In The Know: AG finds diversion of Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship funds is illegal

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has found that legislators acted unlawfully when they tried to divert nearly $8 million from the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship trust fund to general revenue. The blog post where OK Policy broke the story is available here, and you can read the Attorney General’s opinion here. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt argued that raiding the trust fund was an unacceptable tactic in balancing the budget.

A post on the OK Policy blog examined more of the underhanded funding grabs the legislature made in lieu of building a responsible and sustainable state budget this year. Early voting has begun ahead of Tuesday’s primary election. State superintendent candidate Joy Hofmeister has called for a federal investigation of reported violations of student privacy by incumbent Janet Barresi’s campaign. A panel hosted by the Tulsa Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists held a panel to discuss statewide educational issues on Thursday.

Gov. Fallin is planning to tour the Fort Sill army barracks where 600 immigrant children are being housed by the federal government. A Cherokee group that commemorated their ancestors by biking the 1,000-mile Trail of Tears over three weeks arrived home on Thursday. Petitioners collecting signatures for an initiative to put medical marijuana to a state vote in November say that they continue to be harassed by law enforcement while gathering signatures. An Oklahoma man who says that he was tortured while held in a Bryan County jail has settled a lawsuit over his mistreatment.

The Tulsa City Council has approved the city’s 2015 budget, which is about 2.4 percent smaller than last year’s budget. A number of Tulsans dialing 911 report being put on hold, a problem that Tulsa’s 911 director attributes to budget cuts. Oklahoma homeless assistance programs will receive $785,047 in additional funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Scientists report that drought conditions have led to a relatively calm tornado season in Oklahoma: only seven tornadoes have been confirmed in the state so far this year, compared to a more typical 40 to 45.

The Number of the Day is Oklahoma’s rank on an AARP score card comparing long-term services and supports for older adults, people with physical disabilities, and family caregivers. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times investigates who earns the minimum wage and  would be affected by proposed increases.

In The News

Oklahoma lawmakers unlawfully tried to divert scholarship money, according to attorney general opinion

Oklahoma legislators acted unlawfully when they tried to divert nearly $7.9 million away from a scholarship fund in the budget bill signed by Gov. Mary Fallin, state Attorney General Scott Pruitt said in an opinion issued Thursday. The effect of the opinion is that this money will need to go to the scholarship fund and a like amount will have to be cut from some other part of the budget. It’s not clear where this cut will be made. However, one option under discussion is to make the cut in the higher education budget and then restore the money to higher education in the form of a supplemental appropriation next legislative session, said John Estus, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Inappropriate appropriations and a broken promise from the OK Policy blog and the Attorney General’s opinion.

Broken promises

A college education has never been more important to one’s chances for a good job and prosperous future. Yet the cost of college can put it out of reach for many students, especially those of modest means. That’s why Oklahoma created a scholarship called Oklahoma’s Promise in the mid-1990s. Known also as the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, or OHLAP, the program provides free college tuition to Oklahoma students who maintain high academic standards and come from families making less than $50,000 annually. Some 19,000 students currently receive OHLAP scholarships. To ensure that Oklahoma keeps its promise to cover these scholarships, the Legislature created a funding mechanism. Each year, the Regents for Higher Education inform the state Board of Equalization of how much will be needed to fund the program.

Read more from the Journal Record.

They did what?? Funding grabs create shortfalls for many agencies

Faced with a nearly $200 million shortfall in building the FY 2015 budget, legislative leaders and Governor Fallin had three basic choices. They could have simply cut spending, slashing deeply across all areas of government. This would have left unaddressed critical needs for schools, state employees, the child welfare system, and others, and forced massive cuts on our health care system. They could have filled the budget hole by curbing tax breaks and closing tax loopholes. This would have strengthened our faltering tax system over the long term but would have antagonized powerful beneficiaries of tax preferences and anti-tax hardliners. Instead of either of these tough options, they went for the seemingly easier one of balancing the budget by scrounging together whatever money they could find in state funds, even if they were only one-time revenues and even if the money was collected for other purposes than supporting general state operations.

