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 many of the educational reforms passed in recent years are being rolled back by Oklahoma lawmakers. Reforms being considered for modifying or repealing include Common Core, third-grade reading retention, and the A-F grading system. A Tulsa World editorial argued that “home grown” standards and tests aren’t up to the task of providing comparative data about Oklahoma schools because students score so much higher on state tests than national ones. Researchers from OSU and the OU will discuss the effects of Oklahoma’s A-F school grading system and make recommendations at a panel discussion in Tulsa today.
The leaders of two statewide groups representing school administrators and suburban superintendents have declared their opposition to state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi. A new fact sheet from OK Policy shows investing in education is key to economic growth and job creation. Less than one in three juvenile inmates in Oklahoma earn high school credit and fewer than 10 percent receive a high school diploma, according to a new study. State troopers aren’t the only state employees in need of a pay raise, according to a Tulsa World editorial. The House has approved three bills intended to toughen Oklahoma’s anti-human-trafficking laws (SB 1431, SB 1433, SB 1538). They now return to the Senate for consideration.
Governor Fallin has vetoed a bill that would have given Oklahoma’s higher education institutions additional exemptions to the state Open Records Act (SB 1577). State Democratic leadership spoke against income tax cuts on Thursday, citing declining revenue. A bill Gov. Fallin signed into law earlier this week (SB 1023) banning Oklahoma cities from increasing the minimum wage is drawing sharp criticism within the state, as well as from editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post. A panel of judges in an appellate court in Denver heard arguments from both sides in Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban on Thursday.
Hundreds rallied in support of further funding for Oklahomans with developmental disabilities on Thursday. The Developmental Disabilities Services waiting list holds the names of nearly 7,000 Oklahomans who are seeking services from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. We’ve written about the waiting list before, and a Together Oklahoma fact sheet makes the case for protecting Oklahoma’s revenues is important for people with disabilities. The State Department of Health is urging parents to vaccinate their children. Three flu-related deaths this week raised Oklahoma’s total flu deaths since flu season began in September to 61. NewsOK featured Oklahoma nonprofit Variety Care, which provides comprehensive health services to insured and uninsured patients alike. Variety Care is one of the community health centers that relied on Oklahoma’s uncompensated care fund, which ran dry in December.
Tulsa police officers are being trained to carry and administer Naloxone, an opioid antidote used to kick-start the respiratory systems of overdose victims. We’ve written about Oklahoma’s prescription drug epidemic before. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has kicked an appeal from two death-row inmates seeking a stay of execution down to a lower court. The inmates’ lawyers are demanding more information about the drugs that will be used to execute them. Vice News discussed problems in Oklahoma and Ohio that have occurred during lethal injections with new combinations of drugs.
The US Fish and Wildlife services continues to tangle with landowners in Oklahoma and other states regarding conservation efforts for the lesser prairie chicken. StateImpact Oklahoma examined how the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is taking additional precautions before approving oil and gas wastewater disposal wells in earthquake-prone areas of the state. The Number of the Day is the percentage of Oklahoma adults making less than $15,000 a year who are limited in some activities because of a disability or mental illness. In today’s Policy Note, The New Republic discussed how the latest enrollment numbers for the Affordable Care Act marketplaces are very good news for health reform.
In The News
Is Oklahoma Backing Off the Accountability Push for Public Schools
One by one, K-12 education reforms passed in previous years by Oklahoma lawmakers are being targeted for weakening or repeal. Among them: Common Core State Standards, the Reading Sufficiency Act, A-F school grades for districts, and middle-school end-of-instruction exams for history and social studies. These could all be scaled back or revoked by various legislative bills that have passed in both the House and Senate. It is Republicans, who have driven the accountability and testing movement statewide and nationally, who are voting in sometimes large majorities to roll back reforms. It’s too early to tell how far the retrenchment will go, and whether it’s a temporary shift driven by cautionary election-year strategies that will abate after the primary in June and general election in November. But so far the fallback does not appear to be letting up, in Oklahoma or nationally.
