In The Know: Tulsa Public Schools dropping classes, increasing class sizes to cope with funding cuts

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 Tulsa schools are bracing for another round of teacher cuts that would hike most class sizes and eliminate electives help prepare students for college. House Democrats warned that income tax cuts would endanger public safety in Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog shares a guest post on why the “Texas model” for the economy is not all it seems.

Today at 1pm at the Oklahoma History Center, a policy forum will be held on “Eliminating the Income Tax: Silver Bullet or Fool’s Gold?” You can preview slides from the presentations and see related studies here.

A House committee killed an amendment to increase the homestead exemption on property taxes. A committee voted to eliminate a fee charged to promoters of pay-per-view events and replace it with $200,000 from the General Fund. A judge has ordered DHS to pay a former Atoka County child welfare worker $244,694 — ruling the agency wrongfully fired her based on a slipshod internal investigation.

A House committee approved a bill that would allow doctors providing abortions to be sued for not following all of the state requirements. A survey conducted by Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce found that most state businesses are confident about the economy. See the survey results here. A decade after Right to Work was institute in Oklahoma, controversy over its effects remains.

The Number of the Day is the percentage of jobs in Oklahoma that are “low-wage jobs.” In today’s Policy Note, the Earth Policy Institute shows that wind power is growing much faster than other major sources of electricity.

In The News

TPS dropping classes, increasing class sizes to cope with funding cuts

Students, teachers and principals are bracing for another round of teacher cuts that promise to hike most class sizes and cost high schools the academic elective offerings that help prepare students for college. Tulsa Public Schools is slashing 150 positions for 2012-13 and that means principals are in the midst of making hard decisions as they formulate their fall class schedules. At Memorial High School, Principal Chris Johnson is expecting to lose as many as 13 positions, including an assistant principal and a counselor. Since this will be the second consecutive year of deep staffing cuts in TPS, Johnson and other high school principals are faced with dropping upper level French and Spanish, plus science and social studies electives. There will likely be 34-38 students in Jennifer Howland’s Advanced Placement history classes come fall, compared to her average class size of 29 now. Tulsa Superintendent Keith Ballard told the school board this week that rebounding state revenues are slated to be used to fund income tax cuts, rather than restoring public school funding.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

House Democrats saying income tax cuts would endanger public safety

Several House Democrats pledged Wednesday to vote against cutting the state’s personal income tax because of the adverse effect it will have to properly fund public safety and the state’s roads and bridges. “The safety and well-being of Oklahomans is provided by our law enforcement, who patrol highways and investigate and prosecute crimes, by our firefighters who go to great lengths to protect life and property, and by our correctional officers who stand guard and ensure violent criminals stay behind bars and off our streets,” said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, during a news conference attended by several House Democrats. “In the very least, we need to provide the financial resources to keep them safe in their dangerous jobs, and when they are consistently understaffed and overworked, we are doing them an injustice.” Five Republican-sponsored bills, including one proposed by Gov. Mary Fallin, call for reducing the top personal income tax rate of 5.25 percent anywhere from a quarter percent to as much as 3 percent. All the proposals will eventually be assigned to a conference committee to come up with a compromise.

Read more from NewsOK.

The “Texas model” is hard to follow and not all it seems

The Governor of Oklahoma and policymakers in Kansas, Missouri, and other states have proposed income tax cuts that they say will boost economic growth. To make their case, they have cited the example of Texas, which has no income tax and where growth has been strong. But in reality, Texas is not a helpful model for economic growth for the rest of the country. True, the number of people and jobs in Texas has been expanding. But, as we discuss in our recent paper, much of Texas’ growth results not from its policies but rather from factors that state officials cannot control and that other states cannot emulate. And not everything is rosy in Texas. For instance, Texas has lots of low-wage jobs and lots of poverty.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

House committee kills bid to increase Homestead exemption

A House committee approved a bill Wednesday that calls for the gradual elimination of the state’s personal income tax. The panel also killed a measure that would have increased the base homestead exemption for eligible homeowners. Increasing the homestead exemption in property taxes from $1,000 to $1,200 would have resulted in a decrease of about $16.2 million to counties across the state, according to a House of Representatives fiscal report. The amendment was attached to Senate Bill 1036, which would raise the gross household income eligibility from $20,000 to $22,000 or 50 percent of the federal median income for each county. Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, House author of the measure, said the rate hadn’t been increased in about 20 years. SB 1036 passed 15-0 and now goes to the full House. Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, also received approval for her measure that would reduce and gradually eliminate the personal income tax.

Read more from NewsOK.