Read more from the OK Policy blog.

See also: FY 2015 Budget Highlights from OK Policy.

Oklahoma voters head to the polls for early voting

County election boards statewide are set to open for the first of three days of early voting ahead of Tuesday’s primary election. Voters can begin casting ballots starting at 8 a.m. Thursday for several races, including Democratic and Republican primaries in the race for Oklahoma’s open U.S. Senate seat. Only Republicans and Democrats can vote in primaries in Oklahoma. Early voting will continue at county election boards from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe are among Republican incumbents facing a primary challenge. This is the first year that early voting on Monday was eliminated. The Oklahoma Election Board requested the change to help election workers better prepare for Tuesday’s election.

Read more from NewsOK.

Joy Hofmeister asks for federal investigation into Janet Barresi’s handling of student information

State superintendent candidate Joy Hofmeister issued a public call Thursday for an investigation into reported violations of federally protected student information by incumbent Janet Barresi. Hofmeister said federal officials should investigate because Barresi had full knowledge of privacy violations involving the student records of high school seniors who applied for waivers to new high-stakes testing requirements and because she has acknowledged her campaign used the contact information of special education students receiving the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships to private schools.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Panel addresses Oklahoma education concerns

Education professionals met Thursday to discuss statewide educational issues ahead of upcoming primary elections. The panel, which was hosted by the Tulsa Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists in conjunction with the Citywide Juneteenth Celebration on Historic Greenwood, addressed topics ranging from the effects of the state’s repeal of Common Core standards to the influence of the hotly debated A-F school grading system adopted by the Legislature in 2011. Panelists included Tulsa Public Schools board member Lana Turner-Addison; Drew Diamond, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa and former Tulsa police chief; Booker T. Washington High School teacher Anthony Marshall; and Eddie Evans, Youth Services of Tulsa’s director of north Tulsa programs.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

See also: Action Items for Oklahoma: Education from OK Policy.

Fallin To Tour Fort Sill Army Barracks Where Immigrant Children Are Housed

Gov. Mary Fallin is planning to tour Army barracks at Fort Sill where hundreds of immigrant children are being housed by the federal government. Fallin said she will tour the shelter on Friday at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which is overseeing the children’s care. Federal officials said Thursday that 599 children already had arrived at Fort Sill, mostly teenagers from Central America who were detained after trying to enter the U.S. illegally. Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz says the information the governor has received from the federal government has been vague and that the governor is going to Fort Sill “to get answers.”

Read more from KGOU.

Cherokee Nation Remember the Removal bike riders welcomed home

Members of the crowd cheered, whistled and snapped pictures as the Remember the Removal riders walked into the welcome-home ceremony in the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Building, damp from Thursday afternoon’s rain but triumphant. The ceremony celebrated the Remember the Removal riders’ return to family and friends in Tahlequah after their three-week journey. Riders cycled nearly 1,000 miles to retrace the path their ancestors traveled on the Trail of Tears 175 years ago. “Along the way they were asked many times ‘Why are you doing this?’ ” said Chuck Hoskin, Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff. “And the answer is always the same: ‘To remember our ancestors.’ ”

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Pot petitioners say police harassment continues

Supporters of an initiative petition to put medical marijuana to a state vote in November said Thursday that they are experiencing increased interference from authorities statewide. The Tulsa World reported on Tuesday allegations by Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health, that Tulsa police disrupted petition-circulation efforts at locations that were predisclosed online four times last week. On Thursday, Oklahomans for Health said the disruptions have become more frequent and widespread, with law enforcement officers reportedly harassing volunteers in three other cities — Oklahoma City, Broken Arrow and Norman — on Wednesday.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

‘Tortured’ Oklahoma inmate settles lawsuit

Bryan County jailers punished Thomas Wesley Cofer for being loud by restraining him in a “suicide chair” for weeks at a time. They also choked and beat him, made him eat like an animal, wouldn’t let him use the restroom and denied the schizophrenic, 22-year-old Atoka man his medication, according to family members. At one point, a deputy sheriff told Cofer to face a cell wall and then used a stun gun to shock him, they say. In May, the county agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit Cofer filed in federal court over the often-brutal treatment he endured during seven months he spent in the jail in 2010. Testimony in Cofer’s civil lawsuit and evidence in a 2012 federal criminal case involving a jail supervisor convicted of abuse provide a disturbing picture of the cruelty that several inmates suffered while housed in this town of about 16,000 residents about 150 miles southeast of Oklahoma City.