Consequences of homegrown standards
Recent rumblings at the Capitol have brought into question Oklahoma’s adoption of Common Core standards — a system that Republicans once championed as an education reform strategy with promise. President Barack Obama and Democrats agreed and put their support behind the measure. With that support came the delayed outcry we are now hearing from tea party conservatives convinced that any measure supported by the federal government is a ploy to take our guns, money and freedom — and if there is anything we Oklahomans love, it is guns, money and freedom. As the tea party adherents make their case for barring the implementation of Common Core, it is important to consider the consequence of continuing to develop “home-grown” standards and tests.
Oklahoma’s A-F school grading system to be discussed by panel
Researchers from Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma will discuss the effects of Oklahoma’s A-F school grading system and make recommendations at a Thursday panel discussion in Tulsa. The Faculty Research Excellence Lecture Series, set for noon in the North Hall B.S. Roberts Room at OSU-Tulsa, is a free, annual event that highlights research efforts by the OSU-Tulsa faculty. Researchers from OSU and OU worked together to analyze more than 15,000 test scores from 63 urban schools to test whether patterns of academic achievement in all subjects and for all groups of students was consistent with the letter grades assigned to their school by the state.
Fact Sheet: Investing In Education Is Key For Growth And Job Creation
With few exceptions, the states where workers earn the highest wages are the states with the most college graduates, while states with the lowest median wages are those with the fewest college graduates. Despite our state’s recent economic successes, Oklahomans’ wages lag well behind the national average.
Two School Groups Declare No Confidence In Janet Barresi
The leaders of two groups representing Oklahoma school administrators and suburban school districts are voicing their opposition to Republican state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi. The directors of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration and the United Suburban Schools Association released a joint statement Thursday declaring “no confidence” in Barresi. A Barresi spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Less than a third of juvenile inmates in Oklahoma earn high school credit, study finds
The majority of incarcerated youth in the U.S. don’t receive a single course credit and less than 10 percent earn a high school diploma or GED, according to a study released Wednesday. Just 29 percent of eligible juvenile inmates in Oklahoma earned high school credit, according to the study by the Southern Education Foundation, which examined 2010-2011 school year data from all 50 U.S. states to quantify educational outcomes in the juvenile justice system. Nationally, 46 percent of the youths received some course credits. Oklahoma’s youth fared slightly better than the national average on graduation rates, with 10 percent of those eligible achieving a diploma or equivalent, compared to 8 percent nationally.
Trooper pay raise not the only one that’s needed
The state House of Representatives has approved a state trooper pay raise that could bump Oklahoma Highway Patrol pay as much as 14 percent. The measure previously was approved by the state Senate, so it goes to Gov. Mary Fallin, who previously has endorsed trooper raises. So, unless there’s some unexpected development, this one seems like a done deal as it should be. Troopers put their lives on the line on a daily basis and haven’t had a raise in eight years. The state’s entry-level OHP pay is below that of all the surrounding states except New Mexico, and 25 other law enforcement agencies in the state pay better than the Department of Public Safety. State troopers should be among the state’s law enforcement elite, not a recruiting ground for other police agencies looking to hire well-trained, highly qualified, underpaid officers. The Legislature has done the right thing in raising highway patrol pay to conform with a state employee compensation study conducted at Fallin’s suggestion last year. But the job is not done. Other key state-funded jobs still are waiting for long overdue pay raises.
State House Takes Strong Stand Against Human Trafficking
Three bills intended to toughen Oklahoma’s human trafficking laws have been approved by the state House. House members voted without opposition for a bill by Republican Rep. Pam Peterson of Tulsa that ensures provisions of the Sex Offender Registration Act apply to people convicted of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Another bill by Peterson adds human trafficking to the list of crimes requiring those convicted to serve 85 percent of their time before being eligible for parole.
