In The Know: School choice issue remains legislative hot topic | Why has DEI become political? | Courts likely to decide religious charter school issue

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.

Oklahoma News

School choice push: Could Oklahoma have education tax credits, vouchers — or both?: The push for more funding of non-public school choices in Oklahoma got a whole new proposal this month. But could House Republicans’ new idea of refundable education tax credits beat out Senate Republicans’ previously failed pitch for vouchers or “education savings accounts” to fund private school tuition and homeschooling costs? [Tulsa World]

What is diversity, equity and inclusion? Why has it become political?: At the University of Oklahoma, diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives range from Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations and faculty workshops on how to foster an inclusive campus environment to a summit for Black student athletes and a unity march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. [Tulsa World]

Religious charter school question likely to be decided in court, former AG says: Competing legal opinions on whether Oklahoma can allow for the creation of taxpayer-funded religious charter schools means the issue likely will be decided in court, former state Attorney General John O’Connor said Friday. [Tulsa World]

  • ‘Law is currently unsettled:’ Drummond withdraws O’Connor’s religious charter school opinion [NonDoc]

State Government News

Political notebooks: Dems accuse Walters, Stitt of double standard: State Democrats blasted Gov. Kevin Stitt, state Superintendent Ryan Walters and legislative Republicans for hyperventilating about supposed “oversexualization” in public schools but remaining silent about the case of a celebrated high school football coach accused of forcing his players to conduct drills in the nude and exposing himself during a pep talk. [Tulsa World]

  • Walters sets up committee to protect prayer in schools, ridicules Oklahoma colleges for ideologies on campus [KGOU]
  • Gov. Stitt and Ryan Walters at odds with the importance of Oklahoma’s universities [KFOR]

Oklahoma Attorney General Drummond says his battle skills will help him fight for taxpayer: The walls of Attorney General Gentner Drummond’s spacious new office are still bare six weeks after being sworn in, the sign of a man who has been more focused on hiring lawyers and taking on investigations than picking out photos and artwork. [The Oklahoman]

Fed up with politics? Not the two dozen Oklahomans who might be future legislative leaders: Wondering who the future leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature might be? Some are very likely among the group of 24 new members seated in the House and Senate chambers this year. [The Oklahoman]

Seeking $30 million for food deserts, innovative grocery store proposal faces oversight questions: A proposal to provide a nonprofit organization $30 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to build four grocery stores in underserved areas is receiving additional review by Oklahoma legislators owing to questions about the nonprofit’s governance board, the executive director’s stake in for-profit companies potentially associated with operation of the planned stores, and ongoing litigation filed by a former business partner. [NonDoc]

Measure to change certain drug convictions to felonies passes committee: A measure that would make some drug offenses a felony after a certain number of convictions has passed a Senate committee. However, some lawmakers say the bill goes against the will of the voters related to criminal justice reform. [KFOR]

4 takeaways: Okla. Gov. Stitt talks taxes, Walters, Brazil’s ex-president and secret project: Gov. Kevin Stitt talked about taxes, Ryan Walters and a meeting with a former Brazilian leader at his weekly news briefing Friday, but there was more interest in the secret project he mentioned. [The Oklahoman]

Voting and Election News

Criminal justice reform efforts driving fundraising in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana: The campaign in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana in Oklahoma has raised more than $3 million, mostly relying on out-of-state groups and criminal justice reform organizations to pad its bank account. State Question 820 would apply retroactively to people convicted for certain marijuana crimes. It’s that part of the ballot measure that has attracted a number of donors. [The Frontier]

Oklahomans to vote March 7 on recreational marijuana: On March 7, Oklahomans go to the polls to vote on a single ballot issue, State Question 820, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana in the state. The question contains no language concerning application or enforcement on Native lands or reservations, because the question would not be applied to Native governments. [Cherokee Phoenix]

Oklahoma Considers Stiffer Petition Requirements for State Questions: Since 2016, Oklahoma voters have made sweeping changes without the Legislature’s input. Using state questions, they have voted to reclassify some felonies to misdemeanors, legalize medical marijuana and extend health insurance to an estimated 300,000 poor Oklahomans. [Oklahoma Watch]

Criminal Justice News

Tulsa County Public Defenders Office in ‘better shape’ than most, though McGirt added to the challenge: In lieu of a conviction, people charged with crimes are legally innocent and allowed a fair chance at fighting the state’s charges with adequate representation. The constitutional right afforded to every American, in practice, is being found less and less attainable across the West after staff shortages and decades of underfunding have spurred widespread public defense systems crises, the Lee Enterprises Public Service Journalism Team has found. [Tulsa World]

  • Struggle of public defenders ‘a national embarrassment’ with clients, attorneys suffering [Tulsa World]

Despite cocaine report, U.S. attorney silent on Dan Kirby fatal wreck inquiry: Neither state nor federal law enforcement agencies are releasing information about the criminal investigation into former Oklahoma legislator and current Eufaula City Councilman Dan Kirby, whose July motorcycle wreck resulted in the death of his girlfriend, Sheryl Bichsel. However, Bichsel’s family has filed a civil lawsuit against Kirby, and a longtime friend of the deceased says she has been told Kirby will be prosecuted. [NonDoc]

A man has died after being found hanging in his Cleveland County jail cell: A third person has died in as many months while being detained in the Cleveland County Detention Center, according to jail officials. [The Oklahoman]

How many Oklahoma medical marijuana farms tied to organized crime have been shut down?: More than 800 medical marijuana farms tied to organized crime have been shut down over the past two years, the director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control said Friday. [The Oklahoman]

