In The Know: May 13, 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 OK Policy Blog has our reaction to the budget deal, finding that although state leaders did as best as they could within limited options, their early decision to leave serious revenue increases off the table made the cuts worse than was necessary. Several former Department of Education officials are speaking out about dysfunction in the agency after being fired. One employee is saying that the contentious Board of Education meeting that resulted in shifting more power to Superintendent Janet Barresi was “staged and planned.”

More than 100 people rallied at the capitol in defense of reproductive rights and to protest attempts to restrict a program that gives food aid to malnourished mothers and young children. OK Policy previously discussed the threat to the child nutrition program here. A House committee approved a $40 million bond over three years to finish construction of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. Another committee moved forward a bill that takes away the public’s ability to have a court review if government entities are improperly using attorney-client privilege to hide their activities. Another Oklahoma elected official may be disqualified from office due to a prior felony conviction.

Oklahoma Education Association President Linda Hampton writes in NewsOK that firing bad teachers should be less an issue than keeping good ones. In today’s Policy Note, The American Prospect takes an in-depth look at whether public sex offender registries are doing more harm than good.

Read on for more.

In The News

The FY ’12 budget agreement: Playing your best hand with only half your cards

On Tuesday, Governor Fallin and the Republican leadership of the House and Senate announced an agreement on the FY ’12 budget. Total state appropriations for next year will be $6.511 billion, which is $254 million, or 3.8 percent less than this year’s final budget. To make the budget balance and limit the magnitude of cuts, the agreement includes some $370 million more revenue than what was certified as available for appropriation by the Board of Equalization in February. Although full details have not been spelled out, the main revenue enhancements appear to be: $120 million in cash balances that have accumulated this year; some $100 million from the final round of federal stimulus money approved by Congress last summer; and a $100 million transfer from the State Transportation Fund that will be partly made up for by a $70 million bond issue for the Department of Transportation.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

See also: Oklahoma lawmakers give initial OK to state budget from NewsOK

Former employees say Education Department is dysfunctional

Three former employees from the Oklahoma Education Department are speaking out about what they call destructive dysfunction in the agency since state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi took office four months ago. “The last several months, I was unable to perform my duties,” said Jack Herron, former assistant superintendent in charge of finance. “I am terribly concerned, as I said, for the people of Oklahoma.” Herron was one of two employees fired Monday hours after Barresi received authority from the state Board of Education to make personnel decisions without prior board approval. Also fired on Monday was Shannon Ainsworth, who had been in the department for 11 years.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

See also: Man fired from education department fires back from KFOR

Rally pushes for abortion rights, Planned Parenthood at capitol

More than 100 people donned pink shirts Thursday to rally against restrictions on abortion and to encourage women to run for office. They also lobbied against legislative efforts to remove Planned Parenthood as a contractor for the Women, Infants and Children’s food program. They donned shirts reading “Trust Oklahoma Women” and “I Stand with Planned Parenthood” on the fourth floor of the state Capitol during the boisterous rally, at which speakers were interrupted several times by applause.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Previously: Out of the mouths of babes: Legislature moves to cut child nutrition benefits from the OK Policy Blog

House panel approves bond package for American Indian museum

A bill that would authorize the state to issue $40 million in bonds over a three-year period for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City won the approval Thursday of a House panel. But before any bond issue could be sought, the museum would have to come up with matching amounts, said Rep. Earl Sears, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee. The state has already invested more than $66 million into the project.

Read more from this NewsOK article at

Opponents say HB 1559 would reduce government transparency

A House panel advanced a measure Thursday that the Oklahoma Press Association says would reduce government transparency. The House Conference Committee on Public Safety, Judiciary and Military Affairs approved House Bill 1559 by Rep. Fred Jordan, R-Jenks, and Sen. Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa. Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, said the measure would remove an important safeguard against abuse of the secrecy privilege between government entities and the attorneys who represent them.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Felony record could disqualify Kellyville official

Officials are questioning the eligibility of a town trustee with a felony record to hold office. City Attorney Misty Fields said Wednesday that she is exploring the town’s options after it was learned that Trustee Jason Patrick Horath has felony convictions, putting him at odds with Oklahoma law for holding office. State law bars anyone who has been convicted of a felony from seeking or holding office for a period of 15 years after a sentence has been completed.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Linda Hampton: Firing bad teachers is less an issue than keeping good ones

There is a consensus among researchers and educators that the single most important factor in determining student performance is the quality of the teacher. Therefore, our most critical efforts must be focused on attracting, supporting and retaining high-quality teachers in every community — not making it easier to fire all teachers. In fact, most new teachers are walking out of the classroom voluntarily. Nationwide, half of all new teachers quit teaching within the first five years. With average attrition costs of 30 percent of every teacher’s salary, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, not keeping talented new teachers is a costly, acute error.

Read more from this NewsOK editorial at

Quote of the Day

The contentious January board meeting was staged and planned.

Former Assistant Superintendent of Financial Services Jack Herron, who is speaking out after being fired from the Department of Education. Disputes at the January board meeting led the legislature to shift power from the Board of Education to Superintendent Janet Barresi.

Number of the Day

11 percent

Percentage of their income Oklahomans spent on gasoline on average in April 2011; the national average is 8.9 percent.

Source: Oil Price Information Service via CNN

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Life on the list

Megan’s Law launched America’s practice of notifying neighborhoods of where sex offenders live. Though the law is well intentioned, it’s not clear whether it has reduced the number of sex offenses; rather, public notification appears to destabilize offenders’ lives, increasing the risk they’ll commit another crime. There is also ample evidence that since the law passed, vigilantes have used sex-offender registries to threaten, harass, and inflict violence on hundreds of offenders and their families.

Read more from The American Prospect 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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