In The Know: Winter storm impacts utilities, vaccine distributions | OK higher ed cuts among nation’s highest | Justice reform measures needed

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.

New from OK Policy

Oklahoma among worst states for higher education cuts, harming students who already face the greatest barriers: Even before COVID-19 brought new challenges to state education systems, a new report out this week shows that Oklahoma was one of 6 states that cut higher education funding by more than 30 percent between 2008 and 2019: Oklahoma cut higher education allocations by 35.3 percent, or $3,515, per student in 2019 when compared with a decade earlier. Oklahoma had the nation’s third largest percentage decrease in state higher education funding during that period, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report released Feb. 17. Oklahoma’s failure to invest in higher education during the last decade has contributed to rising college tuition prices, which the report shows has been particularly harmful to students of color and those with low incomes. [CBPP & OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Rethinking Oklahoma’s ‘tough on crime’ approach to justice: “Lock ‘em up and throw away the key!” If you want to make our communities safer, this “tough on crime” approach is the exact opposite of what will make our communities safer and more stable. Need proof? Just overlay Oklahoma’s top-3 status for incarceration rate with Oklahoma’s crime statistics. FBI statistics show Oklahoma has the nation’s seventh-highest property crime rate and the 15th-highest violent crime rate. Decades of our “tough on crime” approach filled our prisons and jails, but our crime rate continued in the nation’s upper tier. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Winter storm delays thousands of COVID-19 vaccine deliveries, shots in Oklahoma: A winter storm that has blanketed Oklahoma in snow has postponed thousands of COVID-19 vaccinations in the state and delayed tens of thousands of doses that were expected to be delivered from the federal government early this week. [The Frontier] Numerous vaccination clinics across Oklahoma were already canceled or postponed because of the weather, according to the state health department. [AP News] The state said it is taking precautions to avoid any wasted doses with the threat of power outages and canceled appointments as temperatures have plunged and snow has blanketed the state. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma governor seeks federal disaster declaration [AP News] | [The Oklahoman] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • US needs to brace itself for more deadly storms, experts say [AP News]
  • Another boost to vaccine shipments for Oklahomans expected next week, state health officials say [Tulsa World]
  • COVID-19: 28 more deaths reported in Oklahoma with 1,078 new cases [Tulsa World]

Order directs utilities to prioritize natural gas and electric services to preserve the health, safety and welfare of the public: Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners were all about addressing natural gas supply issues on the upstream side Monday. Tuesday, they refocused their attention on downstream natural gas and electricity needs of critical businesses and residents by considering a proposed emergency order aiming to keep both flowing. [The Oklahoman] The Commission issued an emergency order late Wednesday telling gas and power companies to prioritize their service during prolonged freezing temperatures. The order does not direct companies to cut off anyone specifically. [Public Radio Tulsa] Brandy L. Wreath, director of the Public Utility Division for the OCC, said he thought the order would be the most efficient means of providing utilities with a “tool” they may need in the coming hours and days as they make the hard decisions to shut off power to residents and businesses during rolling blackouts. [Journal Record]

Three companies receive Medicaid managed care dental contracts: The Oklahoma Health Care Authority announced Wednesday morning that three companies have been selected to receive managed care dental contracts for Oklahoma’s Medicaid oral health plans. The initial contracts, which start in June, will last for a year with an option to renew for five years at the discretion of the OHCA. [NonDoc] Plans for managed care have met with resistance from some lawmakers and medical professionals in the state. [Journal Record]

Health News

Op-Ed: For the children: A blizzard of mental health needs: Much of our homelessness crisis stems from the crisis in mental health, which affects people of all ages. Nearly 60% of Oklahomans in need of mental health treatment last year did not receive help, according to Mental Health America. A large part of this comes from a lack of support for state programs. [Joe Dorman / The Duncan Banner]

State Government News

Oklahoma lawmakers propose less ambitious, more targeted criminal justice reforms: Oklahoma has made some big changes to its justice system in recent years. Activists and lawmakers proposed big picture reforms and some of the suggestions succeeded. But reformers have taken some losses too. Most of the reform agendas for the 2017 and 2019 legislative sessions were voted down or blocked from passing early procedural hurdles. [StateImpact Oklahoma] OK Policy 2021 Policy Priorities: Justice reform can make Oklahoma’s communities safer.

Health issues to watch during Oklahoma’s 2021 legislative session: Oklahoma lawmakers have their work cut out for them on the health front. The Legislature will have to fund Medicaid expansion and likely a managed Medicaid program. Several members filed legislation that highlight anxieties in the pandemic, such as bans on employer immunization requirements. And with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, the state’s Republican supermajority is certain to approve more legislation to limit abortion access. [StateImpact Oklahoma] OK Policy’s 2021 Policy Priorities: State leaders can best serve Oklahomans by ensuring a comprehensive and well-funded Medicaid expansion.

