In The Know: July 29, 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 Attorney General Scott Pruit has begun an investigation into whether financial institutions are properly handling state pension funds. The Tulsa and Oklahoma City school districts have been put on probation for the third consecutive year for failing to meet No Child Left Behind benchmarks. As more students are joining an online charter school with operations across the state, the Board of Education voted to make it easier for students to transfer between districts.

Thirty-five people may have been sickened by algae in Oklahoma lakes. A federal judge ordered further briefing in a lawsuit by Tulsa firefighters against the mayor’s order that they cannot campaign in municipal elections. OG&E is seeking a $73 million rate increase that would add $6,50 a month to the average residential customer’s bill. Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry is sparring with landowners and environmentalists over TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

NewsOK discusses the frustration with DHS over delays in releasing a report on the death of Serenity Deal. The OK Policy Blog shares an upcoming workshop on hiring ex-offenders and the long-term unemployed. For today’s Policy Note, a Stateline infographic shows how a federal default could affect states. The Number of the Day is the amount paid in restitution by criminal offenders that was distributed to crime victims in Oklahoma.

In The News

Oklahoma AG launches investigation into pension investments

An investigation was launched Thursday into whether financial institutions are properly handling state pension funds, state Attorney General Scott Pruitt said. Pruitt said he sent letters to several banks holding pension funds seeking information on investment transactions, including those involving foreign currency exchanges. The pensions include those for state employees, teachers, police officers, firefighters and judges. Pruitt said he has no evidence of wrongdoing. “Our investigators in the AG’s office will collect that data and we’ll make an assessment at that point about the next step, if any,” he said.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Tulsa, OKC schools again on probation

The state Board of Education on Thursday placed the Tulsa and Oklahoma City school districts on accreditation probation for the third consecutive year. Union Public Schools received accreditation with probation for a second year in a row. Bob Neel, interim executive director for accreditation and standards, said, “Every one are, by virtue of (not making sufficient) Adequate Yearly Progress or No Child Left Behind schools, having difficulty meeting benchmarks.” The most common deficiencies identified in Oklahoma schools are teachers without a proper credential or endorsement (87); library media that does not meet state regulations (78); and school board members who have not met training requirements (69).

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Conflict arises over student transfers to virtual schools

A recent spike in the number of students transferring into school districts that have virtual programs — sometimes on the opposite side of the state — has caused confusion and conflict over Oklahoma’s emergency transfer laws. Superintendent Karl Springer said about 80 emergency transfers out of Oklahoma City Public Schools have been denied by his staff, only to be approved later by the state Education Department. The Education Department rules say the department should act as a tiebreaker between districts in emergency transfer decisions. Lisa Enders, the department’s general counsel, said that regulation is in conflict with state law, which says open transfers cannot be denied for any reason if the receiving district accepts the student. The Education Board voted Thursday to revoke the current department regulations.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

35 may have been sickened by algae

The toxic blue-green algae blooming on Oklahoma lakes could be to blame for making about 35 people ill as federal officials issued yet another warning at Skiatook Lake where the bacteria’s presence has been confirmed. Most of the illnesses were respiratory, which includes nasal and eye irritations, or gastrointestinal in nature, said Lauri Smithee, chief of acute diseases for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, noting that the most serious case was a person who had pneumonia. Everyone recovered, she said. Most of the reports – 20 – came from people who were at Grand Lake. Others included Lake Fort Gibson (6), Lake Keystone (3), Lake Eufaula (4) and Lake Tenkiller (1).

