In The Know: Oklahoma declines to participate in summer food program for children | Estimate set for FY25 budget | Restoring the Oklahoma Standard

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

OK Policy’s 2023 in Review: Explore a curated selection of the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s work from 2023. This collection embodies our commitment to rigorous research, insightful analysis, and practical policy solutions. Join us as we showcase these data-driven explorations shaping a more informed and prosperous Oklahoma. [Annie Taylor / OK Policy]

Equalization board sets estimate for FY 2025 budget (Capitol Update): This is the time of year when people who depend on state funding to provide public services start to learn what their funding in the next fiscal year might look like. Public safety, health, social services, education, and general governmental services are all primarily funded by appropriations from the general revenue fund. On Dec. 22, the State Board of Equalization met to estimate the amount of funding that will be available for appropriation in the session beginning in February. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Restoring the Oklahoma Standard in the new year: While I normally avoid resolutions, in the coming year I would like to see all Oklahomans — especially our elected officials — commit to restoring the Oklahoma Standard. That starts when we recognize the immense needs within our state. We can then apply targeted policy solutions that provide all Oklahoma families with a chance to thrive. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma declines to join new summer food program for children, a disappointment to some child advocates: Despite one of every five Oklahoma children living through food insecurity, the state won’t participate in a new federal summer food program for children. Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office cited uncertainty about how the federal government will administer the program. [The Oklahoman]

Petition to raise state minimum wage heading to Oklahoma Supreme Court: The Oklahoma Supreme Court will hold an en banc hearing in January that could decide the fate of an initiative petition seeking to raise the state’s minimum wage. The hearing — the second full court hearing held in the past six months — comes after the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the Oklahoma State Chamber both filed briefs in the case seeking to stop circulation of the petition. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt mulling new special session on tax cuts: Gov. Kevin Stitt said he is considering calling lawmakers into another special session on tax cuts early next year. Stitt said he’d like to see lawmakers approve a 0.25% personal income tax cut before the regular, four-month legislative session begins Feb. 5. Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, said he expects lawmakers will only have about $300 million or less in new recurring revenue to spend next year. It’s too soon to talk about cutting taxes, he added. [Oklahoma Voice]

Turnover, Scandals Have Some Rethinking Governor’s Power Boost: After several scandals and turnover in agency leadership, some Oklahoma lawmakers are rethinking their efforts to give the governor direct appointment power over the largest state agencies. [Oklahoma Watch]

Stitt’s new top aide helped advance controversial Catholic charter school proposal: An Oklahoma City businessman who made headlines last year for his eleventh-hour board appointment and deciding vote to approve a controversial Catholic charter school proposal has a new job as a top aide to Gov. Kevin Stitt. Brian Bobek is now working as deputy chief of staff for Stitt, a governor’s spokeswoman confirmed when asked by the Tulsa World. [Tulsa World]

National Guard Deployment To Texas Border Paid For By Disaster Response Funds: Oklahoma spent more than $544,000 for the state’s National Guard to help secure the U.S. border with Mexico, money that came from a disaster fund typically used for National Guard response to tornadoes and other extreme weather events. [Oklahoma Watch]

Legislator’s bill to require Ten Commandments in Okla. classrooms, Walters voices support: An eastern Oklahoma legislator has filed a bill that would require the Ten Commandments to be shown in all public school classrooms. The bill follows a string of failed attempts over the past 10 years to display the document on public property in the state. [The Oklahoman]

State takes hit on oil, gas production tax collections: Tax revenues in Oklahoma in 2023 fell short of revenues collected in 2022 by more than $312 million, and conditions don’t seem ripe for a big rebound headed into the new year. [Journal Record]

Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to clash with Oklahoma’s tribes in second term: Gov. Kevin Stitt started his second term aiming for a fresh start with Oklahoma’s tribes, but his past year in office has been a continuation of much of the same state-tribal conflict that shaped his first term. Throughout the year, Stitt has continued to clash with tribal leaders over intergovernmental agreements and tribal sovereignty in disputes that have continued to spill into the courtroom. [Oklahoma Voice]

ODOT task force recommends moving toward per-mile road tax: A task force studying a per-mile road tax has recommended that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation begin laying the foundation for such a program, with a likely start date in 2027. The group recommended that the program be voluntary, at least at the start. [Tulsa World]

  • States warn of ‘Band-Aids and duct tape’ for road maintenance [Oklahoma Voice]

First Canoo vehicles delivered to state of Oklahoma: The first three electric vehicles off Canoo’s Oklahoma City assembly floor were delivered to the state of Oklahoma on Friday, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services announced. [Tulsa World]

  • State receives first made-in-Oklahoma electric vehicles from Canoo [KGOU]

Oklahoma agency sues firms for $20 million over faulty Sallisaw Veterans Center designs: Oklahoma has filed a lawsuit against two contractors accused of negligence in designing a new 175-bed facility for veterans. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

