In 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.
Today you should know that Rep. Mike Reynolds is seeking a “personhood” amendment to the Oklahoma constitution similar to the one that was defeated by Mississippi voters last year. The measure would attempt to ban all abortions, many forms of birth control, and in vitro fertilization, and there would be no exceptions for pregnancies that occur as a result of rape or incest. The Tulsa World gave an overview of several reproductive issue being considered in the state legislature.
The federal government responded favorably to Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver request. Public school educators throughout the state are increasingly concerned about the number of high school seniors who will not graduate this May because of a new state testing requirement. OK Policy’s David Blatt and Gene Perry have an op-ed in the Oklahoman about stumbling blocks run into by proponents of cutting the income tax. On the OK Policy Blog, we show why, contrary to one senator’s claim, it’s families with children and low-income seniors who lose out in the the tax cut plan, not special interests.
Julie Delcour looks at how the justice reinvestment study may offer a roadmap away from our “frenzy to incarcerate at any cost.” NewsOK call for Howard Hendrick to step aside as DHS Director. StateImpact Oklahoma’s Logan Layden spoke with OETA about the extreme youth poverty in southeast Oklahoma. The Muscogee Creek Nation principal chief said the branch of the tribe seeking to build a casino in a Tulsa suburb hasn’t followed proper procedures. The Broken Arrow Ledger profiled these Kialegee Indians, who struggle with some of the highest poverty rates in Oklahoma.
The Number of the Day is the percentage of deliveries in Oklahoma paid for by SoonerCare. In today’s Policy Note, the Center for American Progress looks at how far we still need to go to reach MLK Jr.’s dream of equal opportunity.
In The News
Oklahoma lawmaker seeks ‘personhood’ amendment
A ballot measure that would criminalize abortion by granting “personhood” status to a human embryo is one of nearly a dozen proposals that Oklahoma lawmakers want to send to voters in November. The personhood amendment is similar to a proposal that was rejected by Mississippi voters last year, but the author of the Oklahoma proposal, Rep. Mike Reynolds, said that he’s modified the language to specify that the measure does not apply to miscarriages or to cases where the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. The measure would ban many forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization. It also states there would be no exceptions for pregnancies that occur as a result of rape or incest.
See also: Reproductive issues looming? from The Tulsa World
Feds respond to Oklahoma’s No Child Left Behind waiver request
A positive response from the U.S. Department of Education indicates Oklahoma could soon escape out from under federal regulations that have reigned supreme in education since 2002. If the waiver is approved by the U.S. Education Department, Oklahoma schools would no longer receive Academic Performance Index scores that rate school performance on a scale from zero to 1,500 points. That score is based almost entirely on student performance on standardized tests. Instead, Oklahoma schools would be judged on a new scale using an A-F letter grade. It will base the score in part on the same tests as the old system, but Barresi said it takes into account student improvement on the exams, rather than raw test scores. The cover letter sent to Oklahoma is mostly positive but raises a few key concerns. Three areas of concern were implementation and development of the A-F grading system; that the process for identifying large achievement gaps may hide the low-performance of some students; and that the needs of students with disabilities and who are learning English as a second language were not fully addressed.
Oklahoma graduation requirements questioned by educators
Public school educators throughout the state are increasingly concerned about the number of high school seniors who will not graduate this May because of a new state testing requirement that took effect this year. The class of 2012 is the first group of students to face the state graduation requirements created by lawmakers in 2005 as part of Achieving Classroom Excellence, or ACE, legislation. Each student is required to pass at least four of seven end-of-instruction exams to get a high school diploma. The exams are in Algebra I and II, English II and III, Biology I, geometry and U.S. history. Educators statewide have said it is unfair to evaluate the classes of 2012 and 2013 on standards that will be replaced by new Common Core standards in 2014. An estimated 6,000 high school seniors statewide won’t graduate this spring because they were unable to pass the required tests, according to the Tulsa County Association of School Administrators.
Cutting income tax is the wrong approach for Oklahoma
For months now, we’ve heard a drumbeat from Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders in favor of reducing the top income tax rate. However, some major stumbles in their push so far show why that’s much easier said than done. The first problem for tax cutters is that the extra money is just not there. State tax collections are at their lowest levels in decades, and we have slashed public services for three years in a row. … Because it recognizes the budget has little room to spare, a recent proposal by a legislative tax reform task force tried to offset cuts to the top income tax rate. That’s where they ran head-on into the second stumbling block. The income tax is the only major component of our tax system based on ability to pay, so almost any attempt to shift taxes elsewhere will inevitably take more from those who can afford it least.
