In The Know: Oklahoma prepares for federal budget cuts

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 Oklahoma is preparing for harsh cuts to federal money coming to state agencies that could be triggered this week. The Tulsa World discussed the effect of these cuts on Oklahoma schools, coming on top of large reductions in state funds in recent years. Governor Fallin said she is concerned about jobs lost in Oklahoma due to decreased federal spending.

The Oklahoman analyzed the link between poverty and the A-F school evaluation system and profiled the challenges faced by one high-poverty school. The ongoing fight between SandRidge Energy and one of its largest shareholders could have serious ramifications for downtown Oklahoma City. A House panel approved a bill to raise pay for state troopers and corrections officers.

A Senate panel approved a bill allowing employers to opt out of covering contraception, which contradicts federal law. The bill was based on a request from a male constituent of Sen. Clark Jolley, R- Edmond, who said he is morally opposed to contraception because the “potential to be a mother” is part of women’s identity. A letter in NewsOK criticizes Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, for claiming to support families while trying to eliminate the Children First program that teaches at-risk parents appropriate ways to nurture and discipline children and how to keep them safe.

St. John Health System CEO David Pynn writes in the Journal Record about what the future would look like if Oklahoma accepts federal funds to extend Medicaid. Doug Matheny criticizes the influence of tobacco lobbyists over Oklahoma’s health policy. Scott Carter writes that Oklahoma should give the governor more authority over troubled state agencies. The OK Policy Blog shared information on the upcoming Ourtown Institute, an interactive retreat for adults to build skills to promote effective communication on issues of diversity and inclusion.

The Number of the Day is how many families in Oklahoma will lose basic health and nutrition assistance through maternal and infant care programs across-the-board federal budget cuts (or ‘sequestration) aren’t averted by Congress. In today’s Policy Note, The Nation shares ten things you should know about the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, commonly known as welfare.

In The News

Oklahoma prepares for federal budget cuts

The state of Oklahoma is preparing for expected harsh cuts to federal money coming to state agencies that could be triggered this week if Congress and the president can’t agree on a deal to avert them. Agency heads have been told to make “strategic targeted cuts” to absorb the projected $137 million in loss of federal money coming to the state, she said. The reductions are due to begin Friday, but their immediate effects are unlikely to be severe because they will be phased in gradually over seven months. The governor said she is concerned about projected defense cuts; the Defense Department is estimating civilians working at military installations in Oklahoma could lose a total of $129 million in pay from April through September if automatic spending cuts are triggered Friday.

Read more from NewsOK.

Congress has little to crow about

By earlier estimates, Oklahoma schools could lose up to $51.1 million in federal funding – $18 million for Tulsa Public Schools. These are draconian cuts that would not happen all at once. Looming federal cuts actual compound funding problems for public schools here, which have suffered through reduced and standstill appropriations. As a result, public education is a changed institution. Just how much so has been calculated by Oklahoma Policy Institute analyst Gene Perry.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Federal budget limbo is hurting states, Gov. Mary Fallin says

Gov. Mary Fallin said Saturday that uncertainty surrounding federal spending cuts is already hurting states, but she and some of her Democratic colleagues differed on how Congress and the administration should replace the cuts to avert widespread furloughs and other drastic measures. “In Oklahoma, it’s projected that we could lose up to 8,000 military jobs in our state and have a multiplier effect of 20,000 jobs in Oklahoma’s economy because of the uncertainty of the debate in Washington, D.C. We’re talking about real lives, we’re talking about families, we’re talking about pocketbooks, we’re talking about businesses making investment decisions. “And it is not good to have the sequester talk every couple of months, and have a crisis every couple of months by not making decisions.”

Read more from NewsOK.

A-F grading system reflects poverty in Oklahoma schools

An analysis by The Oklahoman shows a correlation between poverty and the A-F school evaluation system. While high-poverty school districts can be found in each of the A-F categories, trends emerge when looking at the statewide student population. Schools with high grades have lower poverty rates than schools on the bottom end of the spectrum. Students who attend A school districts have a free and reduced-price lunch rate of 33 percent, compared to 85 percent of students in D school districts, according to state data. For a family of four, the annual household income threshold for free lunch is about $29,000. Data from the U.S. Census shows a similar trend. A school districts have a poverty rate of about 11 percent, while D school districts report a poverty rate of 30 percent.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma students battle poverty in fight to learn

Sometimes students climb onto the school bus wearing socks but no shoes, even in the wintertime. But when they get to school, they poke away at assignments on iPads in warm classrooms. An analysis by The Oklahoman shows a correlation between poverty and the state A-F school evaluation system. Schools with higher letter grades tend to have lower poverty rates, and vice versa. But Ryal is one of the school districts bucking the trend. “You have a formula that you’re filtering through all our data,” Trower said. “It’s hard to use that same formula for Ryal and a school in Edmond. Ryal got a B and that school got a B. But we’re totally different. … We’re dealing with different issues.”

Read more from NewsOK.

SandRidge proxy fight could affect downtown Oklahoma City

The ongoing proxy fight between SandRidge Energy Inc. and one of its largest shareholders could have serious ramifications on downtown Oklahoma City, city and industry observers say. Activist shareholder TPG-Axon Capital is trying to take control of the Oklahoma City energy company’s board. If successful, the shareholder group has said it would consider selling the company. The threat comes nearly seven years after Anadarko Corp. bought Kerr-McGee Corp., eliminating or moving to Houston 200 Oklahoma City jobs and vacating a large section of downtown Oklahoma City.

