In The Know: July 1, 2011

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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today on In The Know, Barresi spokesman Damon Gardenhire defended the budget cuts made to the school activities fund and teacher benefits. After a hand recount, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission overturned its certified results and named Bill John Baker the winner by 266 votes. The western third of Oklahoma is in the worst category of drought recognized by the U.S Drought Monitor. Oklahoma has a chance to win up to $60 million for early learning programs in the next round of Race to the Top grants.

A new report finds that Oklahoma received $5.4 billion in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2010. At their convention in Tulsa, certified nursing aides from across the nation called on Congress to take Medicaid and Medicare funding off the chopping block. The Oklahoma CareerTech system approved a budget that cuts centers and high schools by $8.2 million. The OK Policy Blog provides an update on the Oklahoma Assets Coalition, which is working to strengthen programs and policies that help Oklahomans gain economic security. reports on the controversial role Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon is playing in Pennsylvania politics. A state law taking effect today will provide free tuition to students who lost parents in the military. NewsOK highlights the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship as a silver lining in a time of rising tuition costs. M. Scott Carter questions the wisdom of term limits. In today’s Policy Note, economist Laura Tyson explains why focusing on job creation is more urgent than closing the budget deficit in the short term.

These stories and more below the jump.

In The News

Barresi spokesman defends school activity fund cuts

The lead spokesman for Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi rebuffed criticisms of his boss and of the state Board of Education, contending the governing body for public schools in Oklahoma faced “tough decisions” and made them within the law and under authority granted to the state Department of Education. “It would have taken $15 million [fully] to fund the Board certified teachers,” he said. “If you add all the numbers up, and look at school lunches and matching funds and so forth, there was not much money left.” One pointed criticism from teachers’ advocates has been that the board did not adequately fund the FBA (flexible benefits allowance). However, Gardenhire provided information that he believes clarifies the issue. He said, “We did fund the benefits package, but in a 12 months cycle and not a 14 months cycle. The Legislature has made a firm commitment that they will help us with many funding issues in Fiscal Year 2013, but the money was not there in the 2012 cycle.”

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Cherokee election: Baker wins over Smith in recount

After about six hours of recounting ballots by hand and an extended hearing with the tribe’s Supreme Court, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission overturned its certified results Thursday night and named Bill John Baker the principal chief-elect of the Cherokee Nation. According to the recount results, which were certified around 10 p.m. Thursday, Baker won 7,613 to 7,347, a margin of 266 votes. The unofficial results announced Sunday morning had listed him as the winner by 11 votes, but the certified results announced Monday afternoon reversed that, naming current Principal Chief Chadwick “Corntassel” Smith the winner by a 7,609-to-7,602 vote.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

One-third of Oklahoma ranks in the worst drought category

Someone mentioned to Terral Tatum, who farms and has cattle near Grandfield, that they hadn’t seen any grasshoppers this summer. Tatum, 44, didn’t consider that a mystery at all. “Of course not; there’s nothing for them to eat,” he said. Grandfield is an example of Oklahoma areas that have taken several weather punches. The U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday showed 33 percent of the state, or basically the western third of Oklahoma, is in an exceptional drought, which is the worst category. That includes Grandfield. Overall, 56 percent of the state is in either severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Early learning target of latest round of Race to the Top funding

The Obama administration released a draft proposal Thursday on a new $500 million Race to the Top competition and asked for public input for final criteria on early learning programs. Oklahoma, which failed to win funding from earlier Race to the Top rounds, is credited with a strong reputation on early learning, a record that could boost its chances this time out. Gov. Mary Fallin and state Superintendent Janet Barresi are expected to review final criteria for the next round before deciding whether to enter. Based on its population, Oklahoma could compete for as much as $60 million.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Study: Oklahoma farm subsidies total $5.4 billion from 1995 to 2010

Farm subsidies in Oklahoma have totaled $5.40 billion from 1995-2010, according to a summary of government data from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The organization pulled together information from a variety of official sources for the 15-year period encompassed in the study. Of the $5.4 billion total for Oklahoma subsidies, $3.10 billion were for commodities, $645 million for crop insurance, $757 million in conservation payments, and $805 million in disaster subsidies. In 2010, Oklahoman’s secured $369,337,300 in subsidies, 2.4% of the national total — enough to rank Oklahoma fifteenth highest of all the states.

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Caregivers at Tulsa Convention worry about funding for elderly

Caregivers from across the nation are calling on Congress to take Medicaid and Medicare funding off the chopping block. They say nursing homes are the tenth largest employers in the country, and they say cutting federal funding will hurt more than just the economy. A group that met in Tulsa Thursday represents hundreds of nurse aides. They say lawmakers wrangling over spending cuts and the debt ceiling could strip elderly Americans of much needed care. A spokesperson with the Oklahoma Health Care Authority says the state pays for 70 percent of nursing home care in Oklahoma. Last year, nearly 22,000 elderly Oklahomans got help.

