In The Know: Grand jury finds State Health Department layoffs and emergency funding were unnecessary

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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

[Don’t Forget: There’s only one week left to apply for the 2018 Summer Policy Institute! This annual event brings together more than 50 highly-qualified undergraduate and graduate students for an exciting and stimulating four-day learning experience. Learn more here.]

In The News

Q&A: Health Department Grand Jury Report, Audit and What’s Next: A cash crisis at the Oklahoma State Department of Health that led to job cuts and an emergency injection of $30 million in cash was more of a mirage than the real thing, a months-long grand jury investigation and audit found in separate reports released Thursday. The state’s multicounty grand jury didn’t hand up any criminal indictments, but it did fault former top officials at the health department for creating a “slush fund” to pay for pet projects and years of financial mismanagement [Oklahoma Watch]. With health department news, waves of disbelief rolled across state [Oklahoma Watch]. Read the grand jury’s full report here.

Former Tulsa Superintendent, Bixby Parent Join Second Challenge to Taxpayers Unite Petition: A coalition that includes former Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard, Bixby Public Schools parent Joely Flegler, the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association and most of the state’s major education organizations filed a challenge to proposed State Question 799 with the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Thursday. The group, called Decline to Sign 799, follows Professional Oklahoma Educators in trying to head off a referendum petition that seeks to repeal a $400 million revenue bill, HB 1010xx, signed into law this spring [Tulsa World].

FY 2019 Budget Highlights: State agencies will be appropriated a total of $7.567 billion in FY 2019. This is an increase of $718.5 million (10.5 percent) compared to the initial FY 2018 budget approved last May, and an increase of $601 million (8.6 percent) compared to the final FY 2018 budget, which included various mid-year cuts and increases. Next year’s appropriations will be the largest in state history, surpassing the $7.235 billion budget in FY 2015; however, when adjusted for inflation, next year’s budget remains 9.4 percent ($788 million) below the budget of FY 2009 [OK Policy].

For Some School Districts, Pay Raise Bill Results in Cuts, Layoffs: Many educators viewed this year’s teacher pay raise bill as a win, but for a small subset of the state’s school districts, it meant more cuts and layoffs. When lawmakers passed House Bill 1023 in March, they gave teachers a a pay raise averaging $6,000. Lawmakers also passed House Bill 1010, which raised about $450 million in taxes to pay for that raise. However, that tax measure delivered no benefit to those 40 districts off the state aid formula, but they must implement the pay increases in HB 1023 [Journal Record].

Lawmaker Says Special Session for Vetoed Bills Would Be “Bad Policy”: An Oklahoma lawmaker is criticizing a call to bring lawmakers back for a special session to override vetoed legislation as “bad policy.” On Wednesday, Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow announced he has begun collecting signatures from the Legislature to call lawmakers back to pass vetoed legislation. In order to convene, two-thirds of both the House and Senate chambers need to agree. Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City told News 4 he doubts Dahm will get enough signatures in the House [KFOR].

Prosperity Policy: A Brand-New House – and Senate: These are symptoms of Oklahoma’s rapid and unprecedented decline in legislative tenure. In 2002, the average lawmaker had served close to 11 years in the House and Senate. By 2014, that number had fallen to 6.6 years. If even a handful of incumbents are defeated this year, the average lawmaker next year will have served just three years. The Senate is assured of no more than four members with eight or more years of experience [David Blatt/Journal Record].

Statewide Personal Income Decreased in 2016: Personal income data released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on Thursday suggests just how tightly bound Oklahoma’s economy is to the oil industry, economists said. Oklahoma was one of eight states to have declining real personal income in 2016, the latest year data is available from the BEA. Real personal income is defined as current-dollar state personal income adjusted by the state’s regional price parity and the national personal consumption expenditures price index [Journal Record].

Oklahoma Prisons Overflow as Inmates Say ‘No’ to Parole: Unlike some surrounding states, Oklahoma’s inmates can decide whether or not they want to be considered for parole. Roughly two out of three parole-eligible inmates choose not to go to their parole hearings, effectively disqualifying them for early release. In late 2016, the state started counting how many inmates opted out. In one year 5,225 of the state’s 7,921 parole-eligible inmates chose not to go to their parole hearings [State Impact].

Suicide Rate for Young Oklahoma Veterans Highest in the Nation, Military Report Shows: Across all age groups, Oklahoma’s military veterans die by suicide at a higher rate than do veterans nationwide, according to a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs report released in September. But among veterans age 18-34, Oklahoma had the highest rate of suicide in the nation, the report shows [Tulsa World].

Will Blue Wave Hit Bright-Red Oklahoma? Not If New Voter Registration Is Any Clue: Oklahoma has seen a surge in new voter registration this year, but that much-hyped 2018 blue wave hasn’t made an appearance yet in the numbers. More than 39,000 people have registered to vote in Oklahoma since January—and the bulk of new voters are Republican, according to data from the Oklahoma State Election Board [The Frontier].

Video: The Debate over Medical Marijuana: Watch the debate over State Question 788, which is on the Jun e 26 primary ballot and would legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma. Featured panelists were Dr. Jean Hausheer, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association; Frank Grove, chairman of Vote Yes on 788 campaign and president of the Drug Policy Reform Network of Oklahoma, and state Rep. John Paul Jordan, who authored legislation to provide a regulatory framework should the  state question pass [Oklahoma Watch].

Pettis Resigns Ward 7 OKC Council Seat Amid Embezzlement Charges: Ward 7 Oklahoma City Councilman John Pettis has resigned his seat amid charges that he embezzled money from three charities he set up and intentionally failed to file income taxes. Pettis said in his resignation letter that it was “with great sadness” that he was resigning. A primary special election to fill the seat will be Aug. 28 [Oklahoma City Free Press].

Fewer Suspensions, More ‘Hugs and Bubbles’: Oklahoma City’s Experiment in School Discipline: Oklahoma City is one of dozens of districts across the country compelled to adopt the new approach in recent years after the Obama administration directed schools to ensure their discipline codes don’t land disproportionately on black and Hispanic students. The school district opted to make changes in 2015 after a broad investigation by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights found stark disparities in the way black and white students were being treated [Wall Street Journal]. Oklahoma needs to rethink school suspensions [OK Policy].

Tulsa’s Data-Driven City Hall Gets International Recognition: City Hall’s efforts to get Tulsans’ help to solve problems gets international recognition. The city’s Urban Data Pioneers program helped Tulsa win a Cities of Service Engaged Cities Award. Through the program, more than 120 residents have used data to tackle issues like prioritizing street repairs, collecting blight data and identifying the biggest drivers of per capita income [Tulsa Public Radio].

Quote of the Day

“I asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ And he said, ‘Mr. Chandler, you suspended me for three days and I didn’t eat.'”

-David Chandler, principal at Douglass Middle school in Oklahoma City, who has been working to find alternatives to school suspensions after seeing the harm they can do to students [Source].

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma high school students who reported being sexually active in 2017. Of those, only 49.8% reported using a condom.

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Health, Youth Risk Behavior Survey

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How Medicaid Work Requirements Can Exempt Rural Whites but Not Urban Blacks: When the Trump administration announced it would allow states to institute Medicaid work requirements, policy experts warned that it could lead to racial discrimination. A proposal in the Michigan legislature that would exempt some counties from the requirement suggests how this could happen [Vox].

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


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.