In The Know: OKC public high schools to start career academies this fall

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 specialized career academies kicking off this fall in Oklahoma City high schools are filling up quickly. Gov. Fallin appointed former Oklahoma County prosecutor Wes Lane to serve as chairman of the Oklahoma DHS Commission. Patrice Douglas was chosen by fellow commissioners to chair the Corporation Commission.

Both ethics allegations and a lawsuit against Senator Clark Jolley have been dismissed. Several Tulsa-area monitoring sites now exceed the EPA’s ozone standard. Construction has begun on a 235-megawatt wind farm in north-central Oklahoma.

David Blatt writes in the Journal Record that the falling state workforce is a recipe for disaster. NewsOK called for tapping the Rainy Day Fund build a new medical examiner’s office. See a new OK Policy fact sheet on the basics of the Rainy Day Fund here. Former Senate President Cal Hobson writes on the OK Policy Blog that the Legislature’s blanket opposition to bond issues is unwise.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma’s land area that has experienced severe, extreme, or exceptional drought since the start of the year. In today’s Policy Note, Matthew Yglesias shows that many business owners and politicians who say that allowing some tax cuts to expire will harm the economy are bizarrely uninformed about how the tax code actually works.

In The News

OKC public high schools to start career academies this fall

Fewer than 100 spots remain in the new system of specialized high school programs kicking off this fall in Oklahoma City Public Schools. Officials expect the remaining spots in the freshman academies to fill up quickly when the district’s official open enrollment begins Monday. “I expect those programs are going to fill up in a couple of days,” said Verna Martin, associate director of the district’s secondary schools. “Then we’ll start a waiting list.” Beginning this fall, five district high schools will offer six dedicated academies: engineering at Capitol Hill, information technology at Oklahoma Centennial, finance at John Marshall, hospitality at Star Spencer and both engineering and health sciences at Northeast. Students will be able to attend any of the academies beginning with the freshman class of 2012-13.

Read more from NewsOK.

Wes Lane appointed new DHS Commission Chairman

Gov. Mary Fallin appointed former Oklahoma County prosecutor Wes Lane on Wednesday to serve as chairman of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services. Wes Lane The former Oklahoma County district attorney will serve as chairman of the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services. He served as district attorney from 2001 through 2006. Lane has been serving as a DHS commissioner since September, when Fallin appointed him to the agency’s governing board. Lane told The Oklahoman his top priorities will include working to make sure a top-quality agency director is selected as soon as possible, putting child welfare reforms in place and working to maintain continuity within the state’s largest agency as it goes through a time of extraordinary upheaval.

Read more from NewsOK.

Patrice Douglas to head Oklahoma Corporation Commission

Nearly a year after she was appointed to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, Patrice Douglas is poised to take over as chairwoman of the regulatory agency. Douglas was elected unanimously to the post Monday, succeeding Dana Murphy at the head of the three-person commission. Douglas will assume her new role Aug. 1. Douglas, an attorney, banker and former Edmond mayor, said she was honored to become the lead member of the commission. “It’s a vote of confidence” from the other two members, she said. Douglas said her goal is to use her private sector experience to develop an agencywide strategic plan for the commission. She also intends to concentrate on addressing the needs of the commission’s transportation division, much like Murphy has done with the oil and natural gas division.

Read more from NewsOK.

Lawsuit and ethics complaint against Senator Jolley dismissed

Senator Clark Jolley announced Wednesday that both ethics allegations and a lawsuit against him have been dismissed. Jolley said the Ethics Commission notified him by mail that members voted to dismiss charges filed against him during the weeks preceding the primary election. Jolley said he was pleased: “The public dissemination of the charges by people who opposed my re-election effort was purposefully done to damage my reputation prior to an election.” Jolley said he supports a proposal by Commissioner Jo Pettigrew to fashion a “black-out period” on ethics filings before elections. Sen. Jolley also applauded the decision by his primary opponent, Rev. Paul Blair, to dismiss him from the lawsuit filed before the election. In his press release, Jolley said that to his knowledge the lawsuit has not been dismissed against the remaining defendants.

Read more from CapitolBeatOK.

Tulsa ozone exceeding EPA’s standards

Several Tulsa-area monitoring sites now exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard, but all of Oklahoma is still considered in attainment. This is because the EPA continues to use data from a three-year period – 2008 through 2010 – for the Tulsa area, said EPA spokesman Dave Bary. That was the last three-year period to have all Tulsa-area sites under the current ozone standard of 0.075 parts per million. This means that the Tulsa area will have time to become compliant with the standard without being designated by the EPA as a nonattainment area, said Nancy Graham, the air-quality program manager for the Indian Nations Council of Governments. “People in the area need to be proactive,” she said. “When Ozone Alerts are issued, think, ‘What do I need to do to reduce emissions?'”

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Work begins on northern Oklahoma wind farm

Construction has begun on the Chisholm View Wind Project, a 235-megawatt wind farm being built between the towns of Hunter and Pond Creek. Enel Green Power data shows more than 150 workers are employed on a daily basis erecting the wind turbines. When the wind farm is complete, it will send power through an existing OG&E transmission line to power distribution centers in Dallas and Wichita, Kan., then on to utility customers in Alabama Power’s service area. The wind farm is expected to generate enough power to avoid more than 565,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to taking about 110,000 cars off the road. While the energy generated will be heading out of the region, the project is expected to have significant financial benefits in north-central Oklahoma — about $5 million a year into the local economy, according to TradeWind Energy estimates.

Read more from The Edmond Sun.

David Blatt: Falling state workforce is recipe for disaster

At the Oklahoma State Reformatory, a medium- and minimum-security facility in western Oklahoma, staffing has dropped to the point where at times a single officer armed only with pepper spray is on duty in a dining hall of 160 inmates, according to a recent Tulsa World report. Even in 2007, Oklahoma’s inmate-to-staff ratio was more than double that of most neighboring states. Yet in the past three years, with budgets being cut or held flat every year, staffing of the Corrections Department has fallen by 873 employees, while the inmate population keeps rising. The staffing crisis led Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones to state in 2010: “If there is a recipe for disaster, we have all the ingredients cooking right now.” It’s not just the Department of Corrections buckling under the pressure of layoffs and unfilled vacancies. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of state government employees decreased by 9.8 percent.

Read more from The Journal Record.

NewsOK: Tap Rainy Day Fund to build new medical examiner’s office

Oklahoma’s Rainy Day Fund, down to its last few dollars just 18 months ago, has swelled again to a comfortable level. The fund’s $556 million balance is only $40 million shy of the record amount it contained at the beginning of fiscal year 2009. The recession drained the fund. Policymakers used most of it to deal with revenue shortfalls in the past two fiscal years. Deposits made during the past 12 months are evidence that the state is rebounding, but the recent past should provide all the incentive Gov. Mary Fallin needs to closely guard the fund against those who say they need it to deal with an emergency. A different sort of emergency exists today. It’s the state medical examiner’s office, whose duties are among the most important in all of state government but whose facility is a crowded, outdated embarrassment.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Rainy Day Fund Basics from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Guest Blog (Cal Hobson): Bonds. State bonds.

In my opinion, when Gov. Mary Fallin’s ill-advised effort to further erode Oklahoma’s very modest tax base failed this past session that was a good thing. However, it also meant any serious consideration of issuing bonds to address just a small part of the cost to fix, repair or enhance our state’s infrastructure went down the drain with it. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Rarely done, always wrong. It didn’t have to be. We’ll explore why. First, though, what are these things we call bonds? How much do we have? What have they paid for in the past? And, most importantly, why they have played such a critical – and get this – conservative role in Oklahoma’s progress so far and why they must be used in the future?

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Quote of the Day

Now students are competing in robotics competitions. They’re engaging with the curriculum. They’re doing integrated learning, so they’re learning about engineering in their English, language and math classes. I have seen the difference that having that program in that school has made for those students.

-Verna Martin, who was principal of Northeast high school in Oklahoma City when it began focusing on engineering and health sciences as part of a new system of career academies.

Number of the Day

50.5 percent

Percentage of Oklahoma’s land area that has experienced severe, extreme, or exceptional drought since the start of the year, 2012

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Tax ignoramuses

President Obama reiterated Monday his opposition to Republican efforts to fully extend the Bush tax cuts beyond their scheduled expiration at the end of this year. Instead, Obama says he wants to extend most of the tax cuts for one year (2013) while allowing the top two tax brackets to revert to Clinton-era levels. His hope is that Congress will use 2013 to pass broad tax reform. Under Obama’s plan, households with taxable incomes above $250,000 will pay higher taxes, which the GOP is furious about, especially citing the dire impact on small business owners. What’s striking about this whole debate is how the very business owners and politicians who seem certain that tax shifts will radically harm the economy are bizarrely uninformed about how the tax code actually works. In particular, they don’t appear to understand what marginal tax rates and tax brackets actually are.

Read more from Slate.

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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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