Read more from NewsOK.

Tulsa council approves 2015 budget; some city jobs may face cuts

The Tulsa City Council approved the city’s fiscal year 2015 budget Thursday night, securing funding for several city programs that had been on the chopping block. The $688.1 million budget, which takes effect July 1, is 2 percent less than the current fiscal year budget. It includes a $261.1 million general fund, down approximately $6 million, or 2.4 percent. The general fund pays for the city’s day-to-day operations, including police, firefighters and parks. The final budget still includes cuts of about 150 positions, 127 of which are vacant, city officials previously said. Due to late changes to the budget, city finance officials did not have an exact count of filled positions still facing cuts. Previously, 27 filled positions were to be cut, but budget amendments reduced that number.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Frustrations Grow As Delays In Tulsa 911 System Worsen With Budget Woes

A rash of callers have complained about being put on hold when calling 911 during serious crimes. It’s happened at least four times in recent weeks in Tulsa, and one officer tells us it’s the worst he’s ever seen it. Three times it happened during a robbery and once, as men kicked in the door of a house while an 18-year-old woman was home alone. On Wednesday, a 24-year-old nanny holding a baby came face to face with an armed man inside the home where she works. She says she called 911 and was put on hold, not once, but twice.

Read more from NewsOn6.

HUD provides Oklahoma $785,047 in additional homeless funding

Eleven homeless assistance programs in Oklahoma will get a combined $785,046 in a second round of funding through HUD’s Continuum of Care Program, Secretary Shaun Donovan said Thursday. The funding will make sure that additional permanent and transitional housing projects operate in the coming year. The funding is part of $140 million the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced for nearly 900 local homeless assistance programs across the country. It includes 436 new local projects for providing permanent housing for the chronically homeless through HUD’s “Housing First” initiative and “Rapid Re-housing” of families with children living on the street or in emergency shelters. “Communities all across the country are changing their approach to reducing homelessness and now is not the time to retreat from doing what we know works,” Donovan said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Drought leads to relatively calm tornado season in Oklahoma

Oklahoma’s tornado season is off to a slow start, and you can thank the drought, weather experts said. Just seven confirmed tornadoes have been recorded in Oklahoma this year — the fewest the state has seen by mid-June since records began in 1950. One person has died in a tornado since January 1, according to National Weather Service records. In a typical year, the state might have 40 to 45 confirmed tornadoes by mid-June, said Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus. Before this year, the fewest twisters the state logged by mid-June was in 1988, when 10 confirmed tornadoes touched down in the state by June 15. Part of the explanation for the good news on the tornado front comes from the crippling drought that’s gripping much of the state, McManus said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

“This year’s budget is filled with many questionable money grabs and accounting gimmicks. Lawmakers had to resort to unorthodox tactics because they were unwilling to close tax loopholes and end unnecessary tax breaks that are draining revenue. Balancing the budget by raiding a scholarship trust fund is one broken promise that must not be allowed to stand.”

– OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt, writing about the legislature’s decision to raid the Oklahoma Promise scholarship fund in an attempt to balance the budget. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Thursday that the revenue transfer was unlawful (Source:

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank in the AARP’s state scorecard on long-term services and supports for older adults, people with physical disabilities, and family caregivers

Source: AARP.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Minimum Wage: Who Makes It?

Minimum-wage increases could appear on the ballot in as many as 34 states this year. President Obama has also proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10, from $7.25. Who makes the minimum wage, and who would be affected by any of the proposed increases? All the statistics here apply to those who would be affected by the proposed increase to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10. The analysis also includes a number of workers making slightly above $10.10, who, history suggests, would receive a raise if the minimum wage were increased.

Read more from The New York Times.

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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