Column: Weak penalties for cockfighting show no regard to laws in place: It’s troubling that cockfighters who are asking for changes to our laws are not obeying them in the first place. A series of investigations into illegal cockfighting by Animal Wellness Action have uncovered cockfighters raising and fighting tens of thousands of fighting roosters. [Drew Edmonson Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

Column: I am one of many domestic violence victims incarcerated in Oklahoma, but there’s hope: My name is April Wilkens, and I’m a 52-year-old domestic violence survivor in my 25th year of incarceration. I’m imprisoned at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Oklahoma. Prior to being locked up, I was verbally, mentally, physically and sexually abused by my ex-fiancé. The abuse left me utterly broken and humiliated. [April Wilkens Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

Column: Oklahomans with criminal records can change lives. Let’s be a state that honors 2nd chances: One of us — Tammy Franklin — grew up in a home in Oklahoma marked by darkness, neglect and alcohol. By the age of 13, Tammy ran away in search of love. Instead, she found a cycle of crime, addiction and repeated incarceration. At 50, sitting in a county jail facing a 20-year sentence for her latest drug crime, Tammy thought her life was over. Then she received pictures from her daughter-in-law of family milestones, snapshots of graduations and of her first grandchild. [Tammy Franklin Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

County jail trust agrees to settlement with health department. Here’s how much they’ll pay: The Oklahoma County jail trust will spend $175,000 to fix health and safety issues at the aging, troubled facility under a settlement negotiated Feb. 13. The settlement is with the Oklahoma Health Department, which inspects jails across the state. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

New nonprofit seeks to invest in small businesses: Entrepreneurship is on the rise Oklahoma City, and The Verge is looking to invest. Spearheaded by Cortado Ventures in collaboration with the Inasmuch Foundation and Flourish, The Verge is a new nonprofit whose aim is to serve, support and champion Oklahoma City’s diverse entrepreneurial community. [Journal Record]

Column: As supplemental food funds decrease, need increases for many of our fellow Oklahomans: For more than 408,000 Oklahoma low-income families, the arrival of March means the end of a COVID-19 emergency program that, for the past three years, has provided additional funds to help them cover the rising cost of food each month. [Stacy Dykstra Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

OKC noted for lowest median rent among nation’s largest metros: Oklahoma City is the only metro among the 50 largest in the nation where people might find a median-priced apartment or rental home for less than $1,000 a month. [Journal Record]

Education News

Civil rights groups say Oklahoma stalling major education lawsuit: Civil rights groups are accusing Oklahoma of stalling to protect a law banning discussions of race and gender in the classroom. H.B. 1775 went into effect at the start of the 2022-23 school year. The lawsuit was filed in October 2021 but got no response from the State of Oklahoma until February 2023. [KTUL]

Environmental advocacy group gives Oklahoma failing grade for lead in water protections at schools: Environment America Research and Policy Center is a federation of advocacy organizations across the country. It released a report that takes a look at lead policies in schools — such as filter requirements, the quality of plumbing infrastructure and testing frequency. [KOSU]

National Teacher Shortage: What is it, and why is it happening?: The U.S. Government Accountability Office analysis reported 233,000 fewer public school teachers in 2021 compared with 2019. And it noted that teacher shortages are most acute in Western states, rural and urban areas, and high-poverty communities, and in subject areas like foreign language, science and special education. [Chickasha Express Star]

Editorial: Oklahoma House Republicans give the short shrift to students in larger districts: The Oklahoma House set a dangerous precedent that would fundamentally change education funding by circumventing the school equalization formula. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

General News

Drug dealing and federal prison now behind him, Tulsan earning praise for fatherhood support initiative: The goal for Birthright is to become a one-stop shop of sorts for fathers, providing support, counseling and other services in an effort to break negative parenting cycles. Efforts so far include hosting community events and workshops designed to improve parent-child relationships. [Tulsa World]

Trans people face ‘horrifying’ rhetoric at statehouses: Transgender people face demeaning questions and rhetoric when they show up to statehouses to testify against new bills targeting their rights. [AP via Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Tulsa Dream Center to open West Campus at site of former Cornerstone Community Center [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa school board to revisit four items Monday [Tulsa World]
  • Oil and gas wastewater is dumped in this OKC neighborhood, but changes could soon reduce stench [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“This work isn’t intended to make anyone feel bad. But the truth makes people feel bad because the truth is an ugly truth. It’s not directed at any individual person. But the truth is about how particular communities have done really terrible things intentionally and, oftentimes, unintentionally through laws, policy, procedures and behaviors.”

– Kelli McLoud-Schingen, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Tulsa, speaking on how diversity initiatives are not an attack on anyone based on their race, gender, religion or political ideology, but can involve difficult conversations about the nation’s complex and, at times, dark history. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day

1 in 12

About 1 in 12 former inmates are hospitalized for an acute condition within 90 days of release, a rate much higher than in the general population. [Journal of American Medical Association]

Policy Note

The Push to Bring Medicaid Behind Bars: Around 600,000 people leave prison in the U.S. every year, and another 10 million are released from county jails. Many of them suffer from chronic physical, mental and substance use conditions. Research shows they are also at an extremely high risk of hospitalization and death. That’s why in January, federal health officials for the first time signed off on having Medicaid pay for services for some people in jail, prison or a juvenile facility. The goal is to use the time before someone leaves incarceration to connect them with medical providers in the community and limit any disruption in their care. [Tradeoffs]

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Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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