In The Know: July 8, 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, state Sen. Jim Wilson filed his lawsuit asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to toss out the state Senate redistricting plan. In her first State of Education address, Superintendent Barresi acknowledged that the state is doing a poor job of preparing many students and asked for patience with reforms, as teachers gathered outside to protest education cuts. NewsOK discusses how budget cuts have been difficult for all state agencies. On the OK Policy Blog, we present interactive charts tracking state agencies’ share of the budget over time.

Two of the DHS workers fired over the death or Serenity Deal say that child protective workers are assigned more cases than they can deal with and pressured to keep children in their own homes to save the state money. Kurt Hochenauer writes that outrage over the Casey Anthony case should not distract us from the high numbers of child abuse and death in Oklahoma. The Grand Lake toxin problem was predicted years ago and will likely continue to occur due to pollution from chicken litter, nonfunctioning septic tanks, and fertilizer runoff.

Oklahoma obesity rate has increased faster than any other state since 1995. The state is ranked 6th in the nation for wind power capacity. A new EPA rule to reduce summertime emissions that create soot, smog, and ozone will affect 25 Oklahoma power plants. The Tulsa World writes that proposed cuts to federal transportation funding could derail any progress Oklahoma has made in repairing its infrastructure. In today’s Policy Note, Dana Goldstein explains why she is cautiously optimistic about pre-K ‘testing’ that will be in the next round of Race to the Top grants.

Read on for more.

In The News

Democratic state Sen. Jim Wilson files challenge to Senate redistricting plan

A Democratic state senator filed a lawsuit Thursday asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to toss out a state Senate redistricting plan drawn up by the Republican-controlled Senate. Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, included in his filing a map that redraws the 48 state Senate districts, but keeps more cities and counties intact. Wilson said he included the map to show the high court that it could be done; he is not asking the justices to approve his map. Wilson said the redistricting plan prepared by the Senate Republican leadership, which was also approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, smacks of gerrymandering, or violating the principles of compactness and equality of population in order to secure the future advantage of the political party in control of a state Legislature.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Barresi calls for improvement, patience in State of Education speech

State Superintendent Janet Barresi called for improvements to academics Thursday at a gathering of school administrators while teachers protested cuts to education outside. Barresi said math and science scores need work. In addition, too many high school graduates aren’t ready for the real world or college, she said. The Republican delivered her first State of Education address to about 2,500 administrators and others attending Innovation 2011 at the Cox Convention Center. The National Assessment of Education Progress results show that 72 percent of Oklahoma fourth-graders taking the test in 2009 and 75 percent of the eighth-graders were below proficient, Barresi said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Protestors gather during Oklahoma State Superintendent’s address from NewsOn6

NewsOK: Budget reality is difficult for all of Oklahoma’s state agencies

No doubt the $97.4 million cut to schools hurts. It represents a 4.1 percent cut to a year ago, when the state Education Department received $2.38 billion. But don’t forget education still gets the lion’s share of taxpayer dollars. We’re concerned about what the cuts mean for children, adult learners and teachers who have pursued extra training with the expectation of a bonus. But budgets aren’t crafted in a vacuum. Corrections, transportation, public safety, health and human services all have taken hits in recent years. The Oklahoma Policy Institute reported that more than half of agencies that receive state appropriations took a larger than 20 percent cut between fiscal years 2009 and 2012.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Visualizing where the money goes

Every year during state budget discussions, state leaders speak about prioritizing spending to protect core services. That’s especially true when times are bad and the overall budget pie is shrinking. However, the distribution of that pie among agencies over the past decade has remained relatively unchanged (with a couple notable exceptions). A series of visualizations created with the online tool Many Eyes illustrates this fact well. The graphs are derived from data compiled by OK Policy on the percentage of total state appropriations received by the ten largest agencies, plus another category for all other agencies, from FY ’00 to FY’12.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

DHS workers: Policy contributed to girl’s death

Two of the four state child welfare workers suspended over the beating death of 5-year-old Serenity Anne Deal said they have been treated unfairly by the state and blame the agency’s child protective services practice model for contributing to her death. Both workers said the practice model for the child protective system doesn’t give workers set guidelines and training, but instead provides tools that are ineffective. “The practice model pushes the in-home and out-of-home safety plans, rather than taking children into DHS custody,” Lack said. “What we have been told and trained is that the child is always better off in their own home. Always.” Both workers said child protective workers are assigned three times the number of cases they were supposed to have and supposed to use the state’s practice model to save the state money.

Read more from this Journal Record article [subscriber only] at

Okie Funk: What about Oklahoma’s murdered children?