Measure would end pay-per-view fee

A measure that would provide about $200,000 to the Oklahoma State Athletic Commission to avert possible litigation over pay-per-view martial arts fighting events won unanimous approval Wednesday by a legislative committee. Rep. Tom Newell, House author of the measure, said the appropriation will replace earnings the Athletic Commission gets from a 4 percent fee charged to promoters for the pay-per-view events. The commission has temporarily suspended granting any new permits for boxing, professional wrestling or mixed martial arts events in the state because of threatened litigation by the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The cable providers collect the 4 percent fee and forward the money to the Athletic Commission. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, the largest promoter of mixed martial arts fights in the country, has threatened to sue the state if the fee is not revoked. The commission earns about $240,000 from the pay-per-view events, which is about two-thirds of the commission’s budget. Newell said the legislative appropriation for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1, would not be permanent. The Athletic Commission will have to restructure its fees, which will take about a year, he said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma DHS ordered to pay fired worker $245k

A judge has ordered DHS to pay a former Atoka County child welfare worker $244,694 — ruling the agency wrongfully fired her based on the results of a slipshod internal investigation. Annette Watson, 48, of Atoka, told The Oklahoman Wednesday that she feels vindicated by the verdict in the nonjury trial. The allegations stemmed from a complaint a DHS supervisor received that Watson had violated confidentiality laws. Wilson, former DHS Area IV supervisor, elected to terminate Watson without first interviewing Watson to get her side of the story, without interviewing the woman to whom she had supposedly leaked confidential information, and without interviewing the woman who filed the possible child abuse complaint, the judge wrote. Watson told The Oklahoman she believes she was targeted for discipline because she speaks her mind and had testified contrary to the way supervisors wanted her to in a case where two children had been removed from a home where a meth lab had been operating. Watson said her supervisors wanted her to recommend placement of the children in the guardianship of their grandmother, because their goal was to reduce the number of children in state custody. “I said ‘no,’” Watson said. “The grandmother had not been truthful with us and the grandfather had a felony.” Also, the grandmother’s home was right next to the home with the meth lab, she said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Bill would allow abortion doctors to be sued

State Sen. Clark Jolley tried to frame his bill as not being about abortion but about what he called lying doctors. He failed in that attempt, but was still able to get his bill passed. House Bill 2561 would allow a woman who had an abortion in Oklahoma the right to sue the abortion provider if certain regulations were not followed. The bill names several state regulations for the abortion provider to follow before an abortion is performed including: – Performing an ultrasound on the pregnant woman. – The abortion provider has received the informed consent of the pregnant woman. – The abortion provider has given the pregnant woman reading materials concerning abortion. – The abortion provider has received consent from the parents or legal guardian of the pregnant woman if she is a minor. Jolley admitted he has no statistics on abortion providers lying to women considering abortion. But he did say he knows of instances where it has happened. And while trying to argue the bill is not about regulating women’s bodies, Jolley also revealed the legislation came at the request of Oklahomans for Life, the state’s leading pro-life organization.

Read more from OKLegalNews.

Oklahoma businesses responding to Governor’s survey confident about the future

Most Oklahoma business executives are confident their businesses will grow and about a third plan to hire workers this year, according to the findings of an online survey of company owners and officials released Wednesday. But more than half are less than positive about government services and do not believe future state legislation will have a positive impact on their businesses, according to the survey. The survey was launched in December by Gov. Mary Fallin and Department of Commerce officials to determine what business leaders want to help their businesses grow. Almost 5,400 business leaders from all 77 counties that employ more than 250,000 people completed the survey, according to Commerce Department officials. Lopez said the survey focused on businesses already located in the state rather than the agency’s attempts to recruit out-of-state employers.

Read more from Businessweek.

See also: The survey results

A decade after Right to Work, bitterness remains in Oklahoma

Last month, Indiana enacted a law giving workers the choice to opt out of paying union dues. It’s the first successful right-to-work proposal since Oklahoma’s in 2001. Indiana looked to Oklahoma for input on the law’s effects. But the Hoosiers found mixed signals from the Sooner state showing business and union leaders still don’t agree on the issue. The numbers can be confusing. Pay for manufacturing workers is down slightly and population increases are a trend across most of the Sun Belt, regardless of whether workers can be forced to pay dues. Assigning credit or blame exclusively to right-to-work isn’t possible. Oklahoma AFL-CIO President Jim Curry says fewer than one-in-ten union represented workers choose to opt out of paying dues. And union membership is actually increasing in Oklahoma, following the economic recovery. The number of dues-paying workers was up a percentage point in 2011 to about 6 .5 percent. Still, Curry says right-to-work damaged his members.

Read more from StateImpact Oklahoma.

Quote of the Day

There are going to be kids who need extra assistance, and they’re not going to get it. There are going to be kids who started in Russian and can’t finish it. This sucks, and it’s going to suck for a long time for a lot of kids.
Anna America, vice president of the Tulsa school board, on funding cuts that are requiring the district to drop classes and increase class sizes

Number of the Day


Percentage of jobs in Oklahoma that are ‘low-wage jobs (median annual pay below $21,954), 6th highest in the nation in 2010

Source: Corporation for Enterprise Development

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Wind power growing faster than other top electricity sources

A new picture is emerging in the U.S. power sector. In 2007, electricity generation from coal peaked, dropping by close to 4 percent annually between 2007 and 2011. Over the same time period, nuclear generation fell slightly, while natural gas-fired electricity grew by some 3 percent annually and hydropower by 7 percent. Meanwhile, wind-generated electricity grew by a whopping 36 percent each year. Multiple factors underlie this nascent shift in U.S. electricity production, including the global recession, increasing energy efficiency, and more economically recoverable domestic natural gas. But ultimately it is the increasing attractiveness of wind as an energy source that will drive it into prominence. Wind power accounted for just 2.9 percent of total electricity generation in the United States in 2011. In five U.S. states, however, 10 percent or more of electricity generation came from wind.

Read more from the Earth Policy Institute.

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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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