In The Know: Poll finds two-thirds of Oklahomans very concerned about school funding

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 poll found almost two-thirds of Oklahomans say they are very concerned about the funding of their local public schools, and more than nine in 10 say they will take that funding into consideration when casting ballots in this fall’s legislative races. The Muskogee Phoenix discussed how area school districts are bracing for more cuts in state aid.

NewsOK examined SQ 766, which would exempt all businesses’ intangible property from taxation and reduce revenues for Oklahoma counties and schools by about $50 million. OK Policy earlier discussed how the two property tax measures on the November ballot could create winners and losers. Find more info on all this year’s ballot questions at our 2012 State Questions page.

OK Policy and the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs both called for a more open budget process. Candidates for a Muskogee House seat said more income tax cuts will not help Oklahoma’s economy. Off-duty Tulsa police officers are being called to transport mental health patients to facilities across the state, because beds and resources within the city are not adequate to meet the demand. Lawyers for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services want Children’s Rights to reveal identities of the DHS Commissioners and staff members who provided information to the non-profit as it successfully sued Oklahoma over unsafe conditions in the child-welfare system.

The percentage of cigarettes purchased at tribal smoke shops is at a decade low. About 400,000 adults in Oklahoma are functionally illiterate, according to an Oklahoma City nonprofit. State Superintendent Janet Barresi spoke to the Tulsa World about testing and report cards for schools. Janet Pearson discussed Oklahoma’s reliance on federal money.

In today’s Policy Note, the Economic Policy Institute examines how raising the minimum wage would help working families and give the economy a boost. The Number of the Day is the amount that gross production taxes from oil and natural gas contributed to the state’s General Revenue Fund in July 2012.

In The News

Oklahoma Poll: School funding is important to state’s voters

Almost two-thirds of Oklahomans say they are very concerned about the funding of their local public schools, and more than nine in 10 say they will take that funding into consideration when casting ballots in this fall’s legislative races, according to the most recent Oklahoma Poll. “I’ve been back in the state for 10 1/2 years, and it seems like every year there’s less and less to spend for kids,” said Ken Price of Sapulpa. “I just haven’t heard a good explanation of why there is that disparity.” Just how much Oklahoma spends on common education is a matter of some disagreement, but it is generally acknowledged to be at the low end nationally. State appropriations for the current budget year were unchanged from the previous year and are $200 million less than in 2009. Since 1999, state appropriations’ share of total K-12 spending has declined from 60 percent to about half.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Schools met with state cuts

Area school districts are starting the school year with less money from the state — and they’re bracing for further cuts. The Oklahoma Department of Education allocated $1.75 billion in initial aid to Oklahoma schools for the 2013 school year, down from $1.8 billion received for 2012. The state adjusts the figure in the middle of the school year. Muskogee Public Schools’ chief financial officer, John Little, attributed part of Muskogee’s funding cut to a decrease in average daily attendance. “We had a loss of 70 students from last year,” Little said. The state also will allocate $11.40 less per student in 2013 than in 2012, Little said. This year’s allocation per student is $3,030, down from the allocation of $3,041.40 last year.

Read more from the Muskogee Phoenix.

Oklahoma voters to decide multimillion dollar tax issue

Oklahoma voters will have to resolve a complicated tax issue in November that state officials estimate could cost the state’s county governments and schools up to $50 million in 2013. But if voters don’t widen a current tax exemption by voting yes on State Question 766, Oklahoma businesses fear they will be hurt badly by taxes on their intangible property — something that almost no other state taxes. Also pushing the issue is AT&T, formerly the Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. The company sued the state Board of Equalization claiming that taxes it paid in 2005, 2006 and 2007 should have included exemptions for “intangible assets such as customer lists, customer relationships, assembled work force, databases, goodwill, employment contracts, patented technology, lease agreements, trademarks, and trade names, licensed software, an extensive advertising effort and the attendant copyrights on the advertising materials [and] technical documentation.” The case went all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which ruled in September 2009 that those types of intangible properties were not exempt. AT&T spent the next two years lobbying state lawmakers on the issue.

Read more from NewsOK.

Previously: Property tax “cuts” create winners and losers from the OK Policy Blog

See also: 2012 State Questions page from Oklahoma Policy Institute

More openness sought in Oklahoma’s budget process

The way legislators craft the state’s budget, which has evolved into secret meetings involving only a handful of key fiscal negotiators, should be more open so citizens and other lawmakers have a better understanding what’s in the money bill, legislative leaders say. Opening up budget talks also would reduce citizens finding surprise allocations to various groups that aren’t listed in this fiscal year’s 49-page general appropriations bill that lists the funding levels for each state agency. But the listing is just lump sums, and specific allocations aren’t spelled out in the document.

Read more from NewsOK.

HD 14 Dems frown on tax cuts

Although Gov. Mary Fallin fell short this year of pushing her tax-cut plans through the Oklahoma Legislature, it appears she intends to take a second stab at the issue. Fallin’s arguments for lowering the state’s personal income tax rate include job creation, increased productivity and greater prosperity. She has said tax cuts are essential to economic growth. Two local Democrats competing for the party’s nomination in House District 14, however, questioned the governor’s plans. Both acknowledged a need for reforms but tacked separate courses in how they would address the topic.

Read more from the Muskogee Phoenix.

