In The Know: State Auditor doesn't investigate nonprofit funds used by current Superintendent Barresi

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 Superintendent Barresi used a non-profit fund for conference expenses that is very similar to what State Auditor Gary Jones criticized as “slush funds” when they were used by former Superintendent Garrett.  Jones said his investigators were aware of Barresi’s fund but did not look into the matter. The OK Policy Blog breaks down the issues scheduled for debate in next week’s Supreme Court hearing on the Affordable Care Act.

Deportation rates have begun to decline after a large rise in 2008, but deportations from Oklahoma remain high. Oklahoma educators criticized the new evaluation system that give each public school and district a grade of A-F. School districts are keeping a wary eye on rising fuel prices which put even more pressure on strapped school budgets.

NewsOn6 spoke to OK Policy Director David Blatt about why ending the income tax is a bad idea. In a Q&A with NewsOK, State Treasurer Ken Miller explained the importance of the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan deduction, which is targeted for elimination in the push against the income tax. News9 reports on how budget cuts have led to long waiting lists for Oklahomans seeking to enter rehab.

A House panel backed a plan to fund a new Medical Examiner’s Office with a higher education bond issue. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the City of Hugo for the right to sell water to Texas. NewsOK takes on lawmakers who refuse to apply the Open Records Act to the legislature.

The Number of the Day is how many homeless children in Oklahoma are under age 6. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times reports on a study showing that women are routinely charged more than men for the same health insurance coverage.

In The News

Current state Education Department officials used funds similar to those attacked by state Auditor

Current Education Department officials hosted a conference in 2011 using private donations and payments held in the bank account of a nonprofit foundation. The foundation paid for expenses at Innovation 2011 under the leadership of current state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi. A similar practice by previous Education Department officials under the leadership of former state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett was criticized by the state auditor and inspector’s office in an investigation released earlier this month. The auditor’s report on activities during Garrett’s administration said that two bank accounts under the name of the nonprofit organization Oklahoma Curriculum Improvement Commission appeared to be slush funds. Garrett contends that the accounts were not a secret but were fully audited and saved taxpayers money by using private funds to help host education conferences. Documents that showed the remaining balances in the two conference accounts held by the Oklahoma Curriculum Improvement Commission were transferred to the Foundation for Innovation in Education. State Auditor Gary Jones said his investigators were aware of the Foundation for Innovation in Education and the role it played hosting the 2011 conference but did not look into the matter.

Read more from NewsOK.

High Court Hears Health Law: What’s up for debate?

The United States Supreme Court is gearing up for oral argument in what is sure to be a landmark case in American history – the multi-state challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the federal health reform law passed by Congress in 2009. The court has scheduled an unprecedented six hours for oral argument over three days, the most time allocated to a single case since the 1960s. Oral argument is the only interactive portion of the Court’s decision-making process, where attorneys from both sides state their case and take questions from the justices. This post breaks down the issues scheduled for debate and summarizes each side’s position.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Oklahoma deportations remain high despite national decline

Oklahoma is behind the national trend in deportations, showing a slower decline in the number of removal orders than overall U.S. numbers, according to data released by a national nonprofit organization. Nationally, about half of the immigration cases filed result in deportation, while defendants in 76 percent to 97 percent of immigration cases in Oklahoma are ordered out of the country. Deportations reached decades-long highs during the past two years, leading to record backlogs in immigration courts and longer wait times for hearings. The Department of Homeland Security and its Immigration and Customs Enforcement started an effort last summer to focus on deporting the most dangerous people, and that change may be leading to significant national drops, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, based at Syracuse University in New York. However, as Oklahoma lags in the trend, the wait for a hearing date here has reached an all-time high of 336 days, and pending cases remain at record levels.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Oklahoma educators give new school grading system poor marks

Educators and advocates from throughout the state called a new system to grade school districts punitive, unfair and vague at a public hearing Tuesday morning. Nearly 75 superintendents, teachers and parents asked questions and made comments to the state Education Department’s legal team at a hearing about the new school improvement and accountability system. The system would give each school and district a grade of A-F. The A-F system replaces the federal requirements of No Child Left Behind, which Oklahoma no longer has to follow. About 4 percent of schools would earn an A and about 1 percent would receive an F this year, according state Department of Education calculations. The other 95 percent of schools would be graded B, C or D. The quality of schools affects quality of life and business development, said Chris Deal, president and CEO of the Duncan Chamber of Commerce. A town with one school district labeled with a D or F might deter companies looking to open shop.

