked to learn, only 5 or 6 years ago, that he had survived. She was equally surprised — and outraged — that the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was not taught in the Oklahoma City public schools that she grew up attending. Yet Tulsa’s shameful history is still minimized in public schools today. Oklahoma public school educational history standards mandate that students learn about what the standards call the “race riot,” only in 9th grade, and only briefly. [The Black Wall Street Times]

General News

County elections packed with resolutions and proposals: There might not be any presidential candidates or hotly contested congressional races on Oklahoma’s May 11 special election ballot, but city and county elections are still plenty important, as they decide many questions that could impact communities for years to come. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC budget challenge: Keeping up with growth [The Journal Record]
  • Two ways you can help shape the 2021-22 OKC budget, and three things to know [The Oklahoman]
  • McKenzie Hodge is Oklahoma City Public Schools 2021 Teacher of the Year [OKC Free Press]
  • Affordable housing project for seniors draws concern among some city councilors [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“The public has not been served by the incestuous relationship between the for-profit vendor, (Epic Youth Services), and the governing board Community Strategies. The system has failed to provide accountability and allowed the company to take advantage and generate a substantial personal profit on the backs of Oklahoma students.”

-Interim report from Oklahoma’s multicounty grand jury examining Epic Charter Schools, now the state’s largest school district [Grand Jury Interim report via NonDoc

Number of the Day


The percentage of the district courts’ operating costs covered by the legislature’s appropriations in a typical year. The courts produce roughly 70-90% of their own funding each year, leading to a reliance on fines and fees for funding.

[Source: Tulsa World]

Policy Note

The Steep Costs of Criminal Justice Fees and Fines: Court fees and fines unjustly burden people with debt just as they are re-entering society. They are also ineffective at raising revenue. A wealth of evidence has already shown that this system works against the goal of rehabilitation and creates a major barrier to people reentering society after a conviction. footnote1_n4uqmno1 They are often unable to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in accumulated court debt. When debt leads to incarceration or license suspension, it becomes even harder to find a job or housing or to pay child support. There’s also little evidence that imposing onerous fees and fines improves public safety. [Brennan Center for Justice]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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