In The Know: State again suing company over GEER Fund failures | Politics embroiled in federal border security deal | A look at school options in Oklahoma

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.

State Government News

Oklahoma again sues Florida company over GEER Fund education spending failures: Oklahoma leaders have refiled a lawsuit against an out-of-state vendor the governor blames for failing to prevent education funds from being misspent. Former Attorney General John O’Connor sued the company in August 2022, but his successor, Gentner Drummond, dropped the lawsuit once he took office in January 2023. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • Stitt refiles lawsuit blaming vendor for misspent COVID funds [Tulsa World]

As session starts, Education Committee leaders warm to Walters, want reforms: After a tumultuous regular 2023 legislative session featured tense education funding negotiations that created a special session, inflamed tensions in the Oklahoma State Capitol and ran out the clock on several other policy bills, House and Senate leaders seem to be expecting a less education-heavy 2024 session. [NonDoc]

Concerns rise at Oklahoma Capitol over effort to claw back teacher bonuses: An attempt by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to claw back teacher bonuses has raised new questions in the state Legislature over the agency’s handling of taxpayer funds. [Oklahoma Voice]

  • OSDE looking to claw back teacher bonuses; Senate Education Chair threatens to ‘cease’ program funding if it happens [KFOR]

Budget transparency top priority for Oklahoma Senate leader: Budget transparency will be Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat’s top priority when lawmakers return Monday to the Capitol for the regular legislative session. Due to term limits, Treat, R-Oklahoma City, is serving his final year as Senate leader and as a state lawmaker. Treat said his new budget process will let residents know earlier in the session what the Senate funding priorities will be. [Oklahoma Voice]

Oklahoma Rep. seeks investigation after ODOC Director accidentally fires gun inside headquarters: A state lawmaker is asking for the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to be investigated after he accidentally discharged a firearm inside the safe room at the ODOC headquarters last week. [KFOR]

Long Story Short: Turnover, scandals have some rethinking Governor’s power boost: Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, now in his second and final term, campaigned on expanded gubernatorial powers during his first run for governor in 2018. A handful of lawmakers now want to pull some authority away from the governor. [KGOU]

Could Oklahoma one day see a $15 minimum wage?: There is a push right now to get a $15 per hour minimum wage on the ballot for voters to decide. Before that process can begin, the state Supreme Court has to approve it. The state justices will hear arguments on Wednesday against raising the minimum wage through a state question. That hearing is taking place on Wednesday. [KOCO]

Federal Government News

Republicans asked for a border security bill. Do they still want it?: As James Lankford and his Senate colleagues inch closer to an agreement on border security and immigration, he’s facing strong pushback from members of his own party and loyalists of former President Donald Trump who don’t want to see President Joe Biden “claim” a political win nine months before Election Day. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion, Washington Post: Dreamers’ should keep legal status, but Congress is moving backward: Congress’ border deal talks might be ongoing. But in one essential area, legislators are moving backward: The ‘Dreamers,’ undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children, have been left out of the conversation. [Washington Post Editorial Board via Tulsa World]

Editorial: Don’t let politics get in the way of securing the U.S. border with deal brokered by U.S. Sen. James Lankford: Since taking office in 2015, Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. James Lankford has prioritized immigration. It’s one of the reasons he was asked to lead an effort to find a solution to the growing crisis at the U.S. border. It’s a heavy lift against political winds of a presidential election year. [Tulsa World]

Tribal Nations News

Companies to pay $7.4 million in penalties over oil spill on Sac and Fox Nation land: Two Dallas-based companies agreed Tuesday to pay a large settlement and take corrective actions to resolve claims stemming from an oil spill onto land owned by the Sac and Fox Nation. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oil companies agree to pay $7.4 million and clean up after oil spill in Northern Oklahoma creek [KOSU]

Cherokee Nation gets $900k federal grant to boost heritage language preservation efforts: The Cherokee Nation received a federal grant to further its language efforts. The U.S. Department of the Interior awarded the tribe $900,000 to grow its Cherokee language teachers.  [Fox 25]

Voting and Election News

Former gubernatorial candidate Hofmeister speaks in Tulsa: Joy Hofmeister delivered some of her first public remarks since leaving public office one year ago. [Tulsa World]