The majority of the Oklahoma response to the Casey Anthony case, from the Durant woman who started a petition to make it a federal violation to not report a missing child to the angry tone of the numerous Facebook discussions about the case, lacks historical and cultural coherence. This state, for example, has its fair share of children who get murdered by their parents or caretakers each year in abuse cases. Oklahoma is ranked as one of the states highest in child deaths attributed to abuse. Why aren’t they just as important as Caylee? Why don’t they deserve a mob and a Nancy Grace on their side? Again, let’s not take away from the significance of Caylee’s life, but let’s also agree that child murder does happen on a frequent basis in this country and especially here in Oklahoma. We need a holistic, larger approach to the issue, not media-cultivated anger over one case.

Read more from the Okie Funk blog at

Grand Lake toxin problem predicted years ago

This past weekend got a lot of Grand Lake enthusiasts’ attention, but the long-range damage could be even worse. The general consensus among experts seems to be that the outbreaks are likely to become regular occurrences unless the lake’s nitrogen and phosphorous levels are brought under control. Poultry litter gets the biggest share of the blame for “nutrient loading” in the Grand Lake watershed, but it is by no means the only source. Ward cited an Army Corps of Engineers report, admittedly dated, that he said documented thousands of nonfunctioning septic tanks and open sewers emptying into Grand Lake. Commercially produced fertilizers, livestock and commercial and residential development are also generally cited as contributing to “nutrient loading.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma’s obesity rate shows fastest growth since 1995, report says

Oklahoma’s adult obesity rate has risen faster than that of any other state since 1995, while the rate of diabetes has more than doubled, according to the latest version of the “F as in Fat” report. Oklahoma has the seventh-highest obesity rate in the nation, at 31 percent; in 1995, the state had an obesity rate of 13 percent, the 40th-highest in the nation. More than two-thirds of the state now qualifies as overweight or obese, up from 51 percent in 1995. Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday that the state’s health indicators continue to be unacceptable.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Oklahoma No. 6 in U.S. for wind power capacity

Crosscurrents in the financial and commodity markets slowed U.S. wind energy’s progress in 2010, but Oklahoma still managed to build its way into the nation’s top 10 for newly installed power generation, according to a federal report released Thursday. Oklahoma ranked sixth nationwide with 352 megawatts in new-build wind power capacity last year, the U.S. Department of Energy stated in its annual “Wind Technologies Development Report.” The state also finished 10th in raising its wind-power portion of total electricity generation to an estimated 6.9 percent.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

EPA targets 25 Oklahoma plants to reduce their summertime emissions

Oklahoma would be forced to cut summertime emissions that contribute to ozone pollution under a proposal outlined Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA included the proposal as part of its announcement on a final Cross-State Air Pollution Rule designed to slash hundreds of thousands of tons of smokestack emissions that travel long distances. “No community should have to bear the burden of another community’s polluters or be powerless to prevent air pollution that leads to asthma, heart attacks and other harmful illnesses,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said. The rules attempt to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, which creates soot, also called fine particles, and nitrogen oxide, which reacts in the atmosphere and creates smog or ozone.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Tulsa World: State faces major cuts in highway funding

Just as Oklahoma has begun making some significant progress on its battered roads and bridges, the state faces the loss of about a third of its federal transportation funding. That’s no way to run a highway system. A measure that is expected to be introduced in the U.S. House would slash Oklahoma’s funding from more than $600 million to about $384 million. If the measure becomes law, it could lead to the loss of nearly 7,600 jobs, according to figures released by the Senate. But this is the era of bringing down government spending, and the consequence of that will be bringing down the nation’s infrastructure, as well.

Read more from this Tulsa World editorial at

Quote of the Day

While Texas may have more turbines in the ground, we in Oklahoma actually have a greater portion of our electricity coming from wind right now.

Kylah McNabb, the state Department of Commerce’s wind development specialist.

Number of the Day


Number of children enrolled in SoonerCare, Oklahoma’s Medicaid health insurance program, as of May 2011.

Source: Oklahoma Health Care Authority

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The risks–and potential rewards–of pre-K ‘testing’

With new evidence of standardized test score-inflation and straightforward adult cheating on K-12 tests in Atlanta, Washington, DC, and across the country, you’d think it would be exactly the wrong time for the Obama administration to commit $500 million to developing additional state tests for a totally new population of children: pre-schoolers. In social science, the phenomenon is known as Campbell’s Law: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” That said, I’m cautiously enthusiastic about this latest, early childhood-focused round of Race to the Top, and here’s why: the model the administration has in mind for pre-school assessment is low-stakes for individual teachers and students and measures not only academic performance but also children’s social, emotional, physical and artistic readiness for kindergarten.

Read more from Dana Goldstein 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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