In The Know: DHS reports progress in improving foster care system

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.

Today In The News

DHS reports progress in improving foster care system: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) has made “discernible progress” in its efforts to reform the state’s foster care system, according to a DHS press release. Progress was reported by child welfare experts, referred to as Co-Neutrals, monitoring the agency’s efforts to implement the Pinnacle Plan, a 2012 plan that was implemented in the wake of a class action civil rights lawsuit filed against the state’s foster care system [Enid News].

Hearings for FY2019 budget begin: Lawmakers are still working on this year’s budget, but on Tuesday they got the ball rolling on next year’s. A few agencies are funded only through May of this year, and lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol sometime this month to finish a budget for fiscal 2018, which ends June 30. The Oklahoma Senate began its agency budget hearings Tuesday [Journal Record]. The Oklahoma Mental Health agency made a $197M budget request [Public Radio Tulsa]. Oklahoma Department of Corrections presents 2019 budget request, includes 2 new prisons [KFOR].

Oklahoma voters want better funding for education: Voters are fed up. As lawmakers approach the beginning of the legislative session, they should be troubled by the result of a poll conducted by the Oklahoma Education Association. When it comes to education funding, the Legislature has only a 7 percent approval rating among Oklahoma voters [Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest / NewsOK]. Another year goes by, and Oklahoma still leads the nation for cuts to education [OK Policy].

Lottery contribution to education to see major increase under new law: A new state law dramatically boosting lottery sales will allow the Lottery to increase funds sent to Oklahoma’s public education system. Total sales since July 1 under the new law are up 40 percent. Sales of instant games are already outpacing sales for the 2017 fiscal year by 60 percent. As a result, the Lottery is projecting a double-digit percentage increase in its contribution to education next year [KSWO]. The lottery grows state revenue by inches, while lawmakers have been pruning off yards [OK Policy].

We know how to fight cancer in Oklahoma, if our leaders will only show the courage to act: Far too many Oklahomans get cancer, and when they get it, they’re much more likely to die from it than other Americans. Those are the obvious implications of American Cancer Society figures reported in The Oklahoman last week. Based on statistics from previous years, the cancer society projects about 19,000 Oklahomans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and more than 8,000 will die [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Testimony describes fear, intimidation at Health Department: When senior leaders at the beleaguered state Health Department discovered they were tens of millions of dollars in the hole, they set up an emergency command structure that wasn’t headed by the agency’s top finance official. As the agency’s financial crisis deepened and it became increasingly difficult to make payroll, top Health Department officials remained optimistic they would find $30 million in extra cash to bridge the shortfall, said Michael Romero, the agency’s chief financial officer [CNHI].

The Step Up Oklahoma plan to close the state’s budget gap is an opportunity that must not be missed: A current plan by business leaders to close Oklahoma’s budget gap is that kind of opportunity. It may not be perfect, but it does provide a chance for our state to move forward in a positive way. We must grasp the opportunity. There is no time to waste. We should all be deeply worried about the future of our state [David Boren / Tulsa World].

No. 2 prison rate stirs criminal justice reformers: With the announcement that Oklahoma retained its spot as having the second-highest rate of prison incarceration in the country, advocates for criminal justice reform hope this year’s legislative session will prove more fruitful than the last. Only Louisiana has a higher ratio of its residents behind bars, at 760 per 100,000 people, according to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Oklahoma sits at 673 per 100,000 [NewsOK]. DOC Director Joe Allbaugh said the overcrowding crisis is worsening [AP]. The Justice Reform Task Force recommendations could be the solution Oklahoma desperately needs [OK Policy].

One in Eight Inmates Serving Life or Lengthy Sentence: Oklahoma has one in eight inmates who are serving a life sentence or a sentence of at least 50 years, a new report using 2016 data shows. The report, released by advocacy groups OK CURE and The Sentencing Project, found that 2,908 people are serving life sentences and 682 are serving 50 years or more, comprising 12.4 percent of the inmate population. Those figures include life sentences that are eligible and ineligible for parole [Oklahoma Watch].

Time is now for restorative justice: Gov. Mary Fallin explained last fall that wisely spending our tax dollars means diverting nonviolent Oklahomans out of incarceration and into treatment. Offenders can still be held accountable with a wide range of community sentencing options but more importantly, they can also receive treatment for their mental illness and/or addiction issues [Mental Health Association Oklahoma CEO Mike Brose / NewsOK].

Lack of funding makes judiciary unequal branch of government: Yes, most of us have a basic understanding of two of our three branches of state government. But what about our judiciary? In Oklahoma, our judicial branch has become the poor stepchild of state government. Our appellate and district courts, over the past several decades, have been unfunded, understaffed and poorly equipped [M. Scott Carter / Journal Record]. Fee revenue funds many government functions, but criminal fee revenue has leveled off [OK Policy].

Police focus on south side OKC to develop relationships: The body language of those attending the South OKC Safe grant kick-off meeting Thursday night changed when OKC Police Maj. Paco Balderrama started explaining the program in Spanish. For many in the U.S. Grant auditorium on S. Pennsylvania Avenue it was a gesture that seemed to immediately put them at ease. Balderrama grew up there and graduated from U.S. Grant High School [Oklahoma City Free Press]. The key to reducing police-related violence in Oklahoma is building trust between law enforcement and communities [OK Policy].

New poll finds 62% of Oklahomans support medical marijuana measure: According to Oklahomans for Health, a new poll from Sooner Poll found that 62 percent of Oklahomans support State Question 788, a measure that would legalize medical marijuana in the state. Oklahomans will cast their votes on SQ788 on June 26 [Fox 23].

If Passed, Medical Marijuana Implementation Could Take Years, Says OK Rep.: A bill to legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma will go to a public vote this coming June. But, even if the state question is approved, it could take years to implement. Passing the measure is one thing. Jumping through all of the political hoops and bureaucracy to get it implemented is another thing altogether [News 9]. How does SQ 788 compare to other states’ medical marijuana laws? [OK Policy]

OBN officials seek more oversight if Oklahoma legalizes medical marijuana: The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics already is preparing for the June ballot measure to pass, and agency officials are requesting more power from the state Legislature. OBN officials suggested implementing a medical marijuana monitoring program, similar to prescription monitoring, to make sure anyone who has marijuana would not be breaking the law [KOCO].

OSBI investigating tracking device on Rep. Mark McBride’s truck: The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has opened an inquiry into alleged stalking of Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) that could be turned over to the state’s attorney general or the Oklahoma County district attorney for consideration of criminal prosecution. After finding a remote-tracking device attached to his pickup truck in December, McBride called Moore police and ultimately filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court [NonDoc].

Quote of the Day

“The Co-Neutrals urge Oklahoma’s leaders to stay the course in funding DHS’s core strategies to achieve substantial and sustained progress on behalf of the state’s most vulnerable children … A material reversal in support is likely to compromise the still tenuous foundation upon which DHS has sought to build this reform and undermine the years of public investment.”

– From a press release providing an update on the Pinnacle Plan, a court-ordered plan to correct deficiencies in the state’s child welfare system (Source)

Number of the Day


Average payday loan interest rate in Oklahoma in 2017

Source: Center for Responsible Lending

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Sexual Assault Epidemic No One Talks About: Pauline wants to tell her story — about that night in the basement, about the boys and about the abuse she wanted to stop. But she’s nervous. “Take a deep breath,” she says out loud to herself. She takes a deep and audible breath. And then she tells the story of what happened on the night that turned her life upside down [NPR].

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


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.