Health News

Oklahoma Medicaid participants to select health plans as program sees changes: Changes are coming to Oklahoma’s Medicaid program as the state looks to overhaul how it provides health benefits to hundreds of thousands of low-income residents. [Oklahoma Voice]

Which states have the highest COVID-19 hospitalization, death rates?: Oklahoma recently topped 20,000 COVID-19 deaths with the second-highest death rate in the country for the week of Dec. 31-Jan. 6. [The Oklahoman] | [New York Times Interactive]

Oklahoma reports first pediatric flu death of this season: Oklahoma health officials have reported the first pediatric flu death of this season. The fatal case was reported in a child from southeastern Oklahoma who was younger than 5 years old. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: Oklahoma re-victimizing 4,529 rape survivors by providing them few abortion options: Survivors of rape deserve our support. Instead, Oklahoma lawmakers — through their effectively exceptionless criminal abortion ban that leaves only “least bad” options — re-victimize rape survivors. Shame on us. [Janet Koven Levit / Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma leaders ask for more time between executions: Officials asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday to extend from 60 days to 90 days the time between executions by the Department of Corrections. [Tulsa World]

  • Oklahoma prisons chief wants executions every 90 days to relieve burden on staff [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Watch Sues Ponca City Seeking Arrest Details, Public Oversight: Oklahoma Watch is suing Ponca City seeking details about the arrest of Patrick Hansen who was taken by police to the Kay County jail where he died. The Oklahoma Open Records Act requires law enforcement agencies to allow public access to certain records such as offense report information and facts concerning an arrest, including a brief summary of what occurred. [Oklahoma Watch]

Housing & Economic Opportunity

Oklahoma has more money than ever to bolster housing development in new program: The state of Oklahoma now has its biggest pot of money ever to spend on developing housing: $215 million in its new Oklahoma Housing Stability Program, after Gov. Kevin Stitt approved emergency rules for it. The Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency started accepting applications for the program on Monday. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Tulsa Community College wins $3.7 million research grant to support degree completion: Improving the chances of underserved students to stay in college and complete a degree is the goal of what Tulsa Community College officials say is the largest federal research grant in the school’s history. [Tulsa World]

Former Ringling football coach convicted amid mistreatment claims asks to withdraw no contest plea: A former Oklahoma high school football coach convicted of cursing at his teenage players wants to take back his no-contest plea in the case. [The Oklahoman]

Major focus of Sand Springs school bond package is accessibility: If the goals of Sand Springs Public Schools’ $114.5 million bond proposal can be summed up in a single word, that word might be accessibility. [Sand Springs Leader via Tulsa World]

General News

The Lingering Legacies Of Urban Renewal To Be Highlighted: The third program in a five-part series on the chapters of “Built from the Fire: The Epic Story of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, America’s Black Wall Street” will be held at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa auditorium, 700 N. Greenwood Ave., on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. The free series will cover Chapters 16-20 of the award-winning book. [Oklahoma Eagle]

Tulsa’s Crossover Community Impact centers youth and families: Crossover Community Impact, a north Tulsa program dedicated to positively impacting underserved youth, continues to pave a path forward with the opening of its new community center. [The Black Wall Street Times]

Oklahoma Local News

  • ‘No jail will be built here’: OKC civil rights leaders sound off on search for new jail site [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma County leaders weigh options for new jail location [The Black Wall Street Times]
  • Council unanimously votes to deny request to build medical waste facility in northeast OKC [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“When we have to spend time talking about issues where there’s mistakes that have been made or programs that have been implemented perhaps haphazardly, it takes the focus off what the Education Committee of both chambers should be working on as we enter session.”

-Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond, speaking about the state Department of Education attempting to claw back teacher bonuses that were paid when the department did not verify teachers’ information before disbursement. [KFOR]

Number of the Day


When the Oklahoma private school tax credit/voucher program is fully implemented in 2026, its $255 million price tag will exceed the current budget of all by seven state agencies. [OK Policy]

Policy Note

School Choice: A Full Menu: What exactly do we mean when we say “school choice”? Although the term often generates bitter conflicts and debate, even the most vocal supporters and opponents of ‘school choice’ may be unaware of all the educational options available to K-12 students in Oklahoma. A new issue brief from aims to help parents, policymakers, and advocates gain a clearer understanding of the school choice landscape in Oklahoma. The brief is a primer on the public and private school options for Oklahoma families. [Advance Oklahoma Kids]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.