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Judge orders more briefings on firefighter lawsuit regarding political campaigning

A federal judge has ordered further briefing in a lawsuit alleging that Mayor Dewey Bartlett violated the rights of Tulsa firefighters when he ordered them not to campaign in municipal elections. The lawsuit, filed by the Tulsa Fire Fighters Association Local 176 and four of its officials against the city and Bartlett, alleges that the mayor’s order violates not only the U.S. Constitution but also the Oklahoma Constitution, at least two state laws and at least one city ordinance. Tulsa Fire Capt. Chad Miller, the only witness called to the stand by either side, said that with primary elections set for Sept. 13, every day firefighters are not allowed to campaign on behalf of candidates they support “is a day we can’t get back,” he said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

OG&E seeks $73M rate increase

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. intends to ask state regulators to sign off on a rate increase that will add $6.50 a month to the average residential customer’s bill. The $73 million rate hike request is meant to help OG&E recover costs from nearly $500 million in new investments over the past two-plus years, the company said. Consumer advocates questioned the timing of OG&E’s request. “Unfortunately this proposed rate increase comes at an especially difficult time for older Oklahomans as they are struggling with the increased cost of electricity during this heat wave,” AARP Oklahoma spokesman Craig Davis said. The proposal would increase rates for residential customers. Larger commercial and industrial electric customers would see higher bills as well, while schools and small businesses would experience little change.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oil and gas industry spars with landowners, environmentalists over Keystone XL pipeline

The jury is still out on whether a transcontinental pipeline project that crosses through Oklahoma will win government approval. But oil and gas industry officials in the state are definitely rooting for it. TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline would connect the oil storage hub at Cushing with existing terminals near Houston-area refineries, as well as linking Canadian producers with markets in Nebraska. The 1,661-mile pipeline has become a controversial project with environmentalists concerned about potential oil spills and landowners afraid of being forced to grant a foreign company access to their property. The public comment period on the project closed in June, but the U.S. State Department — which will decide whether to approve the project — has said it intends to hold a public hearing in Oklahoma in September.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

NewsOK: Easy to understand frustration with DHS over girl’s death

It has been six weeks since the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth issued its report on Serenity’s case. The commission, which monitors DHS, found that case workers had pushed for the girl to live with her father despite two reports of her returning from visits with Brooks with bruises and black eyes. The report also strongly implied that DHS workers from Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties disagreed on how to handle the case. It was also six weeks ago that a DHS spokeswoman said the agency planned the following week to release a summary of its internal review. That summary has yet to see the light of day.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Upcoming event: Workshop on hiring ex-offenders and long-term unemployed, August 5

On Friday, August 5th, Moore Norman Technology Center’s HIRE program and the Sooner Human Resource Society are hosting a one-of-a-kind workshop. “Barriers and Bridges…Reframing your Corporate Culture” will address the economic cultures and challenges that develop with long-term unemployment, as well as sessions designed to address employer questions and concerns about hiring those with criminal backgrounds.  Speakers include Speaker of the House Kris Steele; Okla. County District Attorney David Prater; Nathan Whatley, Attorney with McAfee and Taft (employment law); Richard McPherson, Executive Director of OESC;  and a panel of employers discussing their corporate involvement in hiring disadvantaged Oklahomans.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Quote of the Day

One school district can begin to franchise its program all over the state
Oklahoma City Schools Superintendent Karl Springer, on rules that allow students to transfer out of their home districts to an online charter school.

Number of the Day


Amount paid in restitution by criminal offenders that was distributed to crime victims in Oklahoma in FY 2010

Source: Oklahoma Department of Corrections

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How a federal default would hit states

If the federal government begins defaulting on its obligations next week, it will clearly have some impact on states. The question nobody knows the answer to is: How much? A lot would depend on how the U.S. Treasury decides to prioritize its payments, as this analysis from the Bipartisan Policy Center makes clear. In some scenarios, programs that states rely heavily on federal dollars for, such as Medicaid, food stamps or welfare, could get short shrift. In other scenarios, economic damage could ripple out through states if federal employees don’t get paid, veterans don’t receive benefits or retirees don’t see Social Security checks. States also are concerned about their access to credit markets. Moody’s has warned five states that if the federal government loses its Aaa bond rating, they likely will, too.

Read more from Stateline 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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