In The Know: Oklahoma devastated by second round of twisters

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that an EF4 tornado killed at least 51 people Monday as it roared through Moore and south Oklahoma City. Rescue workers were frantically searching into the night for missing children at the devastated Plaza Towers Elementary School in the Moore School District. The White House has approved Oklahoma’s request for disaster assistance in five Oklahoma counties. NewsOK has a list of ways to help tornado victims.

Insurance Commissioner John Doak estimated that estimated 100 to 150 insured home losses and “many, many more uninsured” from the Shawnee tornado. House Speaker TW Shannon is refusing to preserve Insure Oklahoma coverage for 9,000 Oklahomans earning less than the poverty level, because he believes government shouldn’t provide health insurance. A group of state education officials including Oklahoma Superintendent Barresi is pushing back against a call for a moratorium on using standardized tests for evaluating students or teachers until states have completely implemented Common Core standards.

A House panel approved a measure to fund completion of the American Indian Cultural Center out of use tax revenue. The New York Times reports that an aquifer ranging from Nebraska to the Texas panhandle is running dry due to intensive farming and won’t be refilled for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. A new report by the Brookings Institutions shows that growing poverty in Oklahoma suburbs mirrors a national trend. The Number of the Day is . In today’s Policy Note, Atlantic Cities explains how suburban poverty is less visible and more insidious than urban poverty.

In The News

Oklahoma devastated by second round of twisters

A monstrous tornado killed at least 51 people Monday as it roared through Moore and south Oklahoma City — leaving rescue workers frantically searching into the night for missing children at the devastated Plaza Towers Elementary School in the Moore School District. At least 20 children were included among those killed, and the death toll is expected to rise, the state medical examiner reported. More than 100 were injured. President Barack Obama issued a federal disaster declaration late Monday. The president’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Federal assistance granted for Oklahomans devasted by tornadoes from News9; How to help tornado victims from NewsOK

Insurers set up in areas of Oklahoma hit by tornadoes

Insurance agencies already on the ground surveying the damage from Sunday’s tornadoes were preparing to reorganize after another round of devastating storms hit the central part of the state Monday. An emergency declaration issued early Monday by Insurance Commissioner John Doak allowed out-of-state insurance appraisers to handle claims more quickly. A command center has been set up at The Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, 1700 W Independence, Shawnee, giving victims a centralized location to find assistance from insurers as well as disaster relief agencies. Doak estimated 100 to 150 insured home losses and “many, many more uninsured” from the Shawnee tornado. Many of the victims either leased or rented a mobile home and did not have insurance, he said.

Read more from NewsOK.

House Speaker won’t save Insure Oklahoma

Oklahoma Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon has pulled the plug on Gov. Mary Fallin’s plans to save the Insure Oklahoma program, which provides healthcare to working poor Oklahomans. As a result, 9,000 people currently getting state and federally subsidized private insurance through the program will be left without coverage. About 21,000 will be eligible to get coverage through a federal health insurance exchange, due to go into full operation on Jan. 1. But the 9,000 poorest people in the program — those earning less than the federal poverty level — are excluded from the exchange. Fallin had called on the Legislature to use $50 million a year in state tobacco tax money to underwrite a program completely funded with state money to continue coverage for those people, but Shannon has decided not to consider the legislation. “I don’t believe providing health insurance is a proper or efficient function of government,” Shannon said.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

State education chiefs oppose delay in Common Core high-stakes testing

A small group of state education officials is pushing back against a call by teachers unions for a moratorium on using standardized tests for evaluating students or teachers until states have completely implemented Common Core standards, a new way of teaching math and reading in grades kindergarten through 12th. Chiefs for Change, a group of state education officials organized with help from former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), released a letter Tuesday to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in which they said states should move ahead with plans to use the new tests to assess students and judge teacher performance. The group includes Oklahoma State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

Read more from the Washington Post.

House panel approves American Indian Cultural Center funding

Passage of a measure that would provide funding to help complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in downtown Oklahoma City would be the last state assistance sought for construction costs, a state official overseeing the project pledged Monday to a special budget committee. The House Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget voted 13-10 to use tax revenue from Internet and out-of-state purchases to provide $40 million to help complete the project. The state funds will match $40 million in pledges from individuals, businesses, American Indian tribes and the city of Oklahoma City, Wade said. The measure, Senate Bill 1132, now goes to the House Calendar Committee, which will determine whether it gets a hearing in the House.

Read more from NewsOK.

Wells dry, fertile plains turn to dust

Forty-nine years ago, Ashley Yost’s grandfather sank a well deep into a half-mile square of rich Kansas farmland. He struck an artery of water so prodigious that he could pump 1,600 gallons to the surface every minute. Last year, Mr. Yost was coaxing just 300 gallons from the earth, and pumping up sand in order to do it. By harvest time, the grit had robbed him of $20,000 worth of pumps and any hope of returning to the bumper harvests of years past. The land sits atop the High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer’s northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought. And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

Read more from the New York Times.

As in Oklahoma, poverty nationwide has moved to the suburbs

A national report on the changing face of poverty is reflected in an increasing need for food and health care in Oklahoma City’s suburbs. A report by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., says a majority of America’s poor now live in the suburbs of its major metropolitan areas. “The landscape of poverty has changed. But our perceptions and policies really haven’t kept pace with that change,” Elizabeth Kneebone, a Brookings fellow, said Monday. The number of poor residents in the Oklahoma City suburbs increased 41.9 percent between 2000 and 2011, Brookings’ report said. From 2000 to 2010, the suburban population increased 14.4 percent.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

When I got to Moore, I saw a lot of walking wounded — people with blood all over. It was a matter of putting work gloves on and getting to work. We hope that we don’t have any more fatalities, but we know there are a lot more people trapped tonight.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Betsy Randolph

Number of the Day


Average annual number of tornadoes occurring in Oklahoma from 1991 to 2010, out of 1253 nationwide.

Source: National Climatic Data Center

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why suburban poverty is less visible and more insidious

We’ve been talking today – both at Atlantic Cities and across town with our Washington, D.C. neighbors the Brookings Institution – about the suburbanization of poverty in America, a geographic trend particularly notable for two reasons: It confounds our long-entrenched stereotypes of suburbia as the home of the American dream, and it creates a dramatic mismatch between the social services infrastructure we began building during the War on Poverty and the poor people who now live nowhere near it. Poor people who live in high-rise apartments and dense urban blocks have neighbors who can pool childcare, or point each other to social services, or share rides to work. They have access to public transit, because transit follows density, too. Poor people who are spread out from each other, and from the kinds of services that grow up to serve concentrated poverty, have the least resources of all.

Read more from The Atlantic Cities.

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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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