In The Know: June 24, 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, the Oklahoma Board of Education approved the elimination of several programs to make up for budget reductions. The final vote was 3-3, with Superintendent Janet Barresi breaking the tie. In a profile by the Oklahoma Gazette, Barresi said she will aggressively pursue private sector funding for some programs. The president of the OKC American Federation of Teachers writes in NewsOK about his union’s blueprint for education reform. The State Regents approved tuition and fee increases averaging 5.9 percent across Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities.

Oklahoma will receive assistance from the Justice Reinvestment Initative for a comprehensive study of reforming the state’s criminal justice system. On the OK Policy Blog, we rerun a 2009 blog post on the“cliff effect,” whereby workers with the opportunity to move up the income ladder are penalized by losing work support benefits. Recent DHS cuts to childcare subsidies will likely worsen this effect. A new report by the Environmental Integrity Project finds arsenic and heavy metal contamination exceeding safe drinking water standards at a coal ash disposal site in Oolagah.

Oklahomans contributed to a record-breaking food drive for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, though the state continues to rank in the top five for food insecurity. The Lost Ogle brought together and expert panel to discuss Ed Kelley’s tenure at The Daily Oklahoman. M. Scott Carter analyzes how legislators are using interim studies to pursue their agendas. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities looks at the myths and realities about who pays federal taxes.

More below the jump.

In The News

Oklahoma Board of Education approves budget cuts in close vote

Under a state education budget approved Thursday, there won’t be any funding next fiscal year for National Board Certified teacher bonuses, adult education, charter school startup grants, new robotics programs or middle school mathematics laboratories. The state education budget is divided into four parts, and the state board has discretion only over a school activities fund of about $400 million. Aside from how school districts will grapple in the upcoming fiscal year with the 4.1 percent cut in state aid, the most significant cuts came Thursday as the state Board of Education debated a proposal from Barresi for the school activities fund. The final vote was 3-3 among board members to approve the budget. Barresi then voted yes, breaking the tie in favor of her budget.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: How new Superintendent Janet Barresi plans to revamp education from The Oklahoma Gazette

OKC teachers’ union: Proposing a blueprint

Oklahoma City teachers and the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers have a vision for Oklahoma City schools, one where all parents feel proud sending their children to our schools because they are safe, orderly, caring and high achieving. Making the vision a reality will require a drastic and immediate departure from the ways of the past. The AFT is proposing a Shared Accountability and Responsibility Blueprint that outlines a general direction of change. Successfully changing a large, inwardly focused bureaucratic organization will not happen unless respected leaders can instill a sense of urgency among all stakeholders — district employees in particular.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Oklahoma State Regents approve tuition increase

Tuition and mandatory fees at Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities will increase by an average of 5.9 percent next school year for undergraduate students. That’s an average increase of $224 for in-state students who take 30 credit hours. The State Regents for Higher Education voted 8-1 Thursday to approve the increases, which range from 3.2 to 8.3 percent. Regent James Harrel, of Leedey, voted against the increase. Students at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma will pay $7,107 and $7,124.50, respectively.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Crime rates, prison overcrowding prompt study to evaluate justice system

House Speaker Kris Steele on Thursday announced a comprehensive study of the state’s criminal justice system, which leaders hope will lead to the creation of legislation and policies that result in better use of public safety dollars. A key element will be sentencing reform, Steele said. The state is partnering with the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to analyze data for determining the effectiveness of public safety and corrections policies. Oklahoma ranks first in its per-capita rate for incarceration of females and fifth for males. Unlike many other states, Oklahoma’s violent crime rate isn’t on the decline.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

The cliff effect – “Sorry, I can’t afford that raise”

Last week, the Department of Human Services announced new co-payment and eligibility rules for the child care subsidy program, which we discussed in this post. By lowering the eligibility threshold for subsidies, the new rules will worsen the “cliff effect” whereby workers with the opportunity to move up the income ladder are penalized by losing work support benefits. Here we rerun a blog post on this subject that first appeared in June 2009; we have also discussed how health care reform promises to significantly improve the situation.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Wells at Oologah power plant site show arsenic and heavy metal pollution, group says

