In The Know: Oklahoma school deregulation measures advance

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 a House committee passed a bill that would allow school districts to ignore class size limits, alternative education options, hiring of guidance counselors, and public input on changes to school board policies. KJRH reported on a House bill that takes aim at food stamp recipients who were ever convicted of a drug felony or have cash savings. This Land Press discussed how Oklahoma is one of the hungriest states in the nation with one of largest disparities between black and white children.

The OK Policy Blog shows that Governor Fallin’s proposed tax cut would cost more than twice as much as extending Medicaid to cover 126,000 uninsured Oklahomans. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has received a $320,000 federal grant to help prevent premature births. An op-ed in the Oklahoma Gazette discusses what needs to be done to improve mental health in Oklahoma. The Tulsa World criticized Governor Fallin for  letting criminal justice reforms languish and turning down money to implement them.

To raise cash, Chesapeake Energy is selling Oklahoma acreage to a Chinese company. The Senate passed a bill that would clamp down on the purchasing practices of Insurance Commissioner John Doak. Union membership grew slightly in Oklahoma last year, despite a national decline in organized labor. The Oklahoma Bankers Association is protesting new federal mortgage regulations proposed by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The okeducationtruths blog continued a series examining revisions to A-F Report Cards for schools with part two and part three.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma households without enough cash, savings or liquid assets to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income, like job loss or sudden inability to work. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities discusses how the new health insurance exchanges will offer consumers better choices in every state.

In The News

Oklahoma school deregulation measures advance

A legislative committee Tuesday passed two bills that are intended to give public school districts more flexibility by removing many unfunded state mandates. House Bill 2131 would eliminate many of the state mandates that are not required of charter schools, said Rep. Jeff Hickman, the measure’s author. It would take five years for the measure to take full effect; 20 percent of the state’s 521 school districts would be switched over each year, said Hickman, R-Fairview. The state Board of Education would randomly select different-size school districts. Hickman said it’s unclear how the bill would affect collective bargaining for teachers. Mandates that school districts would be allowed to ignore include class size limits, alternative education options, hiring of guidance counselors and public input on changes to school board policies.

Read more from NewsOK.

House Bill takes aim at food stamp recipients

If an Oklahoma House Bill becomes law, anyone convicted of a drug-related felony would no longer qualify for food stamps. “It’s a really, really bad idea,” said Kate Richey, policy analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “Substance abuse and addiction is a disease … (HB2014) would deprive assistance for the people it’s meant for,” she said. But Richey also has an issue with another facet of the bill. “The state also shall disqualify from participating in the food service program any individual who maintains over ($2,000) in a bank account,” the legislation reads. Not allowing someone with money in their bank account to have access to food stamps sounds like it makes sense, until you think about what it’s actually telling the impoverished — to spend money to get money, Richey says.

Read more from KJRH.

See also: Oklahoma’s Hunger Games from This Land Press

What’s unaffordable?

In her 2013 State of the State address, Governor Mary Fallin reiterated her opposition to accepting federal dollars to provide coverage to uninsured Oklahomans through Medicaid, as provided under the Affordable Care Act. In states that extend Medicaid, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for the newly-eligible population for three years (2014-16) and 90 percent from 2020 onwards. Yet the Governor claims that extending Medicaid would impose large and unaffordable costs on the state. The Governor’s assertion that extending Medicaid is unaffordable to Oklahoma is unconvincing in at least two respects.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Premature babies are focus of Medicaid agency grant

The average cost of a baby born prematurely in the United States is about $75,000 per week. The cost if that baby is born at full term? About $1,300. Health leaders in Oklahoma say too many babies are born early in Oklahoma, a costly problem that the state’s Medicaid agency is trying to combat through a new grant. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has received a $320,000 federal grant that the agency will use to serve pregnant women in minority groups in Oklahoma, according to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Oklahoma has the 5th highest rate of babies born prematurely in the U.S.

Read more from NewsOK.

Improving mental health in Oklahoma

In her State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin is to be commended for the inclusion of mental health when talking about health and for proposing increased funding for mental health programs. Mental illness is a medical condition of the brain, an organ of the body, and should be treated like any other organrelated malady. A report on mental health care by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, gave the state a grade of B, citing innovations such as mental health and drug courts, collaboration with the state Departments of Corrections and Health and peer recovery support specialist certification. Oklahoma is making progress. Much more needs to be done, however, to make appropriate services available to all who need them.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Editorial: Governor rebuffs justice reinvestment funds

