In The Know: SoonerCare renewals continue | Vouchers prompt Senate towards budget transparency | TPS names permanent superintendent, pushing for local control | OKC’s largest, oldest public housing project set for $500,000 refurbishment

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

Last year’s voucher push prompts Senate to commit to budget transparency: It’s going to be interesting to see how the new, more transparent appropriations process works in the Senate next session. Dissatisfaction with the process seemed to reach a high-water mark in the Senate last session. According to Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, the Senate last year was so focused on school choice (using public tax dollars for private schools) that many senators didn’t have adequate time to consider the final appropriations bill. [Capitol Update / Steve Lewis]

As SoonerCare renewals continue, it’s vital to connect to health care: As health care rules change following the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) has been working to help Oklahomans who receive health insurance through SoonerCare/Medicaid keep their insurance. But for many individuals, action is needed to ensure eligible Oklahomans can keep their health care. [OK Policy]

State Government News

Oklahoma Rep. Humphrey seeks probe into DAs’ potential illegal collection of probation fees: Rep. Justin Humphrey sent a letter on Monday to Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond requesting an examination into the collection of probation fees by the state’s district attorneys. The request comes after Humphrey’s inspection of the process in which he said he ‘discovered issues that appear very worrisome and possibly illegal.’ [KOKH]

State lawmaker accuses Oklahoma Department of Education of immaturity, lack of transparency: Oklahoma State Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) claimed in a press release Friday numerous requests for information from state legislators have been ignored by the Oklahoma Department of Education. In response to a third inquiry about alleged teacher recruitment numbers, a Metrics Software update and emails sent to State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ Every Kid Counts email, McBride said a note was slipped under his office door by an unidentified person. It was from Walters’ Senior Advisor, Matt Langston, and said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” [KOSU]

Federal Government News

D.C. Digest: Lankford doggedly pursues security solution: U.S. Sen. James Lankford appeared still committed to negotiating a national security package that includes changes in border policy and money for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine, despite what was generally reported as a midweek setback. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Harvest Land Farm seeks to ease Osage Nation food insecurity with mobile market: Only three grocery stores exist on the entire Osage reservation, which is larger than the state of Rhode Island. Osage Nation’s Harvest Land Farm recently opened a mobile farmer’s market to travel around Osage County, selling fresh produce, eggs and canned goods with Osage food words on the labels. The market is the tribe’s innovative way to promote Indigenous food sovereignty, preserve traditional Osage food ways and provide groceries to those who cannot travel to a store. [Tulsa World]

Voting and Election News

Arena issue attracts ‘respectable’ early-voting turnout: The early voting turnout was steady last week at the Oklahoma County Election Board ahead of Tuesday’s vote on a plan to fund a nearly $1 billion downtown arena. Election Board Secretary Doug Sanderson said 1,315 voters cast early ballots in the election Thursday and Friday. That is a respectable number for a special election in December, Sanderson said. [Journal Record]

  • Election for the Oklahoma City’s NBA arena special proposition is today: What to know [The Oklahoman]
  • Voters to decide fate of proposed $1B Thunder arena [Journal Record]

Health News

Five things to know about allegations of abuse at the Greer Center: The Frontier’s reporting uncovered new details about an unfolding scandal at an Oklahoma Center for people with developmental disabilities. [The Frontier]

Mother and daughter who worked at nursing home charged with caretaker abuse: A mother and daughter who worked at a nursing home are accused of racking up thousands of dollars in charges on residents’ bank accounts, according to documents filed with the district court. [The Oklahoman]

Residents worry water level changes at Grand Lake will lead to toxic flooding upstream: Residents of northeastern Oklahoma communities who have been affected by flooding and toxic mining leftovers are asking federal regulators for more community involvement before relicensing the hydroelectric dam at Grand Lake. [The Oklahoman]

Schools among entities pursuing opioid abatement funds: The Oklahoma Opioid Abatement Board has received more than 250 letters of intent to pursue $23 million in grant awards from political subdivisions across Oklahoma. Letters of intent were received from 64 Oklahoma counties. Additionally, 69 municipalities, 101 school districts, four career technology centers and eight public trusts submitted letters. [Journal Record]

Criminal Justice News

Activists argue federal authorities should take over Oklahoma County’s troubled jail: A group hoping to get Oklahoma County’s troubled jail taken over by the U.S. Justice Department made its case during the Oklahoma Human Rights Alliance Awards Ceremony and Symposium held recently at Oklahoma’s state Capitol. [The Oklahoman]

He was the ‘accountant’ for an Oklahoma pot farm that became a massacre site. Now he’s charged: The state’s multicounty grand jury has indicted an “accountant” tied to the illegal marijuana farm near Hennessey where four workers were massacred last year. Kevin Paul Pham, 47, is accused in the conspiracy indictment of using “straw owners” and submitting fraudulent documents to get licenses and registrations for medical marijuana grows across Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

  • Three men indicted by grand jury for involvement in Oklahoma illegal cannabis grow operation [KOSU ]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Motel 6, Will Rogers Courts tabbed as transformation projects: The Oklahoma City Housing Authority is moving ahead this month with two large transformation projects. The Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday signed off on a $500,000 federal grant that will fund an in-depth plan to refurbish the Will Rogers Courts – OCHA’s largest and oldest public housing development – as well as the surrounding neighborhood. The $500,000 Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is a two-year grant to fund the public housing and neighborhood revitalization plan. The U.S. Census shows there are about 3,600 residents in the area. [Journal Record]

