In the Know: Oklahoma’s middle class is shrinking | Tribes step up with summer food programs | OG&E rate hike | Rule change by Pardon and Parole board threatens reform

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

Policy Matters: Rule change threatens voter-approved reforms: For too many years, Oklahoma carried the shameful distinction of having more of its residents behind bars, per capita, than any other place in the world. Bipartisan justice reforms during the past decade helped reverse some of these trends. But a proposed rule change by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board indicates a swing back towards the failed punishment-first approach. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

OG&E calling for rate hike for Oklahoma customers: OG&E customers may soon see a bill hike. If approved, the average residential customer will see an increase of $19.02 per month compared to current rates. The public utility is asking the three-member Oklahoma Corporation Commission to approve a $332 million rate hike annually. [Oklahoma Voice]

State Government News

Bill targets potential violence in schools: State Sen. Jessica Garvin, R–Duncan, has filed legislation to increase the state penalty for carrying an illegal firearm onto school property. Senate Bill 1254 changes the already illegal infraction from a misdemeanor to a felony offense, increases the fine to $2,500 and allows state prosecutors to seek up to a year in prison if the individual carrying the weapon is found guilty. [Journal Record]

Oklahoma task force recommends implementing per-mile road tax: A new report recommends state lawmakers pass legislation to create a voluntary statewide program whereby drivers are taxed per mile driven rather than at the gas pump. [Oklahoma Voice]

Some disaster recovery funds from 2019 storms across Oklahoma have yet to be spent: Nearly five years after deadly storms in 2019, $3.7 million in federal funds awarded to the state for long-term disaster recovery remain to be spent and an administrator is being sought to rebuild and rehabilitate damaged homes. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma law enforcement investigates bomb threat hoax at state Capitol: Oklahoma’s Capitol was among several state Capitol buildings nationwide that received bomb threats Wednesday. The bomb squad was dispatched as a precaution to sweep the building, but quickly gave an all clear. [Oklahoma Voice]

Tribal Nations News

Oklahoma tribes to step up as state opts out of children’s food assistance program: As Gov. Kevin Stitt decided Oklahoma would not participate in a new federal program to provide food assistance to low-income children, three of the state’s largest Native American tribes said they will administer the program within their reservations. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Oklahoma declines to participate in federal summer food program for children [KOSU]
  • From OK Policy: Statement regarding Oklahoma’s decision to opt out of new summer food program [Executive Director Shiloh Kantz]

Set in Oklahoma’s Choctaw Nation, Marvel’s ‘Echo’ is ‘a new phase’ for Native storytelling: Marvel Studios is venturing into new territory — Indian Country, Oklahoma — with its anticipated new series “Echo.” The entry point for the entertainment juggernaut’s first project focused on Native America wasn’t a cosmic portal or secret government lab. Instead, it was the Choctaw Cultural Center in Calera, near Durant. [The Oklahoman]

Voting and Election News

What’s on the ballot for the January elections in Oklahoma?: Voters in 18 Oklahoma counties will head to the polls to decide the fate of technology center expansions, police and fire department budgets and more. [KOSU]

Health News

New tax credit for family caregivers in Oklahoma now in effect: The tax credit helps offset out-of-pocket expenses for family members who care for an older relative. Examples of eligible expenses include a home health aide, adult day care and medical equipment. [KOSU]

  • AARP Oklahoma offers guide for caregivers who qualify for new tax credit program [News9]

Opinion: Oklahoma has a long way to go in showing itself to be pro-life: Expect to hear a defense about the well-being of children and families during this next year — an election year. For a state many claim to be pro-life and pro-family, Oklahoma’s statistics show a different story. [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Execution of Oklahoma death row inmate James Ryder delayed to evaluate mental competency: The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ordered a 100-day stay of execution for 61-year-old James Ryder, who was scheduled to be executed on Feb. 1 for the 1999 murder of 70-year-old Daisy Hallum. Ryder has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. [KOSU]