Who are the real losers in the tax shift plan? It’s not “special interests”
In a recent interview with KWGS, tax reform task force co-chair Senator Mike Mazzei argued: “The folks that really should be displeased with our tax reform are not individual taxpayers at these low income levels, but the corporate folks that are going to lose a lot of their special interest breaks that have helped them subsidize their profit margins. When you asked about winners and losers earlier, those are the folks that are going to lose in this style of tax reform.” This claim is false. Based on the task force’s own numbers, broad-based tax preferences make up more than two-thirds of the funds targeted for elimination. That’s why Sen. Mazzei’s plan would raise taxes for a majority of Oklahomans.
Report on prisons finally offers roadmap
As the year begins, 26,000 inmates are behind bars, a record, and there’s no more room at the inn. Even with all those offenders in prison, third in the nation in per-capita incarceration for men and first for women, Oklahomans are not much safer. The state’s violent crime rate is 12th in the nation, 20 percent above the national average and higher than that of neighboring Kansas or Texas. Eight months ago, Oklahoma caught a break, if it will only take it. Experts at the Justice Center of The Council of State Governments offered to do for Oklahoma what they have done for only 14 other states: Collect data (700,000 pieces of information), analyze data in conjunction with input from stakeholders (100 different meetings with 350 people), inform policy leaders what the state is doing wrong and give those leaders a road map for fixing it. The results, a report received last week by House Speaker Kris Steele, Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman and others, is the policy equivalent of finding the Holy Grail.
NewsOK: Hendrick should step aside as DHS director
With the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Human Services, work has begun on a plan to improve Oklahoma’s child welfare system. If truly meaningful improvement is to occur in this area, DHS needs fresh ideas and new energy at the top. Director Howard Hendrick is a good man with much to be proud of, and we have long supported his work. But after 13 years in charge, and in light of the events involving DHS in the past several months, it is best that he step aside and allow the agency a new beginning. We don’t make this call lightly. Under Hendrick, Oklahoma’s food stamp program has become a model of excellence. More children are being adopted than when he took over. He has promoted initiatives that allow older Oklahomans to stay in their homes longer, saving the state money. He’s been adept at leveraging and stretching the federal dollars that comprise the bulk of the DHS budget. We know this because Hendrick often touts the agency’s successes, whether they be employees honored for their work or programs cited by national groups. When the news isn’t so good, though, DHS has been less than forthcoming and slow to respond.
Extreme youth poverty in southeast Oklahoma
StateImpact Oklahoma’s Logan Layden appeared on Oklahoma News Report to talk about poverty, which is at a 10-year high in Oklahoma. Layden and OETA’s Dick Pryor talked about the poverty trend and our recent story from Choctaw County, where things are particularly bad for young Oklahomans. If you missed the Friday broadcast or Sunday’s re-airing, you can watch the four-minute video.
Okla. tribal chief comments on casino controversy
A branch of the Muscogee Creek Nation that is seeking to build a casino in a Tulsa suburb hasn’t followed proper procedures that would allow for gaming on the site, the tribe’s principal chief said Monday. The Creek Nation hasn’t received an application from the Kialegee Tribal Town for a business lease from the Bureau of Indian Affairs or a request to the Creek tribal gaming commission to conduct gaming operations on a 20-acre site in Broken Arrow, Chief George Tiger said at a news conference. The land is owned by two sisters who are seeking to transfer their property to the Kialegees, but Tiger notes that the allotment falls under the Creeks’ jurisdiction. Kialegee Tribal Town, whose members are Creek Nation citizens, already has broken ground at the site and plans to erect a temporary facility until the permanent structure is completed. The proposed casino has drawn the ire of residents in Broken Arrow, Tulsa’s largest suburb, who have complained that the site is too close to a vocational-technology campus, a proposed daycare center and a church.
See also: Kialegees want something better from life from the Broken Arrow Ledger
Quote of the Day
If we really want to do what we say we want to do, which is safer neighborhoods, safer streets and safer communities, then we’re going to have to make decisions based on facts, not on emotions.
–House Speaker Kris Steele
Number of the Day
Percentage of deliveries in Oklahoma paid for by SoonerCare (Medicaid).
Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute
Inequality by the numbers
Martin Luther King Jr. was an outspoken advocate for the poor and less fortunate. At the time of his death, he was organizing a cross-racial Poor People’s Campaign that raised many issues still important today. Many Americans—particularly communities of color and young people—continue to lack access to economic opportunities and this must be addressed if we are to truly carry on Dr. King’s work. This by-the-numbers piece takes a look at how many Americans are still struggling to find a way out of poverty, find employment, and gain both health care and education not only for themselves but for their families. We will only realize Dr. King’s vision when every American has the chance to find a well-paying job, get health care when they get sick, and receive a quality education. The numbers below show much work remains.
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