D.C. Digest: Cole says bipartisan appropriations bills inevitable: Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole, the Rules Committee chairman as well as a senior appropriator, seemed to suggest that House leaders ignore members who are unlikely to accept spending bills with a chance of passing the Senate and being signed by President Joe Biden. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

IndigiPolitics: 2023 a year of twists and turns: This year the nation saw the impact of a divided Republican Party and the rulings from the Supreme Court, the election of more Indigenous people to public office and what the Biden administration is or isn’t doing. Lastly, the two largest Indigenous nations in what is now the United States elected new leaders. [ICT]

Health News

More than 300,000 Oklahomans disenrolled from Medicaid as unwinding nears end: The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is nearing the end of a nine-month period in which it removed hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans from Medicaid due to the end of federal pandemic health care protections. [Oklahoma Voice]

Success seen with state distribution of free products to combat opioid overdoses: More than 515 overdoses in the Tulsa metro area were reversed in 2023 through a local nonprofit’s participation in a state program that distributes free products to combat opioid overdoses. [Tulsa World]

New Oklahoma City mental health hospital expects to break ground in March: A new mental health hospital in Oklahoma City is expected to break ground in late March. The Donahue Behavioral Health Campus, a $147 million facility that will serve adults and adolescents with 330 beds, is expected to break ground on March 28. [KOSU]

New tax credit for family caregivers in Oklahoma now in effect: A new tax credit for family caregivers is now in effect in Oklahoma. State lawmakers passed the Caring for Caregivers Act during the 2023 legislative session. The tax credit helps offset out of pocket expenses for family members who care for an older relative. [KGOU]

Criminal Justice News

DNA evidence casts doubt on Henry Jamerson’s rape conviction after 24 years in prison. Prosecutors are fighting efforts to clear his name: A new discovery follows years of claims that the evidence had been destroyed. The victim says doubts about the case always haunted her. [The Frontier]

  • A look back at Tulsa’s history of overturned convictions [The Frontier]

A court diversion program saved his life. Now he guides others through the program: A $1 million grant made by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance will help significantly increase the diversion drug court’s capacity over the next four years. The money eventually will expand the program’s capacity from the 150 participants it handles today to 250 at any given time, a release about the grant states. The need definitely is there. Only 57% of those seeking to enter the program in 2022 were admitted, largely because of staffing shortages, the release states. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma corrections agency eyes massive security upgrades to boost safety: The Department of Corrections is working on plans to completely revamp the antiquated security technology in all of its correctional facilities in an effort to improve safety behind bars for inmates and correctional employees. [Oklahoma Voice]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

States, Biden administration push efforts to aid renters, keep people housed: The scenery may be different from state to state but the housing landscape is much the same across the country: People are struggling to find a home they can afford. Legislators, state agencies and the Biden administration in 2023 proposed a raft of legislation and programs to tackle the problem. Advocates say states need to do even more to prioritize housing needs. [Oklahoma Voice]

Did Tulsa meet its $500 million housing goal? Sort of: At his State of the City address in November, Mayor G.T. Bynum announced that Tulsa had not just met his $500 million Tulsa Housing Challenge goal but exceeded it. And not just that — the two-year goal was accomplished in just one year. Sort of. The number to which Bynum was referring was $513.5 million. But of that investment, 54% was for projects permitted prior to November 2022, when Bynum issued the challenge, a Tulsa World analysis found. [Tulsa World]

OKC’s infamous Plaza Inn getting new life as homeless veteran housing. ‘A significant step’: A troubled Oklahoma City motel, closed since October after a judge declared it a public nuisance, could soon see another chance at life as an affordable housing project for homeless veterans. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma to distribute $6.3 million in federal food chain grants: The American Rescue Plan Act included $420 million for food supply chain support; the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry recently announced the opening of applications for grants from the state’s $6.3 million share of the Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program. The deadline is Feb. 23. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma sees continued drought improvement as new year begins: The final drought map of 2023 has been released and Oklahoma is wrapping up the year on a positive note. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows no extreme or exceptional drought to be found across the state. [KOSU]

Education News

Refugee Students Face the Same Hurdles But Get Different Levels of Support: Refugees arrived in Oklahoma from more than 20 countries in the past three years, and while schools have resources to help all refugee children, including specialized English Language Development teachers and books translated into various languages, there is federal money available to schools to help Afghans specifically, leaving students from countries such as Cuba, Haiti, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo without the same level of support. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma teacher bonus program maxed out at 578 recruits, including 117 from other states: A teacher recruitment program with signing bonuses of up to $50,000 did coax some teachers from other states to Oklahoma, but apparently not as many as some believe state Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters implied in September. [Tulsa World]