Off-duty TPD officers driving mental health patients to hospitals

Off-duty Tulsa police officers are being called to transport mental health patients to facilities across the state, part of a short-term solution to keep more patrol officers in the city limits. But for a long-term solution, police and local mental health officials said that more beds and resources are needed within the city to adequately meet the demands of Tulsans in a mental health crisis. Officers are required to transport people exhibiting signs of mental illness for an evaluation. If treatment is required, police take that person to the facility with an opening. With fewer than 60 beds in Tulsa dedicated to mental health treatment, the facilities fill up quickly. When a facility reaches capacity, it goes on divert status, which requires the patient go elsewhere – sometimes as far as Fort Supply, near the Oklahoma Panhandle. In the first seven months of 2012, Tulsa police have made 194 trips transporting mental health patients to facilities across the state. Officers have logged nearly 43,000 miles on those trips.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Children’s Rights filing called inflammatory

A recent filing by a New York-based nonprofit organization in a federal class-action lawsuit concerning the state’s child-welfare system is inflammatory and inaccurate, attorneys for Oklahoma Department of Human Services officials argued Friday. The lawyers for the DHS defendants said Children’s Rights, which filed the lawsuit, is trying to shift the burden of proving the reasonableness of its $9.5 million fee request onto the state agency. The underlying issue is what role DHS oversight commissioners and staff played in providing information to Children’s Rights. Attorneys for the defense claim they have knowledge of “multiple instances” of communications between the nonprofit and the commission and staff. The agency alleges that those communications reflect at least $200,000 worth of the requested fees and that it has a right to know what the agency is reimbursing.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma tribal cigarette sales at decade low

The percentage of cigarettes purchased at smoke shops is at a decade low and continues to decline, a World analysis of state Tax Commission records indicates. About two of every three cigarettes purchased in 2010 and 2011 occurred at a non-tribal store. Non-tribal stores accounted for 67 percent of the sales in 2010 and 2011 with sales this year at non-tribal sources on pace to account for 68.7 percent of all sales, records show. The decline is a marked shift from just a few years ago when in 2009 tribal smoke shops controlled about half of the retail cigarette market in the state. Meanwhile, sale of cigarettes at all retail outlets – both tribal and non-tribal – has been on a general decline since 2004. State retail sales of cigarettes from both tribal and non-tribal sources hit a low in 2010. About 5.26 billion cigarettes were sold in Oklahoma in 2010. In 2011, overall sales increased slightly to 5.39 billion cigarettes, but still well below the 7.9 billion cigarettes sold in 2004.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma City nonprofit fights adult functional illiteracy

It’s often a hidden problem, a concealed stigma that haunts adults who keep it secret: not knowing how to read and write at a proficient level. Functional illiteracy, a term used for people who lack basic literacy skills to manage daily living and working tasks that involve reading and writing, is a national and statewide problem. Relocate the estimated number of functioning illiterate adults in Oklahoma City and imagine who they are. It would be a group of men and women who struggle with elementary level reading and writing, able to secure low-paying jobs at best, doing just enough to get by. It would be a group relying heavily on government assistance, prone to health issues and incarceration. It would be the third largest city in Oklahoma.

Read more from NewsOK.

Barresi discusses testing, report cards for schools

As the new school year begins, the Tulsa World submitted questions by email to State Superintendent Janet Barresi for some of her thoughts about Oklahoma education. Here are her emailed responses: What are your top priorities for this school year? I am in this job because a good education is the only chance that children in poverty have for making it out of dire circumstances. So I’m very focused on making sure that common-sense solutions become reality. That’s why I am pressing forward this year with what I’ve called the “C3 Plan” to have every high school graduate college-, career- and citizen-ready by the year 2020. The C3 Plan is built around a simple but powerful idea: that students must be prepared for the challenges of real life in the 21st century.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Tulsa World: Oklahoma hates big government but loves the money

Why is the Washington Post so interested in Oklahoma political leanings? It’s not like the state’s conservative bent against big government is front-page news. And surely there are other conservative states that aren’t so fond of the feds. Maybe it’s because someone there at the Post delights in pointing out what big hypocrites we are. I’m guessing most Oklahomans don’t much care what the Washington Post writes about us. But sometimes, it’s eye-opening to look at ourselves through someone else’s eyes. The latest installment in the Post’s Oklahoma series, “Health insurance mandate faces huge resistance in Oklahoma,” was published on July 29. … But while Oklahomans may harbor a fierce dislike for all things federal, we don’t seem to mind pocketing the money the feds send our way.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

We’re not against the state question passing, but there was no measure there to make up the shortfall if this thing passes. It becomes an unfunded mandate instantly.

Garfield County assessor Wade Patterson on SQ 766. This state question on the November ballot would exempt all intangible property from property taxes, costing Oklahoma counties and schools as much as $50 million in 2013.

Number of the Day


Amount gross production taxes from oil and natural gas contributed to the state’s General Revenue Fund in July 2012

Source: Office of State Finance

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How raising the federal minimum wage would help working families and give the economy a boost

Over the past year, increasing attention has focused on the prevalence and growth of income inequality in the United States. While soaring incomes at the top of the income distribution have played a large role in these trends (Mishel and Sabadish 2012), so too has the failure to ensure that lower-income workers earn a fair wage. … Raising the minimum wage would help workers still reeling from the effects of the recession. The resulting impact on the overall economy would be demonstrably positive, as minimum-wage workers would spend their new earnings immediately, generating a positive impact on GDP and related modest employment growth. This paper begins by providing a demographic overview of the workers who would benefit from the proposed increase in the minimum wage, examining characteristics such as their gender, age, race and ethnicity, educational attainment, work hours, family income, and family composition. Next, it details the estimated GDP and job creation impacts that would result from an increase in the federal minimum wage to $9.80.

Read more from the Economic Policy Institute.

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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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