Ringling football coach Phil Koons facing 1 year in jail after judge rejects plea deal: A Hall of Fame high school football coach from southern Oklahoma faces up to one year in jail for repeatedly using profanity toward his teenage players. Phil Koons pleaded no contest Tuesday to a misdemeanor count of outraging public decency, a charge that followed a months-long investigation in which teens reported that Koons, who was also their high school principal, used racist, homophobic and misogynistic slurs to refer to them and once required them to complete exercise drills while they were undressed in the locker room. [The Oklahoman]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Oklahoma’s middle class is shrinking: Families who previously made enough money to be considered middle class in Oklahoma may no longer be. According to Consumer Affairs, a family of four that makes at least $61,664 is considered middle class in Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

Low inventory, multiple applicants fuel competition for rentals: This year, Oklahoma City had, on average, seven applicants per vacant apartment, making OKC one of the most competitive rental markets in the region, according to RentCafe. This trend shows that the city doesn’t have enough rental options to meet the growing demand. According to RentCafe’s 2023 Year-End Report, vacant units took on average 34 days to fill, which is four days faster than the national average. [Journal Record]

Education News

TPS announces midyear campus leadership changes: Superintendent Ebony Johnson announced that there would be midyear changes in some principal assignments and potentially reassigning central office staff to better support the district’s 18 schools that are federally designated as needing “Most Rigorous Intervention.” [Tulsa World]

  • Five months into Ryan Walters’ mandated improvement plan for Tulsa Public Schools [KOSU]

What are ‘information literacy standards’ and why does Ryan Walters want to change them?: Dana Belcher,  current president of the Oklahoma Library Association, said information literacy standards reflect skills concerning how to access, evaluate, create with and ethically share information. They  are life skills that help our students become college and career ready, as well as informed citizens, she added. However, State Superintendent Ryan Walters has referred to his new rules proposal as “the first such rejection of ALA’s activist, left-wing standards to be adopted by a public education system.” [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: ‘Lucky’ needs to remain on shelves to help people who are dealing with sexual violence trauma: This book is not a graphic novel in that there are no drawings, photographs or cartoon pictures. This is a story that needs to be told because it happens too often and leaves the person permanently changed. With rape and sexual assault, there is initial and lifetime trauma. As a doctor, I have seen the effects on women in our community. [Don Loveless, Jr. / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • A 13-year-old in Oklahoma may have just become the 1st person to ever beat Tetris [KOSU]
  • OKC, Tulsa named among most affordable fun cities [Journal Record]

Quote of the Day

“It’s regrettable and bewildering that the state of Oklahoma is abandoning federal funding and losing an opportunity to address child food insecurity.”

-Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement about the Cherokee Nation stepping up to provide summer food programs for all children — Native and non-Native alike — within their reservation. [Oklahoma Voice]

Number of the Day


Percentage of residential land in Norman, the state’s third largest city, that is zoned only for detached single-family homes by right. [OK Policy analysis]

Policy Note

Small Multifamily Homes Were Disappearing. Now States Are Scrambling to Revive Them: More small multifamily homes are needed to help solve America’s housing crisis, but they make up an ever-shrinking share of new housing construction. Housing construction in the US has long focused on single-family homes and large apartment buildings, leaving a deficit of everything in between—sometimes referred to as “middle housing” by housing experts and advocates. While the number of new apartment building units recently reached the highest point in nearly half a century, the construction of denser alternatives to single-family homes made up just 1% of new housing units built in 2022. Legislators and advocates are pushing for that to change, arguing that middle housing could lower costs and alleviate a national housing shortage. [Bloomberg]

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Kandis West is a communications professional with more than 15 years of experience. Most recently, she served as the Communications Director for the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus. She spent nine years in the Olympia/Tacoma area of Washington organizing compensation campaigns for teachers for the Washington Education Association. Kandis has a proven track record of increasing community engagement, public awareness and media exposure around the most pressing issues that impact citizens. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism.