In The Know: Don’t Sweat Kevin Durant’s Departure. You’re Doing Fine, Oklahoma City!

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

Don’t Sweat Kevin Durant’s Departure. You’re Doing Fine, Oklahoma City! It would have been easy for fans who have thronged Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena over the past half-decade to forget they were rooting for laundry. The way they talk about ex-Thunder forward Kevin Durant in OKC, you’d think he were George Bailey in Nikes. Durant lives downtown, hangs out downtown, owns a restaurant downtown. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin offered him a cabinet post last month [Slate].

College funding cuts hurting Oklahoma’s future, officials say: Higher education officials say misinformation fueled the historic funding cuts that will hurt both students and the future of Oklahoma. Funding to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education was reduced nearly 16 percent for fiscal year 2017. That followed a series of cuts the previous year. “Over two years we’ve lost $265 million out of the higher education system, and we have more kids in school than we’ve ever had, we’re graduating more than we ever have,” said Regent Jay Helm, of Tulsa [NewsOK]. Oklahoma has cut funding to colleges by 21.7% since 2008 when adjusted for inflation [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].

School choice efforts could be decided in Oklahoma elections: Oklahoma’s expansion of school choice policies, such as education savings accounts (ESA’s), could be impacted by the results of this year’s legislative elections, especially in races that include one of the dozens of public education candidates. A wave of candidates with ties to public education, including current or former teachers, have put teacher pay and school funding at the center of their campaigns, including Mike Mason, the Mustang teacher who challenged Sen. Kyle Loveless in the winner-take-all Republican primary in Senate District 45 [NewsOK].

Why poverty in Oklahoma is being compared to a Third World nation: Each year, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof holds a Win-A-Trip contest for college students to accompany him on a reporting trip to the developing world. Most years, his trip explores global poverty in far-flung places like Congo or Myanmar. This year, he decided to add a stop in Tulsa to see the impact of the nation’s 20-year experiment with revamping welfare. His disheartening findings were featured in a recent Sunday’s New York Times column [OK Policy].

Oklahoma City’s homeless seek voice, representation through voting: At age 58, Charles Woods plans to cast his first ballot in November, but he’s not sure how much of a difference it will make for him and others who are living on the streets. “The poor are going to get the shaft no matter what,” said Woods, minutes after registering to vote. “The system doesn’t work for us. But I think voting is still important.” Woods was one of several individuals who registered to vote Thursday at a west Oklahoma City homeless shelter despite not having a permanent address [NewsOK].

Cole, Mullin Win; Fewer Native Voices in Oklahoma Legislature: The only two members of Congress who are Native American both survived their primary challenges last week. Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a Chickasaw, easily defeated his Republican challenger winning more than 71 percent of the votes cast. “I just want to thank the voters,” Cole told The Ada News. “It’s nice to know people support me, and I look forward to running a vigorous race in the fall” [Indian Country Today].

Increased fines and fees squeeze average Oklahomans: Soon after police lights flashed in her rearview mirror, Crystal Mudd learned the price of forgetting to renew her vehicle registration. An officer handed her a $90 ticket and admonished her to take care of her expired tag, lest her vehicle be impounded. When Mudd, 32, reported to her local tag office, she learned that the state charges a $1 daily fee for non-compliance. The charge to register her car — which would have been no more than $91 had she handled it on time — had ballooned to $149. That’s not including the cost of her ticket [Woodward News].

Nine deaths at Oklahoma County jail raised concerns, criticism: Nine Oklahoma County jail inmates have died in custody so far this year, more than all of last year and all of 2014. Three of those deaths were in June, leading to more criticism of Sheriff John Whetsel. The sheriff, who is up for re-election this year, oversees jail operations and already is under fire because of jail overcrowding “We are concerned when any life is lost,” Whetsel, a Democrat, said last week [NewsOK].

Oklahoma City June 2016 sales tax summary: Collections down 7.7 percent from last year: The June sales tax report shows General Fund collections in Oklahoma City were down 7.7 percent compared to the same month last year, below the monthly projection by 11.3 percent. The June report includes collections for the last half of April and estimated collections in the first half of May, which total about $16.4 million for the General Fund. That’s around $2.1 million below the projection [Capitol Beat OK].

Why has Oklahoma’s public health community been silent on gun deaths? In Oklahoma, guns kill an average of 560 people each year — more deaths than prescription drug overdose. Almost one-third of Oklahoma households own a firearm. Yet, for years, state leaders have stayed silent about this public health issue that kills at least one Oklahoman every day. Federal data shows Oklahoma has the ninth highest rate of residents dying from gun injuries [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Food Stamp Dollars Doubled At Farmers Markets: Welfare recipients in Oklahoma can now double the value of up to $20 of benefits a day by purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services announced details of the program on Tuesday for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. A pilot program launched in Tulsa a few years ago expanded statewide last week. Designed to encourage SNAP recipients to eat healthier, the “Double Up Oklahoma” program is funded with grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“If Oklahoma City feels more like a big-league town these days, it’s not because it has that big-city sticker of approval, an NBA team—it’s because 125,000 people have arrived since 2000, raising the population by 25 percent, and because the city has invested more than a billion dollars in civic life, tying sports arenas, nightlife districts, and public works together in mega-packages in which voters are likely to see something they like.”

Slate writer Henry Grabar, on the lasting benefits of Oklahoma City’s public infrastructure investments through the Metropolitan Area Projects plan (Source)

Number of the Day


Poverty rate for Oklahoma families with children in 2014

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Full Faith and Credit: Christian Groups Unite Against Predatory Lending: Now, Mr. Drewery, who works as an electrician and is the pastor of a nondenominational evangelical church in Springfield, Ohio, has joined an unusually diverse coalition of Christians that unites conservative churches with liberal ones to oppose predatory lending. One of these umbrella campaigns, Faith for Just Lending, includes, among others, groups of black Baptists and Latino evangelicals, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Salvation Army, which is considered conservative and evangelical [New York Times].

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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.

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