Now that House Speaker Kris Steele (term limited after last session) no longer is around to champion the Justice Reinvestment initiative, other Republicans, including Gov. Mary Fallin, appear willing to let that landmark reform effort languish. What a shame for Oklahoma taxpayers, who will continue to pay through the nose for this state’s stratospheric incarceration rate and will still live in a state that has one of the nation’s highest rates of violent crime. Justice Reinvestment offered the first real hope of changing the way the state handles some offenders. Apparently it’s just fine for Oklahoma to continue with 25,000 inmates behind bars and for that population to grow.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Chesapeake selling Oklahoma acreage to Chinese company

Chesapeake Energy Corp. on Monday took another step toward closing a multibillion dollar funding gap. Chesapeake announced a $1.02 billion joint venture with Sinopec International Petroleum Exploration and Production Corp. for a stake in its acreage in northern Oklahoma’s Mississippi Lime play. Chesapeake will get the bulk of the money in cash when the deal closes. Oppenheimer analyst Fadel Gheit said the deal is not structured like a typical joint venture, which usually includes less up-front cash and more money for future drilling costs, because of Chesapeake’s budget woes. “They need the cash today and not tomorrow,” Gheit said.

Read more from Businessweek.

Senate OKs spending limits for Insurance Commissioner’s Office

The Oklahoma Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would clamp down on the purchasing practices of Insurance Commissioner John Doak. Senate Bill 8 by Sen. Harry Coates, R-Seminole, passed by a vote of 39-5 and heads to the House. Coates said he wrote the bill after learning that Doak had bought police-type vehicles for his anti-fraud unit, which Coates said was unnecessary. Doak also bought weapons and uniforms for the unit. Coates said his bill would force the agency to sell the vehicles but would let its investigators carry sidearms. Coates said Doak is trying to create a police force, essentially expanding government.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Strong economy boosts Oklahoma’s union membership

Union membership grew slightly in Oklahoma last year, despite a national decline in organized labor, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Oklahoma is doing better than the country as a whole in terms of job growth, and because of that, I’m assuming as industry sectors grew, union membership grew as well.” Cheryl Abbot, Regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics In 2012, about 115,000 workers in Oklahoma reported belonging to a union, about 7.5 percent of the workforce, compared with 94,000 workers, or 6.4 percent in 2011, according to the report. Nationally, 11.3 percent of workers were union members in 2012, down from 11.8 percent in 2011. An additional 25,000 workers in the state reported they were represented by a union while not being a member of the union.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma bankers group protests to feds about proposed mortgage rules

The Oklahoma Bankers Association has raised concerns about what new federal mortgage regulations proposed by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will mean for smaller community banks in the state. In a letter to the bureau released Tuesday, the association said proposed rules that would exempt smaller banks from lending regulations surrounding loans with balloon payments would still be too stringent for many smaller institutions. Under the proposed “ability to repay” rule, lenders would have to determine a borrower’s ability to repay a loan using a detailed list of requirements for creditworthiness.

Read more from NewsOK.

A-F Proposed Revisions Part Two: Student Growth

In Part One, I discussed the fact that this round of proposed rules contains no changes to the Student Achievement part of the A-F Report Card, in spite of the evidence that this component is based on a scale that is completely arbitrary. This section will look at changes to the student growth component, which counts for the next 17 percent of the report card. The Student Growth Index tracks reading and math scores from one year to the next. No other subjects are counted. One unfortunate by-product of this is a reduction of emphasis on all other academic content areas. Science, social studies, music, art, physical education, computer instruction, world languages – they all are afterthoughts, especially at the elementary level.

Read more from okeducationtruths.

See also: A-F Proposed Revisions Part Three: Bottom Quartile Student Growth from okeducationtruths

Quote of the Day

Texas got smart on crime and reduced its incarceration and violent crime rates. On the same subject, Oklahoma officials apparently prefer for this state to remain dumb and dumber.

The Tulsa World editorial board, on Governor Fallin’s decision to reverse course and turn down a grant that would have helped the state implement criminal justice reforms pass last year.

Number of the Day

43.8 percent

Percentage of Oklahoma households without enough cash, savings or liquid assets to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income, like job loss or sudden inability to work

Source: CFED

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Exchanges will offer consumers better choices in every state

Every state has now decided whether, under health reform, it will build and operate a state-run “exchange” — a marketplace where individuals and small businesses can compare and purchase insurance coverage — partner on an exchange with the federal government, or have the federal government operate an exchange in the state. While health care aficionados have tracked the states’ decisions closely, we shouldn’t forget that residents in all states will benefit from major improvements to the way insurance is designed and sold, regardless of whether their state runs its own exchange or has the federal government operate one. Most people without access to insurance today will be able to use these exchanges to comparison shop among a number of affordable, comprehensive coverage options. And, depending on their income, many will receive tax credits to help cover the cost.

Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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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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