Capitol Insider: Governor outlines agenda for legislative session: In a wide ranging interview shortly after his State of the State address, Governor Kevin Stitt discussed his goals for the 2021 Oklahoma Legislative Session with KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley. In part one of the interview, Stitt discussed state-tribal relations; in part two he talked about education, economic development, government regulation, the state’s coronavirus response, his relationship with the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate and 2021 policy priorities. [KGOU]

What to know about Oklahoma’s redistricting process as Census delays create complications: One of the most important issues Oklahoma lawmakers face this year is redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts for the next decade. But it’s likely the redistricting process won’t be complete during the regular legislative session that runs from February through May. [The Oklahoman]

Stop the clock! Oklahoma House considers scrapping Daylight Saving Time: The great Daylight Saving Time debate is back on. This year, Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, is trying to alleviate Oklahomans’ widely if perhaps not altogether intensely held disdain for jumping forward and falling back with House Bill 1660. [Tulsa World]

State’s poultry waste data falls short: After four years of annual reports the general public no longer has access to a detailed accounting of how nearly 200,000 tons of waste produced by Oklahoma’s Poultry Feeding Operations is exported or applied on state lands, including sensitive watersheds. [The Frontier]

Economic Opportunity

Pandemic putting tenants and landlords in a tough spot, help is on the way: On a Monday morning in February, dozens of people lined up out outside one courtroom on the sixth floor of the Oklahoma County Courthouse. Inside, a judge hears hundreds of eviction cases each week. [FOX25]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma sees large increase in renewable energy production over the past decade: Oklahoma is ranked third in the nation for having the largest increase in renewable energy production over the past decade, according to a recent report. The state’s total renewable energy production jumped from almost 7 million MWh in 2010 to over 33 million MWh in 2019. That’s almost a 400% increase. [KGOU]

Oklahoma farmers and ranchers struggle through deep freeze: The cold weather gripping Oklahoma and a large swath of the United States is creating headaches for farmers who are working day and night to keep their livestock alive. The subzero temperatures are causing oil in tractors to gel and stop working, and water tanks to freeze over. [KOSU]

Education News

Tulsa school board approves students’ return to schools next week: The Tulsa Public Schools Board on Tuesday night narrowly approved bringing students back in-person starting next week. Fourth, fifth and sixth graders; seventh graders at junior high schools; ninth graders; and tier three and four students with special needs will return Tuesday. Other students will return Thursday. [Public Radio Tulsa] Families will still have the option to keep their students in distance learning. [Tulsa World]

‘Trying our best’: Oklahoma students talk school during the pandemic: When examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered Oklahoma education, we often ask medical experts and school officials to provide a picture of what is and should be happening with students. But students have their own insights on exactly how much things have changed and how these changes have affected them. [NonDoc]

General News

Spiro Mounds exhibit reveals life of Wichita, Caddo Nations’ ancestors: The Supreme Court’s decision last year in McGirt v. Oklahoma forced a reckoning within the state, exposing bare the foundational yet fraught relationship between Oklahoma and the Native American tribes. [OKC Free Press]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC Council virtual meeting takes action on debris removal, economic dev [OKC Free Press]
  • OKC Councilman apologizes for ‘fried foods’ remark [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“The majority of people that apply with us (for eviction help) definitely are saying that they are still impacted by the pandemic. Whether it’s being able to find a job, whether it’s not being able to work because their kids are at home.”

– Jennifer Montagna, Legal Aid attorney [Fox25]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma cut higher education allocations by 35.3 percent per student between 2008 and 2019. This was the nation’s third largest percentage cut during that period. [Source: CBPP]

Policy Note

States Can Choose Better Path for Higher Education Funding in COVID-19 Recession: Accessible, well-funded higher education is crucial for residents’ quality of life, a strong state economy, and thriving communities, but after the Great Recession hit over a decade ago, states weakened their futures by sharply cutting higher education funding and raising tuition, making college less accessible — especially for students with low incomes and students of color. In the school year before the pandemic struck, state support was still way down, adding to long-standing racial and income disparities in higher education. In the COVID-19 recession, half of the states are choosing to cut higher education again.In the COVID-19 recession, half of the states are choosing to cut higher education again. However, there is still time for states to choose a better path that prioritizes people and communities and the state’s long-term future. [CBPP

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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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