Read more from NewsOK.

Okla. school officials keep wary eye on fuel price

In school districts large and small across Oklahoma, school officials say they are keeping a wary eye on the rising price of fuel that had reached an average of almost $3.66 per gallon of self-serve regular gasoline and $3.91 for diesel on Friday, according to AAA Oklahoma. The prices are .25 and .16 cents, respectively, higher than one year ago, according to AAA. In 2003, when state finance officials ordered statewide budget cuts because of an overall revenue shortfall, the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association board cut schedules by 20 to 25 percent for spring sports such as baseball, softball, tennis, track and field, and soccer in an effort to reduce travel costs for districts statewide, Chief Operations Officer Jim Burkey in the Oklahoma City district, the state’s largest, said the district pays less than a motorist at the pump because it buys in bulk, but still paid $3.21 per gallon for about 15,000 gallons of gas earlier this month, up from $2.45 per gallon the district paid in December. He said the cost, which he estimated at about $6,000 a day, has not yet led to the consideration of canceling or suspending field trips or travel for athletic events “Not at this point, but again, that is going to be something we constantly review,” Burkey said. “These are all things we’re going to have to take a look at, if these things (rising fuel costs) continue, a serious look at.”

Read more from The Associated Press.

Group says bill to eliminate income tax flawed

Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature are moving forward with a plan to phase out the state’s personal income tax over the next 10 years. Governor Fallin has been pushing to reduce the state income tax. The bill that just passed in the House is bringing that goal one step closer. But it’s also frustrating others. “This is not what we need to be a healthier state, better educated state,” said David Blatt with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. The Oklahoma Policy Institute has been an active voice in the debate over the proposed elimination of the state’s personal income tax. They argue no state income tax means more cuts to education, less funding for disabled Oklahomans, and possibly higher sales and property taxes. “I think most Oklahomans would rather not be paying more at the grocery store or when filling up their car with gas or when their annual property tax bill comes around,” Blatt said.

Read more from NewsOn6.

Ken Miller: Don’t cut the College Savings Plan deduction

Q: Is the state tax deduction on contributions to Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan in danger of being eliminated? A: The Legislature is considering a few proposals to end the tax deduction. The governing board of the saving plan unanimously has voted to oppose efforts to eliminate the deduction and the plan has widespread support in the Legislature. I believe support for continuing the deduction will grow as lawmakers hear from the Oklahoma families who are seeing their loved ones benefit from earning a college degree paid for with money invested in the plan. Families have used the plan to pay for more than $152 million of higher education costs. Q: How do the tax deductions to the state plan encourage saving for college? A: Oklahoma families can deduct up to $20,000 per year from their state taxable income for contributions to the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan and, as with an individual retirement account, taxpayers can claim the deduction for contributions made up until the tax-filing deadline of April 17. Nearly 10,000 Oklahoma taxpayers annually claim the deduction, keeping on average an extra $242 of their hard-earned money each year.

Read more from NewsOK.