Child advocacy group to push for ban on using corporal punishment for disabled kids: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy — a nonprofit advocacy network for children — says it plans to renew its push to eliminate corporal punishment against children with disabilities during the 2024 legislative session. [The Oklahoman]

What you need to know about the private school tax credits: The Parental Choice Tax Credit offers Oklahoma families a refundable tax credit of $5,000 to $7,500 for private school tuition and fees. If you will pay, or expect to pay, for a child’s private school this year, you can apply for the credit. [Oklahoma Watch]

Amid executive orders and rules targeting diversity initiatives, OCU looks to bring back NAACP chapter: Oklahoma City University students are set to do something that hasn’t been done in more than a decade at Oklahoma City University — bring back the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. [The Oklahoman]

How OKC Community College is offering education through the new Mexican Consulate: In part due its location in southwest Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City Community College long has partnered with the city’s Hispanic community on efforts to increase higher education opportunities among that group. [The Oklahoman]

Former Norman High School teacher’s revocation case still unresolved: Six months after state officials put their case before a judge to revoke her teaching license, a former Norman teacher who shared access to a catalog of banned books is still fully certified in Oklahoma. [Oklahoma Voice]

Bacone College’s troubles lead to transfer assistance: Muskogee area schools are reaching out to Bacone College students, offering help in transferring schools. After the Muscogee-based college announced its Spring 2024 classes were being suspended, both Northeastern State University and Connors State College offered transfer assistance to Bacone students for the upcoming semester. [ICT]

Opinion: Educators have been working in the trenches for centuries inspiring students: Educators have been working the trenches for centuries inspiring students, colleagues and parents to advance a noble cause ― the development of young minds. [K. John Lee / The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Oklahomans need Ryan Walters to step up, take hands-on role leading education agency: For the average Oklahoman, the State Department of Education essentially has two main responsibilities — distributing federal funding to local districts and making sure that schools and educators have the resources and support they need to thrive. Right now the state Department of Education seems to be achieving neither objective. It’s not clear if that’s because there’s a lack of direction or knowledge in how to run a massive state agency or if it’s because Oklahomans have elected a state superintendent who seems more focused on gaining traction on the national stage and generating outrageous headlines than in advocating for Oklahoma schools’ success. [Janelle Stecklein / Oklahoma Voice]

General News

People to Watch: Shiloh Kantz, the Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director: Shiloh Kantz says she’s proof that subject matter expertise isn’t required for community activism. “The one thing I want people to know is that if they’re feeling frustrated and they’re feeling their voice doesn’t matter, there is a place for them to get involved,” she said. “If it’s not with us, we’ll help them connect some place. Apathy has to go out the window. We have to be an engaged citizenry.” [Tulsa World]

  • New Year brings latest installment of People to Watch [Tulsa World]

Aging Oklahoma: State faces shortage of health-care workers, report says: Three factors significantly impact access to health care for older Oklahomans: affordability, availability of nursing facilities and an insufficient health care workforceaccording to a new report released by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. [Journal Record]

Black veterans receive less benefits compared to White veterans: Black veterans are less likely to receive physical or mental health benefits than their White counterparts when requested by the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to new data from the VA, Black veterans do not receive as much benefits, despite having the same occupation. [The Black Wall Street Times]

USDA report shows foreign-owned land holdings rising in Oklahoma: Foreign-owned land holdings increased in Oklahoma and across the nation in 2022, according to the latest report on land ownership from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of that acreage, the report shows Canadian investors own the most with almost 897,000 acres, followed by Italian investors with 560,082 acres. [KOSU]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma County hires contractor to build new jail; considers new sites [The Oklahoman]
  • With less than a year left in office, Tulsa mayor sets his sights high for 2024 [Tulsa World]
  • City, county in talks to again hold municipal inmates in Tulsa County jail [Tulsa World]
  • Brand new Edmond schools are already overcrowding. Here’s where 2 new schools might go if approved [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“We are always in the bottom 10 in the country in terms of food security. Families and kids are struggling for sure, and the (summer food) program was something we’ve supported for a long time.”

-Chris Bernard, President and CEO of the nonprofit Hunger Free Oklahoma, talking about the governor’s decision for Oklahoma to not participate in a new federal summer food program for children. [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Rate of Oklahoma children who were experiencing food insecurity. [KIDS COUNT]

Policy Note

Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: While summer meals and summer learning have always gone hand in hand, this combination is especially important looking ahead. Summer programs will be necessary to counter the educational inequities that the pandemic has exacerbated. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 included $30 billion in funding to support summer and afterschool programs. By making this historic increased investment in federal afterschool and summer program funding, more families with low incomes will have access to the enrichment and educational programs that provide an important foundation for summer meals. States have until 2024 to distribute this funding, and many still have dollars on the table. Moving forward, Congress should permanently increase federal funding for summer (and afterschool) programs to help ensure that all children have access to the nutritious meals and high quality programming they need during the summer.[Food Research and Action Center]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.