In The Know: Racial disparities in vaccine distribution | New cabinet hires announced | House passes controversial school bills

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: State must recommit to higher education funding: When I was in college, I could use my summer job at Dillard’s to pay my school expenses for the following year. If I share that experience now, I might as well start with, “Once upon a time…” These days, that story would seem like a fable for Oklahoma students facing rising college tuition costs resulting from the state’s ongoing disinvestment in higher education. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Community leaders highlight racial disparities in Oklahoma’s COVID vaccine distribution: Community leaders, health experts and elected officials gathered at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Wednesday to call attention to racial disparities in vaccine distribution in the state. In Oklahoma, the most recent data available from the state health department show about 3% of people who have gotten both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine are Black, compared to over 70% who are white. Nationwide data show that Black people are roughly three times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 and almost twice as likely to die from the disease. [The Oklahoman] Dr. Christopher Harris, chief resident of family and preventive medicine at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, said it’s important to acknowledge that many Black patients have very valid concerns about vaccines and health care in general, going back generations to forced medical experimentation on enslaved women and, more recently, in unethical experimentation on Black men in Tuskegee, Alabama, by the federal government. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Oklahoma to pay at least $472,302 for coronavirus vaccine website [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma vaccinations getting back on track after storm [AP News]

Coronavirus positive test rate fall below 10% in Oklahoma: The positivity rate on Oklahomans’ coronavirus tests has fallen below 10%, data from Johns Hopkins University showed Wednesday, although state health officials have noted testing slowed during the past week because of a winter storm. The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in the state has dropped from 14.7% to 9.4%, according to the Johns Hopkins data. [AP News]

  • COVID-19: 37 deaths reported in Oklahoma with 798 new cases [Tulsa World]

Susan Winchester, Jennifer Grigsby nominated for new cabinet positions in latest shuffle: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s shape-shifting cabinet underwent its latest transformation this week with the announcement of nominations for two new cabinet positions and the elimination of two others. [NonDoc] Now, four women serve in the governor’s cabinet made up of just over a dozen of Stitt’s closest advisers. [The Oklahoman]

Additional federal funding approved for Oklahomans after historic storm: President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has approved additional federal funding for Oklahomans after historic winter storms lingered in the state earlier this month, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday evening. [Tulsa World]

  • City of Hominy continues to request water conservation as hunt for leaks continues. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

From the state Capitol – House broadens public school transfer policies: Following the policy priorities of Gov. Kevin Stitt, the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved two controversial bills Feb. 24 to broaden public school transfer policies and change the state school funding formula. House Bill 2074, the school choice bill, would allow students to transfer between any public school district at any time with some exceptions. And House Bill 2078 makes changes to the school funding formula to account for what Stitt called “ghost students” during his State of the State speech earlier this year. [The Frontier] House Bill 2074 and 2078, written as complimentary bills, passed votes on the House Floor on Wednesday. Both bills now move on to the state Senate. [The Oklahoman] The bills have been lauded by Governor Kevin Stitt and criticized by public school advocates. [KOSU] Critics have said the bill will lead families to pull kids from schools they see as failing, putting remaining students at greater risk as funding dwindles. [Public Radio Tulsa]

School board elections would move to November under bill moving through Oklahoma Senate: School board elections would be moved to November from April under a measure advanced in the state Senate on Wednesday. The Senate Rules Committee passed Senate Bill 762, by Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, by a vote of 12-1. [Tulsa World]

House OKs bill to aid blind Oklahomans with absentee ballots: The Oklahoma House of Representatives passed legislation on Monday to aid blind and visually impaired Oklahomans with absentee ballots. [The Lawton Constitution]

Oklahoma bill makes it illegal to photo or film police, Dems vote yes: State representatives unanimously passed House Bill 2273 out of the House Judiciary Criminal Committee Wednesday morning, which prohibits intentionally publishing personally identifiable information of a law enforcement officer, such as a photo or video, with the intent to “threaten, intimidate, harass or stalk,” according to the bill’s text. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Asked to leave Oklahoma Capitol, anti-porn bill proponent has bizarre past: A man dubbed a “security concern” at the Missouri State Capitol and an alleged stalker of songwriter John Rich was escorted out of the Oklahoma State Capitol by security Feb. 2 after an altercation with a lawmaker who had declined to support a bill placing filters on electronic devices to block websites deemed to contain child pornography. [NonDoc]