Read more from this NewsOn6 article at

CareerTech cuts budget in light of ‘extreme’ appropriations reductions

The Board of Career and Technology Education approved a budget Thursday that cuts centers and high schools by $8.2 million. The agency received a 5.8 percent cut in state appropriations for fiscal year 2012 and saw its federal funds reduced by $2.7 million, said Jim Aulgur, its chief financial officer. The agency receives slightly more than 83 percent of its funding from state appropriations, he said. In the past three years, CareerTech has seen a reduction of 15.24 percent, bringing its state appropriations to $133.7 million from $157.8 million. Aulgur called the reductions “fairly extreme.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma Assets: Coalition to advance economic security takes another step forward

OK Policy is an active member of Oklahoma Assets, a statewide coalition that aims to identify and strengthen programs and policies that help Oklahoma residents achieve economic security.  Oklahoma Assets has been making big strides in recent months, officially incorporating as a 501(c)(3) organization.  Steering committee members met in Oklahoma City in May to approve bylaws and vote in a board of directors.  The coalition has also been busy hosting three webinars on asset-building strategies: the importance of savings, financial education in public schools, and Individual Development Accounts (IDAs).

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

How a natural gas tycoon tapped into Corbett

In 2004, a flamboyant Oklahoma City multimillionaire took out his hefty checkbook for what you could call the political equivalent of a wildcat well – and he struck a gusher, right here in Pennsylvania. The $450,000 in campaign checks that energy mogul Aubrey McClendon wrote that fall helped elect a man he said he’d never even met – a relatively obscure GOP candidate for Pennsylvania attorney general, Tom Corbett. The influx of cash helped Corbett narrowly win the closest attorney general’s race in Pennsylvania history and propelled him toward the governor’s mansion, where he has now pledged to turn the Keystone State into “the Texas of the natural-gas boom.” Meanwhile, the hard-charging company run by McClendon, Chesapeake Energy, is the largest and most active driller for natural gas both in Pennsylvania and across the United States – and its environmental record here is under fire for two major well accidents in the past year and allegations from upstate residents of tainted well water.

Read more from this at

New law offers free tuition to children who lost parents in military

A new state law takes effect Friday that promises free college tuition to all Oklahoma children who lost a parent serving in the military. Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa, said the law is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2000, and he estimated that between 130 and 150 children could qualify for the tuition program. Most of those children, he noted, lost a parent in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. His House Bill 1343 – The Heroes Promise Act – was finally signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin on May 27. He said the tuition program could cost the state around $100,000 a year, though he noted that cost is still a few years away, since many qualifying children have yet to reach college age.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

NewsOK: Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship is silver lining to rising tuition in Oklahoma

Any time college tuition increases, it hurts. Many families struggle to scrape together just enough money, and students work multiple jobs just so they can stay in college. The silver lining — yes, there is one — is that the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program continues to knock down the access barriers facing many low- to middle-income Oklahoma families. The program recently celebrated its 15th year. But the celebration isn’t so much about the program’s longevity as it about the thousands of students who have gone to college because of the state’s recognition that if it wanted more college graduates, it needed to look among the population of Oklahomans whose financial wherewithal put higher education out of reach.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

M. Scott Carter: Let voters decide on issue of term limits

For years I have listened to conservatives argue the need for term limits. Commentators, columnists and politicians alike have all said over and over how terms limits will inject new blood into our government and bring us fresh ideas. Bull. All term limits have done is force some talented public servants out of office and convert them into lobbyists. All term limits have done is push members of the Legislature from an office at the state Capitol to an office at the county or city or state level. All term limits have done is make our government unstable, limit the amount of deep knowledge available to those who make policy and mislead the public into thinking they’ve done something to “reform” government.

Read more from this Journal Record editorial at

Quote of the Day

You look around, and it looks like the end of August. Our yards are brown, our pastures are brown, our ponds are running out of water. It is a bleak picture right now. You’ve got to love what you’re doing and figure we’re at the bottom. It’s got to get better; it can’t get much worse. Well, I guess it could.

Oklahoma farmer Terral Tatum

Number of the Day


Number of death row inmates exonerated since 1970 in Oklahoma; 96 people have been executed.

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

What’s a crisis and what isn’t

With substantial excess capacity in the economy, there is no evidence that the federal deficit is driving up interest rates and crowding out private spending. What’s slowing the pace of recovery is not too much government borrowing but too little private spending. Nor are there symptoms of an imminent sovereign debt crisis facing the American government over the next few years. Rather, worries about slower growth in the United States, along with a flight to safe assets and a reduction in risk appetite by global investors, have kept the federal government’s borrowing rates near historic lows. And that’s despite threats by irresponsible members of Congress to initiate a default on the government’s debt by failing to pass an increase in the debt limit.

Read more from the Economix blog at

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


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.

Leave a Reply

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