In The Know: Superintendent Ryan Walters will remain education secretary and draw 2 state paychecks | New director comments on troubled tourism department | More

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.

Oklahoma News

Religious Charter School Test Case Rests With an Oklahoma Board Lacking Enough Members to Meet: The nation will be watching to see how an Oklahoma board appointed by the governor and legislative leaders handles a proposed Catholic online school. If approved, the school operated by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City would swing open the door for tax-payer funded, religious instruction at other charter schools. [Oklahoma Watch]

Superintendent Ryan Walters will retain education secretary role, draw 2 paychecks: State schools Superintendent Ryan Walters will remain the governor’s education secretary, giving him additional influence on the state’s education landscape, while also drawing two paychecks from the state. Walters will be paid $124,373 a year as superintendent, a position he was elected to in November. But he also will continue making $40,000 a year as secretary of education, the governor’s office confirmed. [The Oklahoman]

A ‘culture of silence and secrecy,’ new Oklahoma tourism director says of troubled agency: Oklahoma’s tourism agency is recovering from a “toxic environment” and suffers from a lack of financial checks and balances, according to its new executive director. [The Oklahoman]

Women’s correctional facility in OKC to close; inmates moving to Eddie Warrior in Taft: The Oklahoma City Community Corrections Center, used since 2017 as a transitional facility for female inmates nearing the end of their sentences, will officially close Jan. 20, a spokesman for the agency confirmed. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Lawyers allege improper handling of ACCESS turnpike project payments, OTA appeals Open Meeting Act violation: A new suit filed in Cleveland County District Court alleges the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority improperly remedied its Open Meeting Act violation and owes about $42 million. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Oklahoma Sen. Dahm files legislation to prevent ‘further pandemic tyranny’: Senator Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, has filed multiple pieces of legislation aimed at ending any remnants of the “COVID tyranny” ensuring greater limitations on government power during emergencies, and providing greater protections for individual freedoms in the event of such emergencies. [KTUL]

Oklahoma ag secretary takes leadership role at food export association: Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur, who has focused efforts on expanding export opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and agricultural businesses in the state, has been named president of the Food Export Association of the Midwest USA. [Journal Record]

We fact-checked Gov. Kevin Stitt’s inaugural address: Does Oklahoma outrank neighboring states in teacher pay? We looked into it. [The Frontier]

Tribal Nations News

Gov. Kevin Stitt personally invited tribal leaders to his inauguration. Many showed up: Tribal leaders had attended Stitt’s first inauguration in 2019. But soon after, the governor’s relations with many tribal nations dissolved over disputes about gaming, taxing and prosecutorial power. For tribal leaders and citizens, one of the biggest points of conflict was the lack of communication from the governor and his office. The Osage Nation in northern Oklahoma, along with many other tribes, backed Stitt’s opponent last fall. [The Oklahoman]

  • After years of conflict, why did tribal leaders attend Oklahoma governor’s inauguration? [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma Gov. Stitt pledges ‘new day’ in working with 39 tribes [The Oklahoman]

‘It was a massacre’: Cheyenne and Arapaho leaders push to rename Oklahoma site: As the sun rose on a cold morning in 1868, hundreds of U.S. soldiers, led by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, attacked Cheyenne families camped for the winter along the Washita River. Stories passed down by survivors recount what happened as a massacre. Other evidence backs them up. Yet when people visit the land today, the first thing they see is its official name: Washita Battlefield National Historic Site. [Tulsa World]

Health News

‘I’ve been there, too.’ How Oklahoma 988 director brings experience to job, helping others: When Tony Stelter stepped into his role overseeing the Oklahoma City call center for the statewide 988 mental health line, he brought years of experience working in the state’s mental health system. He also brings the experience of someone who’s been there before — who knows what it’s like to struggle with mental illness and substance abuse, and to find hope in recovery. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Inmate dies at city of Tulsa Municipal Jail: A woman died at the city of Tulsa Municipal Jail last week. The Tulsa Police Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for the woman’s identity. In a news release from TPD, she’s identified as a 48-year-old woman arrested Thursday night at WINCO Foods on South Memorial Drive on outstanding warrants around trespassing, jaywalking, and public intoxication. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Column: Interim CEO: Our vision for Oklahoma County jail includes reducing deaths: When people talk about improving a community, the local jail isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind. But the people of Oklahoma County understand having a safe, secure detention center is key to building a compassionate, thriving metro area. [Maj. Brandi Garner Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