Read more from NewsOK.

House panel OKs pays raises for state troopers, corrections officers

Pay raises for Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers and prison guards won unanimous approval in a House subcommittee Thursday but still must wind their way through a political process that has not been kind to such requests in recent years. House Bills 2145 and 2146, both by Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, moved through the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety on 13-0 votes with little discussion and no debate. HB 2145 raises the minimum pay for Department of Public Safety officers and dispatchers by about 16 percent and going forward ties officers’ pay to that of the state’s largest police departments. HB 2146 raises corrections officers’ beginning pay from $11.83 to $14 per hour and classified employees 5 percent above current levels.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma may deny women affordable birth control because it ‘poisons their bodies’

Oklahoma already prevents women from using their insurance plans to help cover abortion services. Now one state lawmaker wants to continue stripping insurance coverage for reproductive health services, advancing a measure that would allow employers to refuse to cover birth control for any reason — based solely on the fact that one of his constituents believes it “poisons women’s bodies.” Under State Sen. Clark Jolley (R)’s measure, “no employer shall be required to provide or pay for any benefit or service related to abortion or contraception through the provision of health insurance to his or her employees.” According to the Tulsa World, Jolley’s inspiration for his bill came from one of his male constituents who is morally opposed to birth control.

Read more from Think Progress.

‘Children First’ program worth tax dollars

It puzzles me that state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, authored House Bill 1063 to eliminate Children First, a program that teaches at-risk parents appropriate ways to nurture and discipline children and how to keep them safe. McCullough actively pushed for legislation to reduce services directed at preserving Oklahoma’s families and is the author of House Bill 1548, which would not allow couples married longer than 10 years to divorce on the grounds of incompatibility if there are minor children living in the homes or if either party objects. Some Oklahoma lawmakers submit bills to promote themselves as being pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-family. Yet they fail to demonstrate they understand the importance of helping parents learn to raise healthy children.

Read more from NewsOK.

Obamacare – What if Oklahoma changes its mind?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) – often called Obamacare – is designed to offer health coverage for uninsured citizens of the United States through expansion of each state’s Medicaid program. Oklahoma has opted out of the program, citing potentially high costs for supporting the ACA down the road (the federal government picks up 100 percent of the tab for the first three years, with states responsible for 10 percent of program costs by 2020). Imagine going to a grocery store and finding it had removed the frozen food section because of necessary cost cuts. Or taking your car to a mechanic to find he can replace spark plugs, but no longer offers to replace water pumps. In a way, that’s what Oklahoma healthcare may face in the near future with the absence of federal funds from the ACA.

Read more from the Journal Record.

Matheny: It’s a shame that tobacco lobbyists dictate health policy

Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday announced support for an initiative petition for a statewide ballot measure that will give Oklahoma voters a choice. Should tobacco lobbyists at the State Capitol determine public policy or should Oklahoma workers and patrons gain the benefits of smoke-free air inside all public places? How did it come to this? Tobacco industry documents tell the story. In 1986 and early 1987, the cities of Edmond and Tulsa were considering local ordinances to reduce public exposure to secondhand smoke. Tobacco companies knew smoking restrictions reduce cigarette sales. When tobacco lobbyists saw they had little credibility at city halls, they quickly used their “leadership” at the Capitol to strip all local rights on this issue.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Fourth Reading: It’s time to untie the governor’s hands

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has a problem. Elected in 2010, Fallin inherited an executive branch that functions well most of the time. On some occasions, though, at least two executive branch agencies have fallen far short. Over the past few years, the state Department of Human Services and the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs have failed to properly care for the residents the agencies serve. In the case of DHS, children were placed back into violent environments and many were hurt, abused or killed. In the ODVA’s seven veterans homes, there were reports of rape, assault, abuse and death among retired members of the military.

Read more from the Journal Record.

Upcoming Event: Ourtown Institute, April 17-19

The Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice will be hosting Ourtown Institute, an interactive retreat for adults to build skills to promote effective communication on issues of diversity and inclusion, April 17-19, 2013. Participants increase their ability to cross intergroup barriers and build skills they can apply throughout a wide range of personal and professional environments. The retreat is held from 4:00 pm on April 17 until 5:00 pm on April 19. The institute will be held at Western Hills Guest Ranch, about an hour away from Tulsa in Hulbert, Oklahoma. Participant fee is $400 for corporate employees and $300 for non profit, public schools/universities and adult students.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Quote of the Day

It’s not just a matter of giving more money to the employees we have. We can’t attract anyone to the openings we have.

Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, on the low wages paid to corrections officers in Oklahoma. The Tulsa World reports that about 30 percent of DOC employees qualify for food stamps, and the children of 85 percent qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

Number of the Day


Number of families in Oklahoma that will lose basic health and nutrition assistance through maternal and infant care programs across-the-board federal budget cuts (or ‘sequestration) aren’t averted by Congress

Source: Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Ten things you should know about the real TANF

The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program was created by what is commonly referred to as “welfare reform” in 1996. It replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) as the program through which some low-income families are able to receive cash assistance. With TANF authorization expiring at the end of March and needing to be renewed (and hopefully improved)—and over 46 million people still living below the poverty line of $23,021 for a family of four—here are ten things you should know about the program.

Read more from The Nation.

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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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