Arsenic and heavy metal contamination that far exceeds national safe drinking water standards has been found in monitoring wells at a power company’s coal ash disposal site in Oologah, according to the report by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit organization established in 2002 by former Environmental Protection Agency enforcement attorneys to advocate for more effective enforcement of environmental laws. Arsenic levels of 94 parts per billion – more than nine times the maximum contamination level of 10 parts per billion currently allowed – were found at the American Electric Power-Public Service Company of Oklahoma’s Northeastern Station site, the report says. Selenium levels of 1,850 parts per billion – 37 times the acceptable limit of 50 parts per billion – were found, along with excessive levels of barium, cadmium, chromium and lead.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: The full report from the Environmental Integrity Project

Oklahomans show generosity in record-breaking food drive

When you woke up, you probably didn’t worry whether you would have anything to eat today. You may have thought about where you would eat, but certainly not if you would eat. Unfortunately, for more than half a million Oklahomans, finding enough food to sustain their daily lives is a constant struggle. And, contrary to what you might think, the majority of those helped by the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma are the working poor, children and seniors living on fixed incomes. Oklahoma continues to rank among the top five states in the nation in food insecurity — a statistic none of us should be proud of.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Expert panel: Taking a look at the Ed Kelley era

Last week, Oklahoman Editor Ed Kelley announced he is leaving the “state’s most trusted news” to take over the editing duties of the Washington Times. This is kind of significant, considering Kelley has been the editor of the Oklahoman since 2003 and was the first person not from the powerful/polarizing Gaylord dynasty family to serve in that role. During his tenure, Kelley helped navigate through a dynamic (and tumultuous) period in the industry. Internet and social media has radically changed the way news and information is relayed and delivered, while declining circulation and revenues have forced the Black Tower to layoff employees, close child care facilities and reduce their staff. We emailed a list of questions to a panel of local journalism experts and pundits to get their take on the Ed Kelly era.

Read more from The Lost Ogle at

M. Scott Carter: Working the system with studies

Every year following the adjournment of the Oklahoma Legislature, the speaker of the House and the pro tempore of the Senate wade through a pile of letters and emails and authorize several “studies” of important issues. Usually these interim studies revolve around issues that didn’t survive the previous legislative session. Once in a while, the studies are part of an ongoing effort to actually change the policy or laws that currently exist in the state.For example, state Rep. David Dank’s interim study on tax credits could generate all sorts of scrutiny and debate about which businesses and industries receive tax incentives. On the other hand, other legislative studies approved this year reflect more about individual lawmakers than they do an issue that needs additional information.

Read more from this Journal Record editorial at

Quote of the Day

After we release the budget, we’re going to be very aggressive about going to the private community, to our state’s corporations who time and time again step up to the plate and are very helpful with education, and to foundations to help us get through this year.

Superintendent Janet Barresi, who says she will seek out public-private partnerships to possibly restore funding for programs cut out of the education budget.

Number of the Day


Number of millionaires living in Oklahoma in 2010

Source: Deloitte

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Misconceptions and realities about who pays taxes

A recent finding by Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation that 51 percent of households owed no federal income tax in 2009 is being used to advance the argument that low- and moderate-income families do not pay sufficient taxes. Apart from the fact that most of those who make this argument also call for maintaining or increasing all of the tax cuts of recent years for people at the top of the income scale, the 51 percent figure, its significance, and its policy implications are widely misunderstood. The 51 percent figure is an anomaly that reflects the unique circumstances of 2009, when the recession greatly swelled the number of Americans with low incomes and when temporary tax cuts created by the 2009 Recovery Act. The 51 percent figure covers only the federal income tax and ignores the substantial amounts of other federal taxes — especially the payroll tax — that many of these households pay. Even these figures understate low-income households’ total tax burden, because these households also pay substantial state and local taxes.

Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 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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