Budget cuts lead to long waiting lists for rehab

Oklahoma ranks at the top of the nation when it comes to prescription painkiller abuse. We also rank high in meth and alcohol addiction. But for those people seeking help, it doesn’t come easily. The waiting list for state-run rehab facilities has between 600 and 900 people any given day. The reason: less money and more addicts. And while addicts are waiting for their name to get at the top of that list, many end up in jail or worse: they overdose. “The challenge of having such a significant and daunting waiting list is many times by the time their name is called, the throws of addiction have re-emerged and they may be off doing something different that isn’t so healthy,” said Steven Buck, deputy commissioner of Communication and Prevention Services of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance abuse services. Budget cuts in 2009, 2010, and 2011 led to the closure of some state-run facilities. In the last few years, The Oklahoma Department of Substance Abuse’s budget has remained flat. But the number of people needing treatment has continued to grow, and has the overall cost of doing business. “Every time those costs increase, we don’t receive additional resources,” said Buck. “We lose ground in this fight.”

Read more from News9.

Panel backs plan to fund new Medical Examiner’s office with higher ed bond

A legislative committee turned back an attempt Monday to block bond financing for a $42 million state Medical Examiner’s Office facility on the University of Central Oklahoma campus. On an 11-1 vote, the House Appropriations and Budget Committee rejected an effort by Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, to remove the new facility from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s master lease program. Under a state law passed in 2008, if the Legislature doesn’t vote to remove the plan from the list within 45 days of notification, the regents can go ahead with bond financing. Murphey said the master lease program was designed for relatively small, short-term financing projects, such as roof repairs, and the Medical Examiner’s Office facility would open the door for any project that backers can’t muster political support for in the Legislature under an ordinary bond proposal. Reached by telephone after Monday’s hearing, State Bond Advisor Jim Joseph said the master lease program has been used for a larger project than the Medical Examiner’s Office once in the past – a student union project for Oklahoma State University.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects city of Hugo’s appeal for right to sell water

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected without comment the city of Hugo’s appeal to sue the state of Oklahoma for the right to sell water in southeastern Oklahoma to the city of Irving, Texas. The high court’s ruling upholds a 2-1 ruling in September by the 10th Circuit Court of appeals to dismiss Hugo’s lawsuit. The divided three-judge panel on the Circuit Court ordered that the lawsuit by the far southeastern Oklahoma city of just fewer than 5,400 be dismissed. Hugo officials had sought legal authority to sell 200,000 acre-feet, or about 65 billion gallons, of water to Irving, located northwest of Dallas. The lawsuit sought to overturn a law requiring legislative approval before the city is allowed to sell the water.

Read more from the Associated Press.

So many other states can operate in the open, why not Oklahoma?

An effort to shine a little light on the sausage-making process at the state Capitol has come and gone, and is most certainly finished for good this session. It’ll return, although the bill’s demise last week was an indication of just how protracted and challenging will be the push to hold Oklahoma lawmakers to most of the same open record and open meeting laws as other public officials. Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, called the opposition “intense,” and said it was clear that there were “a large number of members who are not prepared for transparency.” Why not? Perhaps because the bill would have opened access to correspondence between lawmakers and lobbyists, who can have considerable sway as bills are being written and rewritten. Or perhaps because they believe the current setup is just fine, thank you, and doesn’t need to be messed with. Those excuses and others are hogwash. If city and county governments can be held to the state’s open records and open meetings laws, then certainly the men and women who are responsible for producing state law can do the same.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

If city and county governments can be held to the state’s open records and open meetings laws, then certainly the men and women who are responsible for producing state law can do the same.
NewsOK editorial board

Number of the Day


Number of homeless children in Oklahoma who are under age 6

Source: National Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Gender Gap Persists in Cost of Health Insurance

Women still pay more than men for the same health insurance coverage, according to new research and data from online brokers. The new health care law will prohibit such “gender rating,” starting in 2014. But gaps persist in most states, with no evidence that insurers have taken steps to reduce them. For a popular Blue Cross Blue Shield plan in Chicago, a 30-year-old woman pays $375 a month, which is 31 percent more than what a man of the same age pays for the same coverage, according to, a leading online source of health insurance. In a report to be issued this week, the National Women’s Law Center, a research and advocacy group, says that in states that have not banned gender rating, more than 90 percent of the best-selling health plans charge women more than men.

Read more from The New York Times.

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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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