Oklahoma’s governor supports open records with veto of Senate measure
A Senate bill that would have given Oklahoma’s higher education institutions additional exemptions to the state Open Records Act was vetoed Wednesday by Gov. Mary Fallin. “The expansion of exceptions to the Open Records Act serves only to limit public access to information,” Fallin said in her veto message. The Open Records Act exemptions higher education institutions were seeking through Senate Bill 1577 concerned things like proprietary information, business plans, trade secrets, marketing plans and similar information that might be submitted by individuals seeking economic advice.
Oklahoma House’s top Democrat: No time for tax cut
The top Democrat in the Oklahoma House said Thursday that legislators shouldn’t cut the state income tax this year, citing declining revenue and critical public education and transportation needs. “This is the wrong time to pass an income tax cut,” Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Oklahoma City told reporters shortly after the House adjourned for the long Easter weekend. Proposals to reduce the state’s 5.25 percent top income tax rate by a quarter of a percentage point once the state’s revenue stream improves are expected to be considered by the Legislature next week.
Criticism mounts following minimum wage bill signed by Fallin
Criticism is mounting regarding Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to sign a bill that prohibits cities and towns from increasing the minimum wage to an amount higher than that of the state. The state has adopted the federal rate of $7.25. Fallin on Monday signed Senate Bill 1023 that prevents the increase. It appears to have shuttered efforts to circulate an initiative petition in Oklahoma City to increase the rate.
Minimum Wage, Maximum Outrage
No one should ever endure the kind of economic humiliation that comes with working a full-time job and making a less-than-living wage. There is dignity in all work, but that dignity grows dim when the checks are cashed and the coins are counted and still the bills rise higher than the wages. Most people want to work. It is a basic human desire: to make a way, to provide for one’s self and one’s loved ones, to advance. It is that great hope of tomorrow, better and brighter, in which we can be happy and secure, able to sleep without hunger and wake without worry. But it is easy to see how people can have that hope thrashed out of them, by having to wrestle with the most wrenching of questions: how to make do when you work for less than you can live on?
The economic culture war over the minimum wage
With the national debate over the minimum wage likely to intensify into 2014, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin has signed a law passed by the Oklahoma legislature that would forbid any municipality in the state from passing its own law setting the minimum wage higher than $7.25. Not only that, it forbids cities and counties from requiring employers to provide paid sick days or vacation days. Above all, this is a reminder that in many ways, the minimum wage fight is taking on the feel of a culture war. Call it an economic culture war.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin not pleased by decision on Lexington, Purcell federal disaster loans
The U.S. Small Business Administration has rejected Gov. Mary Fallin’s request to make federally subsidized disaster loans available to Lexington and Purcell businesses adversely impacted by the Jan. 31 closure of a bridge over the Canadian River. “I am extremely disappointed in SBA’s decision to deny economic injury loans to businesses suffering from this unexpected bridge closure,” Fallin said Thursday in a news release. “The bridge’s closure has caused economic hardships to many businesses in Lexington and Purcell, with some reporting a 30 to 50 percent decline in sales as a result of the bridge being closed.” Federal officials said in their denial letter that the Jan. 31 closure of the bridge that links Lexington and Purcell doesn’t meet the definition of a disaster declaration, which is described in the Small Business Act as “a sudden event which causes severe damage.”
Judge in gay marriage case asks pointed questions
A judge in Colorado who will play a pivotal role deciding whether gays should be allowed to wed in the United States asked pointed questions Thursday about whether Oklahoma can legally ban the unions. U.S. Circuit Judge Jerome Holmes is seen as the swing vote on the three-judge panel that heard the Oklahoma appeal and a similar case from Utah last week. The two cases are the first to reach an appellate court since the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Since then, gay rights lawyers have successfully convinced eight federal judges that the ruling means courts must strike down laws against gay marriage because they deprive same-sex couples of a fundamental right.
