In The Know: September 6, 2011

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. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Oklahoma’s track record with high-stakes testing companies has for the past decade been marred with errors and delays. Supplies at Oklahoma food pantries are at their lowest level in more than two decades due to high demand. The Oklahoma water plan’s definition of “surplus” water is drawing criticism for not defining quantities needed for tourism and recreation. The New York Times examines the similarity of Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma building to the World Trade Center towers destroyed on 9/11.

A McAlester ammo plant has added jobs to produce the majority of bombs being dropped on Afghanistan and Iraq, and Gov. Fallin is working to bring the aerial drone industry to Oklahoma to benefit more from federal government spending on the military. Jeff Cloud is resigning from his statewide elective position at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The OK Policy Blog recommends an Atlantic Monthly article on the plight of the vanishing middle class.

Oklahoma’s tourism director told a House committee that privatizing state parks would be a complicated, costly task. Mickey Hepner writes in The Edmond Sun that contrary to complaints from legislators, Oklahoma’s higher education budgets are pretty well reigned in. OETA hosted an Oklahoma Forum on the state’s workforce and labor market. Janet Pearson writes that despite years of warning signs, Oklahoma has made little progress on improving children’s health. Julie Delcour asks if we can afford the death penalty in a time of stressed budgets.

The Tulsa Urbanists explain why continually adding more lanes to roads will not solve congestion. In today’s Policy Note, the Associated Press reports that Wisconsin teacher retirements are doubling in the wake of the state’s recent anti-union law, creating a shortage of experienced teachers. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma’s 9,802 same-sex couples that are raising children.

In The News

Oklahoma track record with multiple testing companies marred by errors and delays

Oklahoma’s track record with testing companies responsible for the state’s high-stakes exams has been marred with errors and delays. During the past decade, a combination of dissatisfaction and competitive costs has prompted the state to use five testing companies. Companies that have multimillion-dollar contracts with the state are responsible for developing, administering and scoring the exams. State schools Superintendent Janet Barresi announced last week that errors were made by the testing company Pearson Education Inc. when calculating school and district accountability under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. In just a few years, Oklahoma teachers and principals will be evaluated in part based on student performance on state exams, schools will be graded on an A to F grading scale, high school seniors will be prevented from graduating if they can’t pass their end-of-instruction exams and third-grade students will be retained if they fail the reading exam.

Read more from NewsOK at

Oklahoma food pantries at lowest level in over two decades

The Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma provides food to thousands in a given day, but this year the shelves are at their lowest levels in over two decades. “This is a crisis, at this time we are at about 1.5 to 1.6 million pounds of food, ” said Susan Tilkin with the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma. “That’s not going to last much more than a month.” The shortage is causing over 450 agencies the food bank partners with to be short on supplies, including the nine pantries in Owasso. Tilkin says the main reason for a high demand is unemployment or under-employment- with lower income jobs.

Read more from KJRH at

Oklahoma water plan draft’s definition of “surplus” draws criticism

“Scary” and “dangerous” are words one eastern Oklahoma legislator is using to describe the latest draft of the state’s proposed 50-year water plan. The draft plan — developed over five years at a cost of nearly $12 million — contains a proposed definition of surplus water and puts some tentative numbers to the volumes of so-called “surplus” water available within 80 of Oklahoma’s various watersheds and regions. The surplus calculations are important because they finally place numbers on the volumes of water potentially available for transfer from specific Oklahoma watersheds to places like Texas and Oklahoma City where officials have been battling for authority to purchase and transfer water to meet growing municipal needs. Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum, complained that the surplus numbers in the draft contain no determination of the quantities needed for tourism and recreation.

Read more from NewsOK at

A lone Oklahoma tower’s clear but uncomfortable links to 9/11

The phones rattled with the sound of an explosion. It was Sept. 11, and some of the traders at an energy company here had been speaking with colleagues at a financial company in the World Trade Center in New York. Suddenly, routine business calls became frantic dictations of final messages to loved ones. Then the lines went dead. In a strange twist of fate, the office tower here where those messages were scribbled — rising 52 stories above this sprawling oil town — bears an eerie resemblance to those fallen twins in New York, one so striking that executives would joke that the architect who designed all three buildings had simply shrunk his blueprints. The story of this office building in the dusty southern plains — known locally as the BOK building, after Bank of Oklahoma, a tenant — is one of an unlikely maze of connections tying people here to the attacks in New York.

Read more from The New York Times at

McAlester ammo plant gives boost to state economy

Increased production at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars has meant an economic windfall for Oklahoma’s state and local governments. According to figures from the plant, the economic impact to state and local governments now stands at $340 million a year in payroll and contractor services – more than double what it was 10 years ago. In 2001, the economic impact from the plant stood at $164 million. The majority of bombs dropped on Afghanistan and Iraq have been made in McAlester, and plant officials noted there has been a 50 percent increase in the labor force to meet increased bomb production.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

See also: Fallin working to bring aerial drone industry to Oklahoma

Jeff Cloud leaving Oklahoma Corporation Commission

Jeff Cloud is resigning his statewide elective position at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK Thursday afternoon (September 1), Cloud said: “It is with mixed emotions that I announce that I will resign my position as Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner in order to pursue opportunities in the private sector. Cloud, a Republican, was elected to the Commission in 2002, after defeating Dana Murphy in the primary. Cloud came to elected office after a successful career working for several elected officials, including former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys, former Gov. Frank Keating, and former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts. He announced Thursday he will go to work for Continental Resources. Murphy was elected to the important regulatory body in 2008, defeating incumbent Jim Roth in the general election. The other commissioner is Robert Anthony, now the longest-serving statewide elected official.

