In The Know: Panel told veterans living in state centers fear retaliation

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 legislative panel was told that veterans at some of the state’s veterans centers fear retaliation if they file a complaint. M. Scott Carter writes that are still many unanswered questions about the problems at veterans centers. Attorneys for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services said the non-profit that won a lawsuit over failures in Oklahoma’s child welfare system is requesting “extraordinary” fees and expenses. NewsOn6 has the full video of yesterday’s debate at Oral Roberts University by candidates for Oklahoma’s First Congressional District.

The OK Policy Blog analyzed State Question 764, which would provide financial reinforcement for water infrastructure projects in Oklahoma. Information on all of the state questions on the November ballot can be found at our 2012 State Questions page. Former Oklahoma Secretary of the Environment Miles Tolbert wrote in This Land Press on why we won’t stop fighting about water. Tulsa Public Schools is considering closing half of its pools to save money.

Nearly 500 public colleges and universities, including 12 in Oklahoma, signed on to an initiative that seeks to boost by 3.8 million [Oklahoman article incorrectly says 3.8 billion] the number of degrees awarded in the next 14 years. Oklahoma City plans to spend nearly $1.2 billion in the next five years on capital improvements related to public safety, public works and MAPS programs. Columbia Journalism Review criticized The Oklahoman for publishing a special 12-page insert that amounted to “a partisan hit piece on Obama.”

The Number of the Day is the percentage of graduating seniors in Oklahoma who scored ‘college-ready’ for math on the ACT. In today’s Policy Note, Dana Goldstein explains why the film ‘Won’t Back Down”, which was cited by Sen. David Holt and Superintendent Barresi as the inspiration for parent trigger legislation, has bad lessons for education policy.

In The News

Oklahoma legislative panel told veterans living in state centers fear retaliation

A legislative panel was told Tuesday that veterans at some of the state’s veterans centers fear retaliation if they file a complaint. Susan Simmons, an advocate for her brother, Mike Simmons, a veteran who lives at the Norman veterans center, said there is a culture of fear and abuse for residents who complain. She said her brother was injured at the center dozens of times but was interviewed only once by an investigator. Mike Simmons told the panel he was retaliated against for bringing problems to the attention of the media. He said chronic understaffing has taken a toll on residents and staff, and he said the entire grievance process is terribly flawed.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

It’s time to ask tough questions

This week members of the Oklahoma Senate listened as administrators from the state’s seven veterans centers told them about their jobs and how each center performed. Surrounded by veterans, legislators, staff members and other agency officials, the directors tried hard to paint their centers in the best possible light. It was a difficult task. With each meeting, legislators get closer to understanding the broken nature of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and what exactly it’s going to take to fix it. But there are still many unanswered questions. If lawmakers and those who say they care about Oklahoma veterans really want to discover the problems at the ODVA and the veterans centers, they need to ask some difficult questions.

Read more from The Journal Record.

Attorney for DHS says nonprofit’s lawyers’ fees ‘extraordinary’

Attorneys representing Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials have claimed that lawyers for a New York-based nonprofit “have not even come close” to proving the reasonableness of their “extraordinary” $9.5 million request for fees and expenses in a federal lawsuit concerning the state’s child-welfare system. Instead, the defendants claimed this week in a Tulsa federal court filing that an award of between $2.6 million and $3.7 million would be appropriate “if the court determines that plaintiffs are entitled to an award at all.”

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma First Congressional District candidates debate at ORU

News On 6 presented a debate between all the candidates seeking Oklahoma’s District 1 Congressional seat. Republican Jim Bridenstine, Democrat John Olson and Independent Craig Allen are seeking the seat now held by John Sullivan. The three men who want to represent Oklahoma’s First District on Capitol Hill, and they debated Tuesday night at Oral Roberts University. The candidates debated for 30 minutes, and no matter what the topic was,the candidates always tied things back to government spending. Republican Jim Bridenstine is a military man who wants to take a conservative approach to Washington. John Olson is also a military guy. His plan is to reduce spending and invest where it makes sense. The independent in the race, Craig Allen wants to bring a “common sense” method to Capitol Hill.

Read more and watch the video at NewsOn6.

SQ 764: Towards a clean water future

According to a 2012 report by the Oklahoma Water Resource Board (OWRB), Oklahoma will be unable to meet its water demands by 2060. State Question 764 asks voters this November to give OWRB the financial reinforcement it needs to prevent the projected water shortfalls. The question would add a new section to the Oklahoma State Constitution that allows OWRB to issue up to $300 million in bonds for a Water Infrastructure Credit Enhancement Reserve Fund (WICERF). The OWRB is already constitutionally authorized to purchase and issue bonds, and SQ764 does not change this. Rather, the $300 million dollar reserve fund provides an additional safety net for OWRB’s creditors. The WICERF would only be drafted as a last resort – only if an Oklahoma municipality or city defaulted on a loan and only if all other OWRB reserve funds had been depleted (a scenario that has never occurred in the 27 years since the inception of OWRB’s financial assistance program).