Opinion: Schizophrenia’s stranglehold on homelessness is a silent crisis: Schizophrenia, a complex and debilitating mental illness, looms large over our society, leaving an indelible mark, especially within the realm of homelessness. Approximately 11% of individuals with schizophrenia find themselves grappling with homelessness — a stark contrast to the mere 1% in the general population. [Stevie Mathews / The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Federal officials award $500,000 to support Oklahoma-Kansas passenger rail expansion project: The existing rail service, which is operated by Amtrak, runs from Fort Worth, Texas, to Oklahoma City. It stops in Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley and Ardmore and Gainesville, Texas. The proposed expansion would add stops in Edmond, Perry and Ponca City and in the Kansas cities of Arkansas City, Wichita and Newton. Riders would have easier access to the national east-west Amtrak network, officials said. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Proposed Amtrak route between Oklahoma City and central Kansas selected for federal funding [KOSU]

Some states’ economies cool even as the nation’s sizzles: A still-roaring national economy grew at an unexpectedly robust 5.2% annual rate in the third quarter of this year, but early indicators show a more mixed picture for many states heading into the holidays. [Oklahoma Voice]

Independent bookstores see resurgence coming out of pandemic: Independent bookstores in the metro are now thriving due to increased interest in and spending on reading since the onset of the COVID-19 more than three years ago. The pandemic catalyzed U.S. consumers to spend more on recreational reading than ever before. Consumer spending on recreational reading rose nearly 23% in 2020 and another 1.8% and 2.6% in 2021 and 2022, exceeding $15 billion annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. [Journal Record]

Education News

Oklahoma Supt. Ryan Walters proposes linking accreditation to student performance: State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters formally announced on Monday changes he’s proposing to Oklahoma’s accreditation rules for school districts, modifications he hopes will tie accreditation to the academic performance of students. [The Oklahoman]

Tulsa school board selects Ebony Johnson as district’s permanent superintendent: In a decision made under a microscope, the Tulsa Board of Education chose to keep its interim superintendent as a permanent hire, despite the state’s top schools official calling for a national search. The school board voted 4-2 with one abstention during a lengthy meeting Monday night to hire Ebony Johnson through June 30, 2026. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • Tulsa school board removes ‘interim’ from Ebony Johnson’s title, makes her permanent superintendent [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa school board selects Ebony Johnson as district’s permanent superintendent [Oklahoma Voice]
  • Johnson voted permanent TPS superintendent; Griffin announces resignation [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Tulsa school board member announces resignation [Tulsa World]

Tulsa Public Schools leader pushes back on Ryan Walters’ insertion into ‘local control’ decisions: Interim Tulsa Superintendent Ebony Johnson pushed back on Monday against State Superintendent Ryan Walters’ insertion into “local control” matters and accused him of making new “misleading or completely false” claims about the school district. [Tulsa World]

  • Read TPS interim Superintendent Ebony Johnson’s letter to Ryan Walters [Tulsa World]

Attorney general lays out case against state-sanctioned Catholic charter school: The Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General offered new details this week of its legal bid to halt the nation’s would-be first religious charter school in its tracks. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: OKCPS pipeline program brings diverse leadership to the school district: Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation’s created the Aspiring Administrators Pipeline Program which selected 10 participants that met specific criteria, including being employed by Oklahoma City Public Schools for at least three years and having completed professional and leadership development proving their leadership acumen. All were highly recommended by their principals and other district leaders. Many were the first in their families to complete college to become teachers. And, all are bilingual and/or people of color. [Mary Mélon-Tully / The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Report: BOK Center among world’s top concert destinations [Tulsa World]
  • Meet the 2023 Tulsans of the Year: These people pushed to make Tulsa a better place [Tulsa World]
  • OKC animal shelter over capacity [Journal Record]

Quote of the Day

“We are very much dedicated not only to Will Rogers Courts apartments and the residents who live there but the entire neighborhood. We want to be innovative and bring investment to areas that may not necessarily get it from the private market.”

-Kassy Malone, Oklahoma City Housing Authority director of real estate and planning, commenting about the $500,000 federal grant that will fund an in-depth plan to refurbish the Will Rogers Courts – OCHA’s largest and oldest public housing development – as well as the surrounding neighborhood. [Journal Record]

Number of the Day


Percentage of estates in Oklahoma that owed federal estate tax in 2019. That year, 14 estates in Oklahoma were large enough to trigger federal estate taxes compared to 2007 when 148 estates (or .42% of estates) did. The federal estate tax exemption was $2 million in 2007, and was $11.4 million in 2019. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]

Policy Note

The Estate Tax is Irrelevant to More Than 99 Percent of Americans: The federal estate tax has reached historic lows. In 2019, only 8 of every 10,000 people who died left an estate large enough to trigger the tax. Legislative changes under presidents of both parties have increased the basic exemption from the estate tax over the past 20 years. This has cut the share of adults leaving behind taxable estates down from more than 2 percent to well under 1 percent. [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy]

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Kandis West is a communications professional with more than 15 years of experience. Most recently, she served as the Communications Director for the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus. She spent nine years in the Olympia/Tacoma area of Washington organizing compensation campaigns for teachers for the Washington Education Association. Kandis has a proven track record of increasing community engagement, public awareness and media exposure around the most pressing issues that impact citizens. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism.