In The Know: Budget crisis could disrupt ‘fragile’ improvements in child welfare, monitors of DHS plan say

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.

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Today In The News

Budget crisis could disrupt ‘fragile’ improvements in child welfare, monitors of DHS plan say: Noticeable progress within the child welfare division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services has been made, but it’s far from a permanent change in the system or culture. On Tuesday, the monitors of the Pinnacle Plan released their bi-annual report of the agency’s reform effort, which launched in 2012 after a negotiated settlement in a federal class-action lawsuit that alleged abuses in foster care. The three-person panel tracks 31 areas within the foster-care system including shelter use, recruitment of foster homes, placements of children and maltreatment in care [Tulsa World].

Tax revenue beats estimate but officials warn it’s no budget fix: General Revenue Fund collections in December totaled $512.6 million and were $36.6 million, or 7.7 percent, above the monthly estimate. Collections for the month were $93.1 million, or 22.2 percent, more than collections in December 2016, according to a monthly report from Secretary of Finance, Administration and Information Technology Preston L. Doerflinger. Collections over the first six months of the fiscal year that started July 1 totaled $2.7 billion, which was $75.2 million, or 2.9 percent, more than estimates for the first six months of the fiscal year and $278.1 million, or 11.6 percent, more than collections for the first six months of the previous fiscal year [Journal Record].

Oklahoma House bill would lower revenue-raising threshold: An Oklahoma lawmaker wants voters to amend the state constitution to lower the number of lawmakers required to approve revenue-raising measures. Republican House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright filed a bill Friday that calls for a statewide vote to amend a constitutional amendment voters approved in 1992. Wright, of Weatherford, says the current threshold has stymied lawmakers’ ability to raise revenue to adequately provide for core services like public education [AP]. It’s time to revisit State Question 640 [Rep. Marcus McEntire / OK Policy].

Oklahoma County saw drop in felonies in 2017: Oklahoma County saw a significant drop in felony cases in 2017 after a criminal justice reform law took effect last year. “This was a pretty predictable outcome,” Public Defender Bob Ravitz told The Oklahoman last week. “As a result of State Question 780, clearly the number of drug cases that were filed as felonies dropped substantially in Oklahoma County.” Last year, prosecutors filed 7,628 felony cases, the lowest amount since 2011. It’s a substantial decline, considering prosecutors filed 10,043 felony cases in 2016 [NewsOK]. Limiting felony charges for drug crimes was a big reason we supported SQ 780 [OK Policy].

Occupational Licensing Task Force recommendations include criminal justice reform: Criminal justice reform was among 12 recommendations listed in a report released Tuesday by the state’s Occupational Licensing Task Force. Gov. Mary Fallin in late 2016 announced the formation of the group to perform a comprehensive review of occupational licensing in Oklahoma. Chaired by state Labor Commissioner Melissa Houston, the Task Force was to offer suggestions to the governor on how to remove unnecessary or burdensome regulations that are a barrier to potential workers [Tulsa World]. Occupational licensing is a growing barrier to Oklahomans who seek a decent job [OK Policy].

A path away from expensive, ineffective state prison costs: As more effective medications began to emerge in the 1950s and ’60s, large, isolated state mental hospitals began to close or be downsized across the country, including in Oklahoma. The cost to maintain them was astronomical, as well as inhumane and fraught with poor treatment outcomes. Today, the new de facto institutions are jails and prisons. History is repeating itself [Mike Brose / Tulsa World].

Oklahoma still trailing regional states in per-pupil spending for schools: Federal data once again show Oklahoma trailing its regional peers in per-pupil education spending. For Oklahoma to have matched Kansas in per-pupil common education spending during the 2015 fiscal year, it would’ve had to spend $1.6 billion more. Kansas represents the high end of Oklahoma’s neighbors in per-pupil spending, spending $10,329 a year, while Oklahoma spends $8,075 per student [Tulsa World]. Another year goes by, and Oklahoma still leads the nation for cuts to education [OK Policy].

Bullying most common reason students choose virtual schools: Forty-one percent of students who attend a virtual charter school in Oklahoma left their previous school because they were victims of bullying. Nearly 34 percent attend a virtual charter school because of past problems with school administration or staff. Those were some of the findings from a survey commissioned by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, which oversees the state’s four virtual charter schools and their combined 12,000 students [NewsOK].