Former Tulsa senator sued for $75,000 in crash that killed Bristow man: The surviving spouse of a man killed when a former senator struck his vehicle is suing her and the state. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Lankford says he won’t vote for Haaland for interior secretary: Sen. James Lankford, after participating in his first hearing since joining the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he would not support Haaland’s confirmation. [AP News / The Oklahoman]

Lankford joins Republicans calling on Biden to withdraw HHS nominee: Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford has signed onto a letter from dozens of Republican lawmakers asking President Joe Biden to withdraw his nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, saying Xavier Becerra is “unfit for any position of public trust, and especially for HHS Secretary.” [Public Radio Tulsa]

Health News

Judge to hear Tulsa nonprofit’s arguments against state’s awarding health information exchange contract to tech company: The MyHealth Access Network appeal against the state’s vendor choice to develop its own health information exchange will be put in front of an administrative law judge. However, Steven Harpe, executive director of Oklahoma Management and Enterprise Services, denied MyHealth’s request to stay the contract award. [Tulsa World]

Editorial: No need to weaken the independence of Tulsa County Health Department: We suspect political retribution in a bill that would weaken the autonomy of the Tulsa and Oklahoma county health departments and put more control in the governor’s hands. Politics has no place in public health. Even if that’s not the case, we see nothing good coming from House Bill 2504. [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma man released early from prison accused in 3 deaths: An Oklahoma man who had been released early from prison in January as part of a mass commutation effort is now accused of three killings. [AP News] He was released from the hospital Feb. 15 and is being held at the Grady County jail. [The Oklahoman]

Two Oklahoma County jailers arrested in smuggling investigation: Two Oklahoma County detention officers have been arrested and fired after an investigation into the smuggling of drugs, cellphones and other contraband into jail inmates. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Home demand in state, nation skyrockets: In fact, according to Zillow, an online real estate marketplace company, the monthly appreciation of home values in January matched recent record highs, while annual growth is higher than any time since 2006. [The Journal Record]

Education News

‘Kids need to be in school:’ In-person Learning in El Reno: El Reno Public Schools hasn’t had guests all school year. “We literally don’t let our parents come yet,” superintendent Craig McVay said. But, the district isn’t trying to hide anything. This is a decision based on safety and preventing the spread of COVID-19. So McVay, a few other administrators and teachers toured StateImpact around their schools for several hours in late January to explore just how in-person school is going. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Facebook Live chat with State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister: Join The Frontier Tuesday for a live interview with State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. We will discuss how schools continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and also what the state Department of Education’s focus will be as schools hopefully begin to return to normal later this year. [The Frontier]

General News

Black history key to understanding agriculture’s present and future: Oklahoma State University teaching associate Courtney Brown wants to ensure the next generation of Black agriculturalists grows with pride rather than shrinking from disinterest. A large part of Brown’s work toward a master’s degree in agricultural communications at OSU focused on the African-American perspective of agriculture. [The Shawnee News-Star]

Reinterment plan of possible Tulsa massacre victims delayed: A committee overseeing the search for mass graves related to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre has delayed until next month a decision on how to reinter the remains of possible victims found last year. [AP News]

  • Story of Greenwood’s resilience, how it can ‘inspire the world,’ sets the tone for diversity conference [Tulsa World]

Cherokee Nation addresses bias against descendants of enslaved people: The tribe’s Supreme Court excised language from its constitution that limited the citizenship rights of descendants of Black people who had been enslaved by the tribe before the Civil War. [New York Times]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Getting imaginative about the budget: Tulsa mayor, councilors lay out priorities [Tulsa World] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • City of Tulsa asks departments to scale back to help with expected FY22 budget shortfall [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • City councilors vote 5-4 to place controversial nominee Bob Jack on volunteer board [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“COVID is ravaging the Black community and claiming more lives than any other race. If you haven’t been vaccinated, get signed up. Protect yourself, protect each other.”

-Dr. Christopher Harris, Family and Preventive Medicine Chief Resident at OU Health Science Center.  [Source: The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


The seven-day rolling average of Oklahoma’s COVID-19 positivity rate has dropped from 14.7% to 9.4%.

[Source: Johns Hopkins University via AP News]

Policy Note

The mirage of the Black middle class: Unlike many white middle-class Americans who find themselves bewildered by the prospect of going financially backward from their parents, many Black families watched as their family’s best-laid plans for a steady, middle-class future are foiled, again and again, by economic catastrophes in which losses were disproportionately absorbed by Black Americans. As economists William Darity Jr., Fenaba Addo, and Imari Smith recently explained, “for Black Americans, the issue may not be restoring its middle class, but constructing a robust middle class in the first place.” [Vox

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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