After deaths, failed health inspections, Oklahoma County jail changing intake process: Oklahoma County’s jail operator is prioritizing learning more about the health of its inmates by changing its intake process, its top executive says. Maj. Brandi Garner, the jail’s interim CEO, said the changes are aimed at giving jailers a better appraisal of arrestees’ health issues earlier in the intake process. [The Oklahoman]

Armed man shot and killed by officers in McAlester: Authorities are investigating after officers fatally shot an armed man who was reportedly having a “mental episode” Saturday night in McAlester. Officers from the McAlester police department, with assistance from Krebs police, at 8:25 p.m. were called to the 1900 block of Green Meadows Drive in McAlester, where a 911 caller had “requested a welfare check on a male subject that was having a mental episode,” the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said in a news release. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Why some shopping in downtown OKC has worked, and why some (like groceries) hasn’t: The golden era of department stores, boutiques, theaters and shops lighting up Main Street are long gone and unlikely to ever return, but a new report shows retail is on the rebound in downtown Oklahoma City. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Oklahoma’s Agriculture department will expand avenues for farm-to-school lunches: A new school meal program will allow some Oklahoma school districts to provide more nutritious meals to students by partnering with local farmers and ranchers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service has expanded its Local Food for Schools program to Oklahoma through a $3 million cooperative agreement with Oklahoma’s Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. [KOSU]

TCC dual-credit programs seeing double-digit enrollment growth: Officials at Tulsa Community College are continuing to see higher enrollment numbers from Oklahoma high school students. With registration still open through Monday for 16-week courses, Lissa Steadley, director of TCC’s Dual Credit Programs, said her office has already seen an enrollment increase of more than 10% among its six offerings for the second consecutive spring semester. [Tulsa World]

What do Oklahoma students lose when traditional teacher certification becomes a luxury?: Oklahoma’s teacher shortage led to a record-breaking 3,780 emergency teaching certifications issued in 2022. In 2020, the legislature expanded the program to allow for renewals for up to three years. [KOSU]

General News

‘It will kill our town.’ Residents upstream from Grand Lake worry more flooding could be headed their way: Records show state and federal authorities have been aware of potential flooding risks for decades. [The Frontier]

Column: King’s ‘Mountaintop’ is a testament to problems that need solving: Mountains are truly a beautiful wonder of nature, and their prominence evoke a sense of awe and wonder about the awesomeness of the one who created them. It is this understanding that alludes to the significance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final speech titled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” [Goldie Thompson Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

Column: Americans’ mythologized version of King paints false narrative: Every January, Americans trot out a mythologized version of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Overwhelmingly, the sound bites center a passive King and his improvised “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered on a pleasant summer day in August 1963 in the nation’s capital. [Brandy Thomas Wells Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in Tulsa only once. His presence has not been forgotten [Tulsa World]
  • OKC sues oil company for stealing water intended for emergency drought relief [KOSU]

Quote of the Day

“Appreciating King’s legacy means wrestling with how far we have and have not moved toward the Beloved Community. It means moving beyond a narrow King frozen in time and minimized to one speech and rejecting a mythologized version of his message. In his last book and other published works across his lifetime, King incessantly called for an honest reckoning with racism and related issues of discrimination in American history and society.”

– Brandy Thomas Wells, assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University, reflecting on King’s legacy and the anti-racist work that still remains. [Brandy Thomas Wells Guest Column / The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


The average life expectancy in years for the total U.S. population in 2021, down 0.6 years from 2020. Nine of the 10 leading causes of death in 2021 remained the same as in 2020. Heart disease, cancer, and COVID-19 remained the top 3 leading causes. [Centers for Disease Control]

Policy Note

Tax-Related Migration Is Grossly Exaggerated: a Research Preview: Policymakers will consider potential tax code changes in many states’ 2023 legislative sessions, and one oft-cited argument they shouldn’t consider is the claim that state taxes are a significant driver of people moving into or out of a state. Most people in the U.S. plant roots in the places they live, and it takes a lot to uproot and move across state lines. Only about 1.5 percent of people make interstate moves in any given year. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

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Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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