In The Know: Mentoring program for children with incarcerated parents in jeopardy

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 federal budget cuts threaten a Big Brothers Big Sisters programthat mentors children with incarcerated parents. With five or six unemployed people for every job opening, the data shows that most unemployed people are having more trouble getting work – but are trying harder to find it. Though the economic downturn caused a spike in the number of families without any federal income tax liability, almost everyone continues to pay other taxes.

UCO Business Dean Mickey Hepner finds that a proposal to eliminate the income tax sent to the governor would raise taxes on all but the wealthy and lacked any evidence that it would improve the economy. OK Policy previously responded to this proposal here. The Tulsa World has a series on the Oklahoma Quality Jobs tax break, finding that it is broadly supported at the legislature, it has rewarded primarily manufacturing jobs and call centers, and survey results show unclear popular opinion. A legislative panel heard testimony on the need to improve health education in public schools. Child care centers say a proposal to redact more identifying information from public court records could hamper their ability to screen employees.

NewsOK profiles the 125 food inspectors in Oklahoma charged with keeping the food supply safe. Challenger Bill John Baker has a substantial lead after the in-person voting count for Cherokee Nation Principal Chief, with absentee ballots yet to be counted. Today’s Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma’s K-12 children who are on their own after school. In today’s Policy Note, the Economix blog examines whether it is more cost-effective to direct resources to college students or to preschoolers and kindergarteners in order to increase college completions over the longer term.

In The News

Big Brothers Big Sisters grant loss jeopardizes mentoring program

A waiting list of 250 children of incarcerated parents in need of mentors will only grow longer unless Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma can overcome the recent loss of a $1.6 million federal grant, organization officials say. The $40 million U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Mentoring Children of Prisoners Program was intended to help 40,000 children nationwide, including 900 additional children in Oklahoma. Its funding was eliminated in last summer’s round of budget cuts. Children of incarcerated parents have an increased likelihood of going to prison, particularly if they are born below the poverty line or reside in households with higher rates of mental health issues, substance abuse and domestic violence, Justin Jones, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, said last week.

Read more from NewsOK at

Most unemployed want to work

Concern that the American work ethic is slipping is not new. Labor unions, the 50-hour – and then 40-hour – work week, the minimum wage, child labor laws, paid holidays and aid to the poor were all decried in their turn as corrosive to an American tradition of hard work and self-reliance. More recently, suspicion falls on the 2 million Americans who have been looking for work for two years or more, and the millions of others who have given up on ever finding jobs. Even in Oklahoma, with better employment statistics than most states, about a fifth of the state’s jobless have been without work at least a year. Surely, the argument goes, these are people who don’t really want a job. “I hear that from people I know, that people turn down jobs to stay on unemployment,” said Charley Farley, area manager for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. “I just don’t believe that. Unemployment doesn’t pay as much as a job does.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Number of families with no federal income tax liability rise, but most continue to pay other taxes

Jason Long chuckles when asked what he would say to someone who thinks he doesn’t work hard and gets too many tax breaks. “I’d tell them to come live my life for a while,” the 38-year-old self-employed auto glass repairman said. Long and his wife, Jessica Long, a technician at St. John Medical Center, were among the nearly half of American households that had no federal income tax liability last year. The Longs, of Tulsa, have four children. “Some years I pay (taxes) in, some years I get some back,” Long said. Only 14 percent of U.S. households paid neither federal income tax nor federal payroll tax in 2009, according to the Tax Policy Center. And state and local taxes actually tend to be regressive, meaning those with low incomes pay a higher rate. “Everyone pays taxes,” said David Blatt, executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa nonprofit agency that advocates on behalf of the poor, “You pay taxes when you buy groceries. You pay taxes when you put gas in the tank. You even pay taxes indirectly when you pay rent.”

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

An attack on the middle class?

Is it time to end the state income tax? Recently, the Governor’s Task Force on Economic Development and Job Creation recommended that the Governor “initiate a 10 year program to significantly reduce then ultimately eliminate the Oklahoma personal income tax.” While the recommendation to eliminate the income tax was not a surprise, I was surprised by the 1) weakness of their argument and 2) the tax increases the group suggested. The task force offered no data, no economic impact analysis, no estimate of the impact on families. What the task force does not mention is that Oklahoma’s economy is outperforming many of the states that have already chosen to forego a personal income tax. Since 2000, Oklahoma’s economy (on a per-capita basis) is growing at the 16th fastest pace in the nation, and faster than six of the nine states that do not have a personal income tax (Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas and Washington). Other measures of economic performance relay a similar story. In the end a group of wealthy Oklahomans proposed cutting taxes for wealthy Oklahomans, and raising taxes on everyone else.

