In The Know: Stitt, GOP leaders announce deal on agency directors; Per-student formula funding remains well below decade ago; Medical marijuana rules taking shape

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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

The School Counselor Corps would be a lifeline for students. Ask the Legislature to fund it: Oklahoma schools desperately need more school counselors. Oklahoma has 435 students for every counselor, nearly double the recommended ratio of 250 students per counselor. To help address this problem, the State Department of Education has asked the Legislature for $58 million dollars to fund a School Counselor Corps, which would allow districts to hire additional school counselors and licensed therapists. [OK Policy]

In The News

Stitt, GOP leaders announce deal on agency directors: Republican leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature have reached an agreement to reform the process of hiring agency directors at five key state departments. Flanked by more than 70 GOP legislators, Gov. Kevin Stitt joined House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) at a 4 p.m. press conference today to announce the agreement. [NonDoc] Agreement struck to give governor power to pick more agency heads. [NewsOK] Republican lawmakers pledge to expand Stitt’s executive powers. [Journal Record]

Legislation would ease licensure for certain professions: A bill that would ease restrictions on felons who hope to become licensed to earn livings in certain professions has passed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and is headed for the Senate. State Rep. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole, who authored House Bill 1373, known as “Fresh Start,” said the measure would help to reduce Oklahoma’s high incarceration rate in a way that would still protect public safety. [Journal Record] Limiting restrictions on occupational licenses for those with prior felony offenses is one of our 2019 policy priorities. 

Despite boost last year, Oklahoma’s per-student formula funding remains well below decade ago: Oklahoma lawmakers may have improved state funding for public schools more than any other state in the country in 2018, but according to a new national comparison, only Texas is worse when it comes to stacking up current state aid levels against those provided before recession struck a decade ago. [Tulsa World] 12 states spend less on schools now than before the recession. [CBS News] Increasing preK-12 state aid funding to restore school staffing and programs is one of our 2019 policy priorities.

Superintendents: Classes too large: Administrators from area public school districts underscored the ongoing financial challenges of their schools during a public panel discussion organized by Public Education Advocates for Kids Monday night. Panelists included school district superintendents Chuck McCauley of Bartlesville, Rick Peters of Caney Valley, Nicole Hinkle of Bowring and Vince Vincent of Dewey. [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise] We previously discussed the negative impact of large class sizes on student outcomes

Bartlesville High School senior: ‘We deserve better’ from our Legislature: In January, I joined students from Tulsa-area school districts at a legislative forum in Broken Arrow. As we waited, I looked around the room and couldn’t help but notice that over half of the students attending were female, and at least a quarter were people of color. [Liza Williams / Tulsa World]

Spotting mental health needs in students: Oklahoma legislators could soon be providing teachers with more ways to help students’ mental health. A bill would tap into the state’s Departments of Education and Mental Health to create programs for teachers to give them the tools to spot and help mental health issues. [KJRH]

Paid family leave gains momentum in states as bipartisan support grows: Some of those measures are expected to make inroads in swing states, including Minnesota, Colorado and Maine. Even historically conservative states like Indiana, Oklahoma and Nebraska are expected to consider proposals this year. [KOSU]

Medical marijuana rules taking shape: A bill establishing regulations that will affect users and sellers of medical marijuana in Oklahoma passed a Senate rules committee on Tuesday and may be fast-tracked for a vote by the entire Senate as early as March 11. [Journal Record] Medical marijuana ‘Unity Bill’ unanimously advances from Oklahoma Senate committee. [Tulsa World]

Lawmaker argues why Oklahoma should switch to year-round daylight saving time: Daylight saving time has been practice since the early 1900s, but some Oklahoma lawmakers say springing forward is archaic and outdated. That’s why state Sen. Joseph Silk authored Senate Bill 1309, which would was introduced during the 2018 legislative session. [KOCO]

‘Astronomical symbol’ debate takes Oklahoma House where it’s frequently gone before: Designating a distant nebula as the state astronomical symbol might not seem like a big deal — which was exactly the point that unexpectedly set off fireworks in the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Tuesday. [Tulsa World]

Proposed laws: Noteworthy bills still alive in the Legislature as many measures died in committee: Oklahoma legislators filed more than 2,800 bills and joint resolutions for the 2019 session. The total included 1,733 House bills, 1,040 Senate bills, 21 House joint resolutions and the same number of Senate joint resolutions. Joint resolutions are the usual measures being referred to a vote of the people. [Tulsa World] We discussed key bills that have died this session after they failed to pass out of committee in our latest Bill Watch post.

Wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Oklahoma Health Department: More than one dozen locals were included in a petition filed on behalf of 156 plaintiffs accusing the Oklahoma State Department of Health of wrongful termination. The petition, filed in Oklahoma County District Court, states the action is brought by former and current OSDH employees “who were terminated or forced to retire” during the department’s reduction-in-force plan in 2017 and 2018. [McAlester News-Capital]

Alzheimer’s disease still on the rise in Oklahoma, with costs up 20 percent as more are diagnosed: The continuing rise in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia diagnoses is expected to result in Medicaid costs of more than $600 million by 2025 in Oklahoma. For 2019, those costs were just below $500 million. [Tulsa World]

Inmate who died in Cimarron Co. jail hanged himself with extension cord mistakenly left by contractors: An inmate who died by suicide in the Cimarron County jail hanged himself with an extension cord that was left in or near his cell by construction workers, records show. [The Frontier]

Principals learn new assignments day after OKCPS closure vote: Oklahoma City Public Schools on Tuesday announced new assignments for more than two dozen principals, a day after the school board passed a plan to close 15 schools and reconfigure or relocate 17 others. [NewsOK ????] President, CEO of The Foundation for OKC Public Schools takes on new leadership roles in national organization. [NewsOK]

Construction begins on Midship natural gas pipeline: Construction has begun on the Midship Pipeline, a 200-mile natural gas pipeline planned to run through eight Oklahoma counties, starting in Kingfisher County and ending in Bryan County. [Journal Record]

Quote of the Day

“We are the ones who are directly affected by the decisions of our legislators and we are not fooled by vague promises. Oklahoma continues to have budget problems because of ill-advised tax cuts and a lack of high expectations for public education. Hoping the economy continues to do well is not the leadership our representatives should demonstrate. It’s defeatism. It’s treading water. We deserve better.” 

– Bartlesville High School senior Liza Williams [Source: Tulsa World]

Number of the Day

50 hours

Average response time from a report of child maltreatment in Oklahoma to an investigation, below the national average of 65 hours.

[Source: Child Trends]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Medicaid expansion has changed the landscape for Native American health care: More American Indians with health insurance coverage means the historically underfunded Indian Health Services is able to get higher reimbursements for services it provides or contracts for in hospitals and clinics on Montana’s seven reservations and for services for American Indians who live off reservations. Treating more people who have health insurance has meant the clinic and other programs the Alliance runs, like mental health services and a substance use disorder treatment program, are able to get paid more for what they provide. And the money coming back is invested into providing more services. [Helena Independent Record]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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