In 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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zebre.
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Today you should know that a monthly report on the progress of Oklahoma’s child welfare system confirms that Oklahoma is not meeting court-ordered goals. The system needs more foster homes, less use of emergency shelters for children 6 and older, and lower caseloads for its workers. OK Policy previously discussed how Oklahoma is falling short in efforts to fix the foster care system. The OK Policy Blog shared a few of the secrets buried in the state budget. The Oklahoman editorial board discussed how the Legislature has protected its own budget while pretending to take the same cuts as most state agencies.
The state Department of Transportation will start next fiscal year with $28.5 million less to spend due to budget cuts and funding changes last legislative session. Scott Meacham wrote in the Oklahoman that budget cuts will harm science, technology, and commercialization efforts in Oklahoma. Wind farms are set to collect nearly $12 million from a tax rebate program that has more than tripled in value in the past three years. Governor Mary Fallin has until June 25 to decide whether rules adopted by agencies over the past year will take effect after the Legislature failed to do so.
A host of schools across the state say their fifth- and eighth-grade writing test scores are deeply flawed, but state education officials are standing by the scores issued by controversial vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill. A lawsuit by Tulsa County and Bryan County against the state Department of Corrections alleges that DOC isn’t paying the true cost of keeping state inmates until there is room for them in prisons. Oklahoma health officials are launching a new initiative to boost child immunization rates in Bryan County.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved more than $166,000 in grants to pay for equipment and training for firefighters and emergency responders in Oklahoma. Possibly dozens of drunken-driving suspects were never charged because highway patrol troopers failed to turn in paperwork to prosecutors. Oklahoma County prosecutors have begun filing charges against those suspects months after their arrests.
The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahomans without consistent access to the Internet as of July 2011. In today’s Policy Note, a report by Demos examines why raising wages and improving schedules for women in the retail industry would benefit America.
In The News
DHS to miss child welfare goal; needs more foster homes, lower caseloads
A monthly report on the progress of Oklahoma’s child welfare system confirms what officials and oversight monitors have been saying for months. Oklahoma needs more foster homes, less use of emergency shelters for children 6 and older, and lower caseloads for its workers. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services releases monthly, quarterly and biannual reports on the implementation of the Pinnacle Plan, which is the negotiated settlement agreement stemming from a federal class action lawsuit in 2008. The lawsuit alleging abuses of children in foster care was filed by the nonprofit Children’s Rights.
See also: Court-ordered monitors find Oklahoma falling short in efforts to fix foster care system from the OK Policy blog.
Games legislators play
In the final days of session in May, the legislature approved SB 2127, the annual General Appropriations (GA) bill providing funding for most state agencies. The press release issued by the Governor, House Speaker and Senate President claimed that the agreement reduces spending by $102.1 million, or 1.4 percent compared to the FY 2014 appropriated budget. Given that the budget negotiators started with $188 million less of available revenue, limiting FY 2015 cuts to $102.1 million might seem like an accomplishment to be proud of. But under closer scrutiny this story doesn’t quite hold up, and neither do several other assertions made in the wake of the budget agreement. In this post we shed light at a few of the secrets buried in the budget.
Legislative funding in Oklahoma budget includes a few head-scratching details
For state lawmakers to employ sleight-of-hand accounting to mask the true costs of government isn’t unusual. And when it comes to the Legislature’s own finances, such practices increasingly appear to be the rule, not the exception. Last year we noted that lawmakers managed to find $7 million in new funding for themselves while claiming they lacked cash for things like Highway Patrol trooper pay raises. Under the budget approved last year, the Oklahoma House of Representatives got a $1 million increase, the Senate received a $1 million increase and the Legislative Service Bureau was given a $5 million increase that was used to remodel Capitol offices.
ODOT hit with $28.5 million in budget cuts
The state Department of Transportation will start next fiscal year with $28.5 million less to spend due to budget cuts and funding changes last legislative session, agency Executive Director Mike Patterson said Monday. A portion of the reduction in revenues came via the state budget compromise hammered out by legislative leaders and Gov. Mary Fallin during the session, which ended last month. ODOT was among several state agencies to receive a 5.5 percent reduction in fiscal 2015 funding. For ODOT, the 5.5 percent reduction will mean the loss of slightly more than $11 million in fuel tax revenues, Patterson said. “It will be difficult…but we will get through it,” Patterson told the state Transportation Commission during its monthly meeting.
Scott Meacham: Budget cuts hurt Oklahoma research, commercialization efforts
There are always winners and losers in every state budgeting process. Unfortunately, science, technology, and Oklahoma’s commercialization efforts were the losers this time around. Not only did the Legislature cut the overall budget of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Technology and Science (OCAST) by 5.5 percent (and as a result i2E, as well), another $4 million was cut ($2 million each) from the Oklahoma Applied Research Support (OARS) grants fund and from the i2E Seed Capital Fund. It is disheartening to see state structural budget problems impact Oklahoma’s commercialization efforts. As a result of this loss of seed funding, four to eight new companies will not get started in Oklahoma and new innovations that could have been funded by OARS won’t be.
