In The Know: July 26, 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 you should know that Gov. Fallin expressed concern that failure to raise the federal debt ceiling could bring Oklahoma’s economic recovery to a halt. With hundreds of pet breeders in Oklahoma failing to apply for a new state license, the Pet Breeders Board will consider allowing a grace period before they start fining non-compliant breeders.

Crews are rushing to complete extensive changes required by the Tulsa Public Schools consolidation before classes begin. With six deaths from the heat and seven others suspected, medical providers are warning Oklahomans to take the heat more seriously. Gov. Fallin will undergo hip surgery today and will be on crutches for about six weeks.

OKC Central calls for better community support of the Emerson alternative high school in downtown OKC. The OK Policy Blog reports on the first meeting of the state task force on tax credits. NewsOK explains how huge transition costs killed attempts to change state pensions to a defined contribution plan. The New York Times examines what incidents like the Norway mass murders and the Oklahoma City bombing tell us about threats from within a society.

In today’s Policy Note, Massachusetts is developing a number of “innovation schools,” which operate within the traditional school system but are allowed more flexibility, to compete more aggressively with charter schools. Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma’s school-age children living in poverty in 2009, 8th highest in the nation.

In The News

Gov. Fallin expresses concern over “huge impact” of possible federal default

While discussing the Sooner State’s comparatively upbeat economic news, Gov. Mary Fallin expressed deep concern over a potential federal default if the debt ceiling impasse is not resolved. Fallin said a federal default would “have a huge impact on our state.” Failure to sustain America’s positive ranking with bonding agencies and in the eyes of national and international investors would affect states and municipalities in terms of “bonds, interest rates, education spending, Medicare, Medicaid” and many other areas. Although Oklahoma is thriving compared to many other states, she predicted the debt crunch “would slow down our economy” and threaten to “bring it to a halt.”

Read more from this CapitolBeatOK article at

Board to consider grace period for obtaining state breeder licenses

Disappointed with the lack of commercial pet breeders who have applied for licenses under the state’s new puppy-mill law, the agency in charge of enforcing the rules is trying to figure out whether to fight or wait. The state Board of Commercial Pet Breeders is set to meet Tuesday in Oklahoma City, and the 800-pound gorilla in the room will be the lack of breeders acknowledging its rules. Although the state’s new rules on commercial pet breeders set a July 15 deadline for anyone with at least 11 breeding females to apply for a license, only 84 licenses have been issued. A handful of other licenses are being reviewed by the agency, but officials say it is obvious hundreds of breeders haven’t complied.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Progress of TPS Project Schoolhouse

In May, the Tulsa school board approved a plan they said would make TPS more efficient. Project Schoolhouse is also estimated to save TPS more than $5 million a year. Since May, crews have been working non stop to make the necessary changes at every school site. Part of the changes taking place include new signage, for instance Gilcrease middle school will become Gilcrease elementary school. But it’s much more than just furniture, water fountains and restrooms have to be lowered, library books changed out to accommodate younger readers, even the playground has to be altered.

Read more from this KJRH article at

Sixth Oklahoma heat death prompts call for caution

Oklahomans need to take the state’s continuing heat wave more seriously, medical providers warned Monday as officials announced the sixth heat-related death of the year. Five other deaths officially have been blamed on the heat, and it is suspected as a cause in seven other deaths, Ballard said. Emergency Medical Services Authority paramedics are responding to about seven heat calls a day, spokeswoman Lara O’Leary said. Whether it’s someone working outside who didn’t take enough breaks, or a golfer or tennis player who thought they were in good enough shape to cope with the heat, the common thread is water, O’Leary said.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Gov. Fallin to undergo hip surgery

Gov. Mary Fallin announced Monday she is undergoing hip surgery. The governor said she will have arthroscopic surgery performed Tuesday on her left hip. The governor plans to recover this week at the Governor’s Mansion and hopes to return to her Capitol office early next week. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb will fill in for Fallin during the 2 1/2–hour surgery. The governor will be on crutches for about six weeks.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Emerson High School: A downtown school in search of a neighborhood

I’ve written about Emerson High School before; it’s an alternative education school at NW 7 and Walker where kids with some of the biggest challenges (teen pregnancy, not fitting in) are trying to overcome great odds and obtain a high school diploma. I was first drawn to the plight of this school when I learned it was possible that those horrible (and they are horrible) run-down metal trailers outside the historic building could be left standing and in use as classrooms AFTER it undergoes its MAPS for Kids renovation. That threat, last I heard, went away, but the underlying issue remains: there are elements of our community who seem to think these kids are least deserving of our help and attention. Think about that – kids who have made bad choices, are paying the consequences, and yet are still trying to get a diploma and live productive lives.

Read more from the OKC Central blog at

Under the microscope: Task force begins work scrutinizing tax credits

The Oklahoma tax code is riddled with some 450 ‘tax expenditures’ that reduce state funds by exempting or giving back tax payments for favored groups and activities. Despite widespread rhetoric about the need for serious reform of tax expenditures, eliminating tax breaks was “the dog that didn’t bark” this past legislative session. The Legislature did, however, pass HB 1285 to create a Task Force for the Study of State Tax Credits and Economic Incentives. On a sweltering Friday in mid-July, an overflow crowd of policymakers, lobbyists, reporters, and policy analysts packed the fourth floor committee rooms at the State Capitol for the Task Force’s first meeting.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Transition costs cool push to change state pensions to defined contribution plan

AS legislatures across the country looked this year for ways to patch huge holes in their public pension systems, one hot idea was to switch to a 401(k)-style defined contribution system instead of a defined benefits system. That idea has since cooled considerably. James Wilbanks, executive director of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System, was among those who pointed out that if that change had been made, the Legislature would have still had to pay at least $1.4 billion to make the current plan fully funded as it closes it out. Oklahoma certainly didn’t have that kind of money lying around, and other states don’t either. That helps explain why the push toward 401(k) plans petered out in statehouses from coast to coast.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

The terror from within

“Isn’t it kind of scary that one man could wreak this kind of hell?” Timothy J. McVeigh said of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. Indeed, it is. Automatic weapons and potent bombs allow the deranged and begrudged to slaughter scores of innocents in mere seconds. Our inability to confront a simple but unacknowledged truth is equally troubling. Most threats and violence tend to emerge from within a society, not from outside it. John F. Kennedy, Anwar el-Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin were all assassinated by their fellow countrymen. Cautious citizens may push for better street lighting, but they have more to fear from a spouse, ex-spouse, friend or co-worker than from a stranger on the street.

Read more from this New York Times editorial at

Quote of the Day

Oklahomans are groomed to think we can handle these extreme temperatures. But this isn’t necessarily what we’re used to. This heat wave is extraordinary, and it requires extraordinary behavior.
Lara O’Leary, spokeswoman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority

Number of the Day

21.8 percent

Percentage of Oklahoma’s school-age children living in poverty in 2009, 8th highest in the nation

Source: Department of Education

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

“Innovation schools” catching on as a way to compete more aggressively with charter schools

A growing number of school districts from Boston to Western Massachusetts are embracing a new kind of school to pursue educational innovations and compete more aggressively with charter schools. Innovation schools are part of the state’s efforts to create schools that operate with more autonomy than traditional public schools. Innovation schools and the state’s 56 independently run charter schools are similar in that decisions about curriculum, staffing, and budgeting are made by a school-based governing board with the goal of crafting programs that meet the specific needs of their students. But unlike charter schools, which report directly to the state, innovation schools must negotiate the extent of the freedom to make their own decisions with the superintendent and School Committee, and are bound by most provisions of the district’s teachers union contract.

Read more from this article at

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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.

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