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Why we won’t stop fighting about water

The events of the last decade have caused Oklahomans to view water resources in three crucially new ways. These new understandings contrast sharply with the assumptions that undergirded our water policy for nearly a century. They have also set the stage for the conflicts that we are now experiencing. The first is perhaps obvious, but it is only recent events that have revealed how truly remarkable it is. In Oklahoma we give water away. That’s just the kind of people we are, or, maybe, were. Surface water in Oklahoma is public water, and the policy of Oklahoma has long been to make that water available at no charge to any member of the public who will put it to use. Thus, when Tarrant County, Texas, concluded that its efforts to convince Oklahoma to sell it water were not likely to bear fruit, it simply applied for a permit to get the water for free.

Read more from This Land Press.

TPS looks into cutting costs by closing underused school swimming pools

Tulsa Public Schools has launched a study of pool use to determine if there are any cost-saving measures at half of its sites with pools. The district has 24 pools, but some have gone unused for a decade or longer. Surveys went out to 12 principals at schools where pool use was thought to be low or even nonexistent. Most are elementary schools that occupy facilities that were previously middle schools or junior highs. Webster High School was the only high school on the list. While no decision has been made about whether to close any of the pools, LaBass estimates that closing 12 pools could save TPS $30,000-$40,000 annually in utility costs alone.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma public colleges and universities sign on to degree completion initiative

Nearly 500 public colleges and universities, including 12 in Oklahoma, signed on to an initiative that seeks to boost by 3.8 million the number of degrees awarded in the next 14 years. But leaders also said they’d need help — including more funding from states and the federal government — to get the job done. Muriel Howard, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said the initiative is designed to boost the number of Americans who are prepared to go to work in an increasingly technology-based labor market. Although the average education level of the nation’s workforce has increased, Howard said, it hasn’t kept pace with industry demand, meaning companies have a difficult time finding qualified employees. That misalignment could have severe economic implications in the future, she said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma City details spending plans on public safety, public works and MAPS

Oklahoma City plans to spend nearly $1.2 billion in the next five years on capital improvements related to public safety, public works and MAPS programs, according to presentations at Tuesday’s city council meeting. Tuesday’s meeting featured the latest in a series of presentations on five-year capital improvement plans for the city government’s departments. The state requires the city to update its five-year plan every two years, and the council is considering the plan based on information supplied by each department director.

Read more from NewsOK.

Columbia Journalism Review criticizes The Oklahoman

This Land isn’t the only Oklahoma media company attracting the attention of the Columbia Journalism Review. The watchdog organization took notice of The Oklahoman late last week after it published a 12-page anti-Obama supplement produced by The Washington Examiner. The Examiner—a conservative newspaper based in Washington D.C.—and The Oklahoman share an owner in conservative political activist and Colorado billionaire Philip Anschutz. Anschutz’s papers—which include The Weekly Standard, the San Francisco Examiner, and the Baltimore Examiner—frequently share content, and “The Oklahoman’s politics page regularly links to Examiner items that have no home-state connection,” CJR reported, but writer Erika Fry called it “disappointing” and “surprising” that The Oklahoman published “a partisan hit piece on Obama.”

Read more from This Land Press.

Quote of the Day

For too long, the state has waved the flag and said over and over how well it treats its veterans. It’s time to prove it.

M. Scott Carter, writing in the Journal Record about reports of abuse, negligence, and understaffing at Oklahoma veterans centers

Number of the Day

37 percent

Percentage of graduating seniors in Oklahoma who scored ‘college-ready’ for math on the ACT in 2012, up from 32 percent in 2008


See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Bad lessons from ‘Won’t Back Down’

Won’t Back Down is a crude work of art.   Each character in the new film, about Pittsburgh parents and teachers who band together to take over a struggling school, is crafted less as a believable human being than as a talking point. … Of course, a mother’s love for her child can motivate superhuman feats. Yet there are only so many hours in a day—especially for the working class in a bad economy. That’s why it is highly unlikely that hundreds of low-income schools around the country will suddenly find themselves facing grassroots trigger movements of the kind imagined in Won’t Back Down. Indeed, like Waiting for “Superman,” the last school reform film financed by Walden Media, which is owned by conservative entrepreneur Phil Anschutz, Won’t Back Down depicts urban poverty in deceptive ways—not only as less exhausting than it really is but also as less deep-seated.

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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