Wind farms reap windfall in tax rebates
Wind farms are set to collect nearly $12 million from a tax rebate program that has more than tripled in value in the past three years, and a group advocating against the wind industry’s expansion says it should be capped. The Oklahoma Tax Commission will pay $11.9 million to producers of renewable energy — mostly wind farms — in zero-emission tax credits. The commission projects those payments will swell to $19.1 million a year by 2018. That’s a big liability for taxpayers, said Richard Mosier, the president and general counsel for Robson Properties and a member of Wind Waste, formerly the Oklahoma Property Rights Association.
Governor Fallin To Decide Fate Of Agency Rules
Governor Mary Fallin will have to decide whether permanent administrative rules adopted by agencies over the past year will take effect after the Legislature failed to do so. The 2014 legislative session marked the first time agencies and lawmakers were working under a new law passed in 2013. That law, which was contained in HB2055, requires all rules to be approved by general reference in a joint resolution and for disapproved rules to be listed individually.
Schools across Oklahoma say writing test results deeply flawed
A host of schools across the state say their fifth- and eighth-grade writing test scores are deeply flawed, but state education officials are standing by the scores issued by controversial vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill. After discovering abnormally high rates of students receiving the exact same scores, school officials all over the state are questioning whether the company’s readers properly scored the tests. They also question widespread reductions in scores for “plagiarism” for students they say simply followed instructions to cite directly from reading passages on the test about which they were to take a position in an essay. Local officials raised their concerns directly with representatives of the vendor and the Oklahoma Department of Education in a meeting on May 28 but were shocked by the responses they received.
Tulsa County Joins a Lawsuit Against the DOC
Tulsa County joins with Bryan County in a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections over payment for holding inmates. Both counties allege DOC isn’t paying the true cost of keeping state inmates until there is room for them in prisons. Tulsa Sheriff Stanley Glanz says Bryan County’s lawsuit is pending before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, so it’s farther along in the process than his lawsuit. He believes that will render a quicker decision.
State selects Bryan County for child immunization project
Bryan County soon will get a boost in its efforts to protect children’s health. Through joint, targeted outreach, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Oklahoma State Department of Health aim to help increase the number of children receiving the complete 15-shot immunization series in Bryan County. This new initiative will promote and track immunizations for babies and toddlers (19-35 months old) June 1-Dec. 31.
FEMA Awards Grants To Oklahoma Fire Departments
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved more than $166,000 in grants to pay for equipment and training for firefighters and emergency responders. The federal grants announced Monday are part of the Assistance to Firefighters Grants program, which provides funding for equipment, protective gear, emergency vehicles, training and other resources. In Oklahoma, the grants will pay for communications equipment for the Country Corner Fire District in Sperry, a wellness and fitness program for the Drumright Fire Department and firefighting equipment for the Boise City Volunteer Fire Department.
Oklahoma DUI cases never filed because of troopers’ errors
Possibly dozens of drunken-driving suspects were never charged because highway patrol troopers failed to turn in paperwork to prosecutors, The Oklahoman has learned. Oklahoma County prosecutors uncovered the problem themselves, and they have begun filing charges against those suspects months after their arrests. The latest to be charged is legislative candidate John Paul Gibbons, who was arrested in Oklahoma City on June 15, 2012. Gibbons, 51, of Oklahoma City, is one of four Democrats seeking the open District 88 seat in the state House of Representatives.
Quote of the Day
“We are very troubled by the state’s lack of progress on these important issues. The state needs to be aware that the Pinnacle Plan and the agreements reached in the settlement of the lawsuit can’t be treated as empty promises. They are, in fact, enforceable by the court.”
– Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights, a nonprofit whose lawsuit against Oklahoma DHS in 2008 led to the creation of the Pinnacle Plan. (source: http://bit.ly/1ubZXiH).
Number of the Day
Percentage of Oklahomans without consistent access to the Internet as of July 2011.
Source: US Census
Retail’s Choice: How Raising Wages and Improving Schedules for Women in the Retail Industry Would Benefit America
Today, women make up nearly half of America’s workforce, and there is little question that their success in the economy is critical to the nation’s prosperity. Yet every day across America, millions of women go to work in low paying jobs that fail to move their families out of poverty. One such low-paid position is the most common occupation in America today: retail salesperson. The typical woman working as a salesperson earns just $10.58 an hour: a wage that keeps a family of three near poverty, even if the employee is able to secure enough hours for full-time work.
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