Read more from The Edmond Sun at

Previously: Income tax proposal would do lasting damage to state’s prosperity from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Oklahoma’s Quality Jobs program seen as a success story

Since its inception in 1993, Quality Jobs and its ancillary programs have paid employers more than $700 million. These payments are in the form of rebates calculated as a portion – generally 5 percent – of qualified payroll for a maximum of 10 years. The program once covered more than 40,000 jobs, but that figure has declined by half in the past decade. Total payouts, though, have remained fairly steady at about $50 million per year. That’s at least partly because of a 2003 change instituting wage minimums. Since then, the average annualized wage in the program has risen from a little over $30,000 to more than $60,000. Just how many jobs the program may have brought to the state or helped retain – or how many may have left once the subsidies stopped – is impossible to calculate. As it turns out, the number of jobs created isn’t even the key figure in the Quality Jobs program. It’s total payroll.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Quality Jobs puts emphasis on manufacturing from The Tulsa World; Quality Jobs gets mixed review in survey from The Tulsa World

Improving health of students is important to state’s economy, legislative panel told

Improving health and fitness initiative programs in public schools is important if the state is going to succeed in luring businesses to the state, a legislative panel was told Thursday. Studies have shown that obese people are more likely to be unemployed because of the increased insurance and health care costs they impose on employers, she said. Most surveys put Oklahoma near the bottom in health issues. Several speakers said legislators have made efforts the past couple years to improve fitness programs in public schools, but more can be done. A measure passed and signed into law last year requires 120 minutes of physical activity a week for prekindergarten and fifth-grade students, but half that time could be classroom instruction. Nearly one in three high school students don’t get physical education, England said. Physical education is offered but not required for high school students. Oklahoma is one of two states that don’t have health education classes for middle school students, she said.

Read more from NewsOK at

Child care centers, others say redacting more information from court records could hinder screening new hires

Operators of child-care centers and other businesses say they are concerned that a proposed rule by the Oklahoma Supreme Court would hinder their ability to screen out sex offenders and other criminals seeking employment. More than three years after shelving plans to redact certain personal identifiers from court records, the Oklahoma Supreme Court is proposing similar rules for public input, records show. The court is proposing rule changes that would require lawyers and district attorneys to redact home addresses and partially redact dates of birth in criminal and civil matters, said Mike Evans, administrative director of courts. An official with the Oklahoma Child Care Association said the proposed rule could affect thorough background checks for child-care employees. Kathy Cronemiller, president of the Oklahoma Child Care Association, said her agency screens individuals for violent crimes, drug convictions and sexual offenses. Cronemiller said the Department of Human Services uses court records to verify elements of an OSBI report for her agency. “OSBI records are good, but they are not always accurate,” Cronemiller said.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Oklahoma and federal inspectors work to keep food supplies safe

Deadly cantaloupes, wire bristle pieces suspected in macaroni and cheese, and salmonella-tainted ground turkey. The food-related deaths, illnesses and recalls mount up day after day throughout the country. More than 3,000 people die each year of something they ate, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Another 128,000 are hospitalized, and 48 million (or one in six people) get sick from something they ate. Food inspectors are vital in preventing a public safety nightmare, said K.C. Ely, the state Health Department’s consumer protection services director. “I’d say every day we prevent something,” he said. “We decrease the likelihood of someone getting sick.” Inspection frequency Though budget cuts could ax some positions, there are about 8,000 federal food inspectors. There are about 125 inspectors in Oklahoma charged with keeping the food supply safe.

Read more from NewsOK at

Baker leads in unofficial first count of Cherokee special election

After the first day of counting in the Cherokee Nation special election for principal chief, Tribal Council member Bill John Baker unofficially leads former chief Chad Smith by almost 2,200 votes. At 2 p.m. Sunday, the Cherokee Nation Election Commission released unofficial, machine-counted vote totals by precinct for the tribe’s 38 polling places and walk-in voting, with Baker ahead 6,223 votes to 4,046. That gives Baker an initial lead of 60.6 percent to 39.4 percent. About 8,700 people voted at their precincts on Sept. 24 and an additional 1,647 voted at the election commission during walk-in days, including 510 during the five additional walk-in days ordered by a federal district court judge. The election commission has not started counting absentee ballots, and the number that were returned has not been disclosed. About 12,000 absentee ballots were requested for the special election, an increase of 3,800 from the general election.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Quote of the Day

The children out there are going to find a mentor, good or bad, one way or another. It’s a matter of whether we get to them first.
Sharla Owens, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma CEO

Number of the Day

29 percent

Percentage of Oklahoma’s K-12 children who are on their own after school, 2009

Source: Afterschool Alliance

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

From Kindergarten to college completion

A report released last week has drawn new attention to low degree-completion rates among college entrants, particularly among those who never attend full time. The organization that published the report, Complete College America, seeks to rally policy makers around the goal of substantially increasing completion rates by 2020. The influential economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman, among others, has asserted that early educational investments have the highest return, because of the cumulative nature of skill development (“skill begets skill”). By the time a high school student is on the verge of college (or an older worker is considering returning to school), this argument goes, it may be too expensive to try to fix skill deficiencies that trace back decades.

Read more from Economix 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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