Watch This: Ending Hunger in Oklahoma Schools: One in four Oklahoma children are at risk of not having enough to eat, yet the state leaves over $400 million in child nutrition funding on the table each year because of our low participation in federal assistance programs. By expanding access to federal school meal programs, we can get students the nutrition they need to develop and learn [OK Policy].

Mayor Vying for Oklahoma House Seat Wins Republican Primary: A mayor vying for a vacant Oklahoma House seat won a special Republican primary Tuesday. GOP voters in the three counties covered by the seat elected Marlow Mayor Brad Boles as their party’s nominee by an overwhelming margin — 82 percent to 18 percent — over Chickasha businessman Dustin Payne. Boles will face Democrat Charles L. Murdock of Cheyenne in a special general election on March 6 to determine who fills the seat [AP].

Congress let CHIP’s funding expire 101 days ago, and it’s a national disgrace: The Children’s Health Insurance Program is a cheap, successful program that provides health care coverage to 9 million low- and middle-income children. Its budget expired 101 days ago — and Republicans in Congress have done next to nothing about it. Multiple states have sent out letters warning families that their kids’ health insurance could end on January 31. Congress did pass a temporary bill that it expected to extend CHIP’s life span until March — but it turns out they got the math wrong, and states may run out of funding as early as January 19 [Vox].

Oklahoma utility regulators order rate cut from tax overhaul: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has ordered five public utilities to track savings from reductions in federal corporate income tax rates and develop a method to return that money to ratepayers. The three-member panel took the action Tuesday after Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office asked for the reduction for Oklahoma customers. The utilities involved are Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Natural Gas, CenterPoint Energy and Arkansas Oklahoma Gas [AP].

Oklahoma universities retain strong rankings for online degree programs: Oklahoma universities retained high marks for a number of online degree programs in the latest analysis by U.S. News & World Report. The magazine released its 2018 Best Online Programs rankings Tuesday, based on data from more than 1,500 online programs for bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees in business, nursing, engineering and more. For the second consecutive year, the University of Oklahoma finished in the Top 10 in the category Best Online Bachelor’s Program [NewsOK].

OSDH: Not Equipped To Implement Medical Marijuana: The Oklahoma State Board of Health met for about two and a half hours Tuesday. They discussed the difficulty they have implementing change and the problems they’ll face if medical marijuana becomes a reality. The board discussed problems in the Department of Health that led the agency to misspend $30-million. Part of the problem, an antiquated computer system [News 9]. How does SQ 788 compare to other states’ medical marijuana laws? [OK Policy]

Interim Oklahoma health director to receive pay increase: The Oklahoma State Board of Health has been an agency in turmoil. Preston Doerflinger, the interim commissioner, said he doesn’t want the job permanently. But, on Tuesday, the board announced he will serve until further notice and receive a salary of $189,000 – around $18,000 more than his current salary [KFOR].

Quote of the Day

“The state will continue the cycle of using one-time funds to plug the budget hole if we do not make significant structural changes to our budget. The modest increases we are seeing month-to-month will not fix the state’s ongoing budget issues.”

– Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger, urging lawmakers not to read too much into a positive monthly revenue collections report (Source)

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma households with adjusted gross income less than $25,000 in 2015.

Source: OK Policy analysis of IRS tax return data

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Myth of the Playground Pusher: On July 9, 2008, officers of the Columbia, Tennessee, police department arrested Michael Goodrum and charged him with possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute in a drug-free school zone. Sounds bad, right? Surely the kind of monster who sells crack in a school yard should be put away for a long time. But Michael Goodrum was not peddling dope to kids on a playground. He wasn’t on school property, and school wasn’t in session. In fact, he wasn’t within sight of a school [Reason].

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

One thought on “In The Know: Budget crisis could disrupt ‘fragile’ improvements in child welfare, monitors of DHS plan say

  1. Interesting and ultimately very heartening to see Commissioner Houston’s crim just rec’s in this package. In the mid-90s she worked closely with the state DAs and AG Edmondson’s rep on the state sentencing commission to torpedo OK’s proposed reforms that mirrored NC’s reforms of the time that resulted in lowered prison populations and costs and crime rate declines below even the national decline in rates in that state. Age and experience do bring wisdom in some cases, and it’s good to see that’s apparently happening here.

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