In The Know: Inside Oklahoma’s COVID surge among children | Educators frustrated by Gov. Stitt’s sub plan | New details revealed on Public Health Lab’s move

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

OK Policy announces three new board members: The Oklahoma Policy Institute has announced three new members joining its Board of Directors: Kelsey Karper, Co-founder and Director of Logistical Creativity at Factory Obscura; Rodger T. Kerr, President and CEO of Altus Chamber of Commerce; and Roger Knak, CEO of Fairview Regional Medical Center. [Kristin Wells / OK Policy]

2022 State Budget Summit, Thursday, January 27: OK Policy’s 2022 State Budget Summit will shine a light on the state’s fiscal outlook for the coming year. Now in its eighth year, OK Policy’s State Budget Summit provides an opportunity to hear from state and local officials, tribal leaders, community leaders, and engaged citizens about the state’s current fiscal circumstances, what we might expect during this year’s legislative session, and where we can improve our state’s budget and tax system. [Click here to learn more and register]

Oklahoma News

Inside Oklahoma’s surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among children: Oklahoma doctors say they are seeing a massive surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among children — more than during any previous wave of the pandemic. Between Jan. 9 and Jan. 15, more than 16,000 children under the age of 18 tested positive for COVID-19, making up 18.7% of all cases in the state that week, according to a weekly epidemiology and surveillance report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. [ABC News]

  • Hospital leaders say Omicron is taxing emergency rooms, health care staff [The Southwest Ledger]
  • Oklahoma reports more than 13,400 new COVID-19 cases [KOCO]
  • Difficulty transferring COVID-19 patients leaves rural hospitals struggling [FOX 23]
  • Massive data discrepancies continue for the Oklahoma State Health Department [FOX 25]

‘A slap in the face’: Oklahoma education leaders slam Stitt’s substitute plan: The executive order, which is in effect for only 120 days, allows employees at state agencies to work as substitutes in Oklahoma schools. The order also launches the “guest educator” initiative, which seeks to engage members of the business community as substitute teachers.  While Stitt and Education Secretary Ryan Walters hailed the effort as “innovative”, educators across Oklahoma were quick to voice frustrations. [The Black Wall Street Times

  • Editorial Board: Stitt school substitute plan has some merit, despite criticisms [Editorial / Enid News & Eagle]
  • Substitute teachers expected to pay for background checks out of pocket [KOCO]
  • Tulsa area schools not getting sub applications from state employees [Tulsa World]
  • OKCPS bumps substitute pay amid Oklahoma school staffing shortage [KGOU
  • Connie Johnson: “Governor created untenable situation for children’s futures” [Opinion / The Black Wall Street Times
  • Ginnie Graham: I would be a horrible teacher [Column / Tulsa World

Emails show a rush to finalize a deal to move Oklahoma’s Public Health Lab in the face of pushback from lawmakers: When Gov. Kevin Stitt announced in October 2020 that his administration would relocate the state’s Public Health Laboratory from Oklahoma City to Stillwater, lawmakers and health care groups raised concerns the move would compromise testing capabilities during the coronavirus pandemic. Emails obtained by The Frontier and StateImpact Oklahoma show state leaders wanted to quickly lock a management agreement with PrairieOne Solutions into place because of pushback from state lawmakers. [The Frontier

Health News

‘A real-time science study’: State, Tulsa-based health information exchange partner to share and analyze vaccine data: The state of Oklahoma and a Tulsa-based nonprofit health information exchange are collaborating to improve vaccine data and analytics to develop insights for public health officials and providers. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Oklahoma voters could soon decide whether to end death penalty: After a year of botched executions and outrage over the state’s role in dealing out death, a state representative filed a bill to bring the fate of the state’s death penalty to a vote of the people. State Rep. Mauree Turner (D-OKC) has filed legislation for the upcoming 2022 session, HJR1050, that would create a state question asking voters to decide whether the death penalty should exist in Oklahoma. [The Black Wall Street Times] “What I am hearing from my district, and people around the state, is an urgent need to end state-enacted murder in the name of a criminal legal system that seeks to kill people with impunity,” Turner said in a news release. [Tulsa World

Oklahoma lawmaker files bill to address mental health needs: An Oklahoma lawmaker has filed a measure that she says can help improve mental health services in the Sooner State. Senate Bill 1314, filed by Sen. Jessica Garvin, would require the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to provide Medicaid reimbursement for providers who screen children and adults for adverse childhood experiences. [KFOR

Leaders discuss social, economic benefits of early childhood programs: Oklahoma families, businesses and the state as a whole would benefit from more investment in childcare and early childhood education, according to leaders who participated in a recent symposium on the topic. [The Journal Record]

Report: Jobless claims declined last week in Oklahoma: After increasing the prior week, first-time and continued jobless claims both declined in Oklahoma during the week ending Saturday, according to a government report. The U.S. Labor Department reported 1,834 initial claims were filed the week ending Saturday in the state, a 33.6% decline from the prior week when a revised 2,760 claims were logged. [Tulsa World]

State must turn over opiate data to drug company: The State of Oklahoma will have to turn over information collected on opiate distribution in the state to a pharmaceutical company the state is suing over the opiate crisis, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. McKesson Corporation requested the information – which will reveal how the state itself administered opiates the company provided under contract with the state – to help mount its defense against Oklahoma’s lawsuit. [The Journal Record

Substitute teachers, voter registration, recreational marijuana and more: This Week in Oklahoma Politics discusses an executive order from Governor Kevin Stitt allowing state employees to apply to work as substitute teacher as schools struggle with the current omicron surge of COVID-19 and the toll the current wave is having on Oklahoma hospitals. [KOSU]

Federal Government News

Biden taps former Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Steve Kouplen for USDA job in Oklahoma: Former state Rep. Steve Kouplen has been named executive director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Oklahoma, the White House announced on Thursday. Kouplen, 70, of Beggs, is the former president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and former chairman of the Oklahoma Beef Council. [The Oklahoman

Tribal Nations News

(Audio) A year and a half after McGirt v. Oklahoma, state officials still want ruling overturned: In July 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that, because Congress never disestablished the Muscogee Nation’s reservation, the state of Oklahoma does not have the authority to prosecute crimes committed within the tribe’s land boundaries, if those crimes involve Native Americans. But even though it’s been a year and a half since McGirt v. Oklahoma was decided, the state of Oklahoma has remained intent on overturning the ruling, rather than collaborating with the tribes on criminal justice. [KOSU

Gov. Stitt says Oklahoma owed millions after Cherokee, Choctaw hunting compacts expire: A dispute over hunting and fishing compacts between the state of Oklahoma and its two largest tribes is intensifying three weeks after the agreements expired. [The Oklahoman

Voting and Election News

State lawmaker announces run for Congress in district that includes part of OKC: Republican state Rep. Sean Roberts said Wednesday that he plans to challenge long-time U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas in the GOP primary for the congressional seat that covers a huge swath of the state, including parts of Oklahoma City. Roberts, 48, of Hominy in Osage County, issued a terse statement announcing his candidacy, which comes as he begins his last year as a member of the state House of Representatives. [The Oklahoman

State election board in time crunch preparing for elections: The state election board has less time than usual to prepare for elections. Assistant Secretary Rusty Clark spoke to a House appropriations subcommittee Thursday and said the biggest challenge for the board is reprecincting. [Public Radio Tulsa

Economic Opportunity

Report: Jobless claims declined last week in Oklahoma: After increasing the prior week, first-time and continued jobless claims both declined in Oklahoma during the week ending Saturday, according to a government report. The U.S. Labor Department reported 1,834 initial claims were filed the week ending Saturday in the state, a 33.6% decline from the prior week when a revised 2,760 claims were logged. [Tulsa World

Economy & Business News

Nuclear power an option possible in most states, including Oklahoma: As states are pushed by climate change to dramatically reduce use of fossil fuels, many are concluding that solar, wind and other renewable power sources might not be enough to keep the lights on. Nuclear power is emerging as an answer to fill the gap as states transition away from coal, oil and natural gas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stave off worsening effects of global warming. [The Journal Record]

Education News

Oklahoma public school enrollment up, but not to pre-pandemic levels: Enrollment in Oklahoma’s 543 public school districts is up by 4,583 students for the 2021-22 school year, a partway recovery from last year’s enrollment dip. Tulsa Public Schools, meanwhile, surpassed Oklahoma City Public Schools to become the largest district in the state for the first time since 2013, though both districts’ enrollment numbers fell over the past year. [NonDoc

General News

‘Show must go on, except when it can’t’: OKC’s live entertainment biz coping with omicron: Almost two years after the curtain went up on the COVID-19 pandemic, Rhonda Clark is assembling the cast for another modern-day version of an old-fashioned radio show. “Because it’s been so long since we’ve produced anything, we are going to do at least one (more) live-stream,” said Clark, the artistic director of Carpenter Square Theatre. [The Oklahoman

Oklahoma Local News

Oklahoma City expands north despite concerns over stretched services: The nation’s eighth largest city by land area grew by 160 acres this week as the annexation of a section of land north of the metro area brings both an addition to Oklahoma City’s purview and questions on the sustainability of expansion. [The Oklahoman

Quote of the Day

“The programs and services we invest in for our children are significant drivers of a healthy, productive economy,”

— OPSR Executive Director Carrie Williams speaking at a legislative symposium on the social and economic benefits of early childhood programs [The Journal Record]

Number of the Day


Estimated number of Oklahomans who would receive a pay raise if the minimum wage were raised to $15/hour by 2025

[Source: Economic Policy Institute]

OK Policy Analysis: The cheeseburger economics of the minimum wage

Policy Note

Balancing paychecks and public assistance: For every $1 that wages rise among workers in the bottom three wage deciles, spending on government assistance programs falls by roughly $5.2 billion. This estimate is conservative, as it does not include the value of Medicaid benefits. [Economic Policy Institute]

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Kristin Wells served as the Communications and Operations Fellow for OK Policy from October 2021 to July 2022. She previously worked as a digital content producer for News On 6. A native Kansas Citian, Kristin graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tulsa in 2020. While there, she was accepted into the Global Scholars program, spurring her interests in policy, social movements, global identities, and the importance of education and advocacy. She hopes to use her skills to continue to learn and create a more equitable future for Oklahomans. An avid sports fan, Kristin lives in Tulsa with her rescue dog and is passionate about college basketball, documentaries, and coffee.

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