Read more from CapitolBeatOK at

Read this: Can the middle class be saved?

Anyone concerned about the impact that long-term and short-term changes in the American economy are having on the working families that form the pillar of the American middle class should read the cover article in this month’s Atlantic monthly, “Can the Middle Class Be Saved”? The article, by features editor Don Peck, provides a powerful and sobering look at how economic opportunity and financial security are increasingly out of reach for a growing segment of the American population. He argues that: Arguably, the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog at

Privatizing state parks no simple task

Privatizing some of Oklahoma’s 35 state parks could be a complicated, costly task, a House committee was told Thursday. For one thing, tourism Executive Director Deby Snodgrass said, most of those parks are leased, not owned by the state. She said some parks are leased from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, Grand River Dam Authority, the Oklahoma National Guard, municipalities or other entities, under varying terms. “We put millions of dollars in them and they belong to somebody else,” Snodgrass said. To make the issue even more complex, most Oklahoma parks were built with Federal Land and Water Conservation Funds. Snodgrass said that if LWCF projects are removed from the park system, they must be replaced at current market value. If that is not done, she said, the state could lose its eligibility for those funds.

Read more from 23rd and Lincoln at

Higher education budget cutting not always so simple

In some ways, higher education makes an easy target for the limited government, tea-party crowd. A closer look at the evidence though, reveals that Oklahoma’s higher education institutions already are pretty-well reined in. In fiscal year 2011, resident undergraduate tuition at Oklahoma major research institutions (OU and OSU) was at only 89 percent of their peer averages. At the University of Central Oklahoma, resident undergraduate tuition was even lower — at 75 percent of our peers (institutions that are similar to us in terms of market, size and mission).When it comes to faculty salaries, our faculty at UCO have not had a general salary increase since 2008. As a result, more than 50 percent of full-time UCO faculty are paid at least 10 percent less than their colleagues at our peer schools. This pay disparity (which is growing each year) is making it increasingly difficult for us to attract and retain the high-quality faculty our students deserve.

Read more from The Edmond Sun at

Oklahoma Forum: Jobs and the labor market

OETA discusses Oklahoma’s workforce and the job market with: Richard McPherson, Executive Director, Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Lynn Gray, Director of Economic Research and Analysis and Chief Economist, Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Dr. Phil Berkenbile, State Director, Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Watch the video at

Oklahoma making little progress on children’s health

Judging from the following findings, Oklahoma doesn’t seem to care much about children. About 196,000 Oklahoma children – 22 percent of the state’s youngsters – live in poverty, making them potential victims of just about everything bad. According to the Oklahoma Children’s Health Plan, released earlier this year, the leading causes of death for children and teens in Oklahoma no longer are the predictable ones, such as illness and birth defects, but are now “preventable causes, including injury and violence.” The report, a blueprint for improving children’s health, also found: One out of every 10 Oklahoma youngsters might have a substance abuse disorder. About a third of the children in the state lack access to both medical and dental care. Despite the fact these findings have been reported and publicized repeatedly for years, there’s not much evidence of progress.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

Can we afford the death penalty?

Forget all the arguments about the rightness or wrongness of capital punishment — if it is a powerful deterrent or morally repugnant, if its use is appropriate for worst-of-the-worst crimes. Should death-penalty laws eventually go by the wayside here and elsewhere, their demise won’t be based on philosophical debates. The issue will come down to the bottom line. In this era of fiscal peril, legislatures and voters must decide: Do they continue sustaining the nation’s most expensive punishment option — for a relatively small number of convicted murders — when other needs, including education, health care, infrastructure and public safety, go wanting? Budget cutbacks in Oklahoma since 2008 have resulted in layoffs and the drastic slashing of services and programs. The state’s safety net, which so many people rely upon, is ripping at the seams. Prisons are at capacity, yet the per-capita violent crime rate remains among the highest in the U.S. No reliable figures exist for how much Oklahoma death-penalty system costs. Suffice it to say it’s tens of millions of dollars.

Read more from this Tulsa World article at

If you build it, humans will congest it

Over the last 100 or so years the United States experimented with different forms of living. The federal government funded the largest construction project know to man-The Interstate Highway System. In doing so the government subsidized the automobile industry and effectively defunded mass transit. The result? We must drive to work, drive to play and drive to home. What have we learned from this experience? Most importantly, we learned if you built it humans will congest it. Whether it is a footpath, a roadway, a broadband Internet connection or a canal. Idle capacity gets utilized one way or another. Why should you care? Because when you vote on these road building bond issues you must keep in mind congestion is a human condition. Another lane just creates more parking spaces. It may seem like another lane on 169 or the Creek Tollway will reduce congestion, but the relief is temporary and expensive.

Read more from Tulsa Urbanists at

Quote of the Day

What we see across the nation is a perverted game of musical chairs, in which a test company will get fired in one state for messing up and hired in another state.
Bob Shaefer, director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing

Number of the Day

26 percent
Percentage of Oklahoma’s 9,802 same-sex couples that are raising children, 2010
Source: U.S. Census via ThinkProgress

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Wisconsin teacher retirements double in wake of anti-union law

When students return Thursday for the first day of school across Wisconsin, many familiar faces will be gone, as teachers chose retirement over coming back in the wake of a new law that forces them to pay more for benefits while taking away most of their collective bargaining rights. Documents obtained by The Associated Press under the state’s open records law show that about twice as many public school teachers decided to hang it up in the first half of this year as in each of the past two full years, part of a mass exit of public employees. Their departures came before the new law took effect, changes pushed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature that led to weeks of protests at the Capitol. The ensuing exodus of teachers and other state employees has led to fears that the jobs might not be filled, and that classroom leadership by veteran teachers will be lost.

Read more from the Associated Press at

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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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