Oklahoma nonprofit Variety Care focuses on role as medical home
In one of the unhealthiest states in the nation, focusing on the health of children can mean a better future, the pediatric medical director of a local nonprofit health center said Thursday. “We have some of the highest obesity rates, and we have the second-highest teen birth rates,” said Dr. Kyle Stewart, medical director of pediatrics at Variety Care, a nonprofit community health center with locations in Oklahoma City, Norman and several rural communities. “Our young people are not very healthy, and that’s everybody’s problem, because if you don’t have healthy kids, then you don’t have healthy schools, and if you don’t have healthy schools, you don’t have a healthy workforce, and if you don’t have a healthy workforce, you’re not going to be able to compete.”
Hundreds gather at Oklahoma Capitol rally for developmentally disabled
Developmentally disabled Oklahomans along with their advocates and caregivers gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday to rally and meet with lawmakers. Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake gave the opening remarks to the crowd of about 300, followed by members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives including Jeff Hickman, Scott Inman, Jason Nelson and Earl Sears and Sens. Gary Stanislawski, Bill Brown and Connie Johnson. The Developmental Disabilities Services waiting list holds the names of nearly 7,000 Oklahomans who are seeking services from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. Some have been waiting as long as eight years, said Kevan Goff-Parker, a spokeswoman for DHS Developmental Disabilities Services. Participants at Thursday’s rally said they hope lawmakers will approve additional funding.
Oklahoma Health Department urges parents not to skip vaccines
The Oklahoma State Department of Health is warning parents that skipping vaccines can put children at risk for diseases. The disappearance of many childhood diseases, measles, mumps, or whooping cough, led some parents to question whether vaccines are still necessary and if they are safe. Some parents choose to delay vaccines or withhold them altogether from their children. Health department officials said this inaction places not just their own children but other children at risk of getting serious diseases, even while scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows these vaccines are safe.
Three Additional Flu Deaths Reported In Oklahoma
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reports three deaths due to influenza in the past week has raised the total number this flu season to 61. The deaths reported Thursday are the first in the state since the middle of March and adds to the record number reported during the flu season that began in September. The previous record of 46 flu deaths in 2009 — the year the state began tracking the statistic — was broken in February.
Naloxone use as antidote for opioid overdose urged
Substance abusers who overdose in Tulsa County may get what former University of Oklahoma linebacker Austin Box did not. A second chance. Tulsa is the first city in Oklahoma to get a program arming first responders with an antidote to opioids. It began Thursday with a training session and initial distribution of kits containing two doses of naloxone, also known as Narcan. Gail Box, mother of the OU player who died in May 2012 after ingesting a lethal amount of prescription drugs, applauded the state for embracing the movement to expand naloxone’s use.
Oklahoma Justices Send Execution Case To Lower Court
The Oklahoma Supreme Court says it is not the place for death-row inmates to go if they want a stay of execution. Justices said Thursday that the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals should take up stay requests from two inmates scheduled to die in the next two weeks. The appeals court had said previously it didn’t have the authority because the inmates hadn’t met all technical requirements under the law.
Oklahoma Plans Executions, But Doesn’t Want You to Know the Details
Oklahoma is preparing to kill two men, even though the legitimacy of a law that shields its source of lethal drugs is in doubt. The state plans to inject 38-year-old Clayton Lockett and 46-year-old Charles Warner with drugs from an undisclosed source using untried dosages, despite a court’s recent determination that the secrecy shrouding the deadly pharmaceuticals is unconstitutional because it violates an inmate’s right to due process. Oklahoma’s law dictates that the supplier of lethal drugs “shall be confidential and shall not be subject to discovery in any civil or criminal proceedings.” Because the law denies access to the courts, Oklahoma County District judge Patricia Parrish said she didn’t think her ruling was “even a close call.” Unusual reports of lethal injections have sparked a national debate about whether the drugs are causing cruel deaths that violate the Eighth Amendment.
Federal Plan To Save Prairie Chickens Ruffles State Feathers
It’s prairie chicken mating season! Still, it’s tough being a lesser prairie chicken these days. This type of grouse once spanned an enormous area, though now they survive mainly in pockets of Oklahoma and Kansas. Their numbers are plummeting; in 2012, the population dropped by half. But after they were recently listed as a threatened species by the U.S. government, complaints of federal overreach and lawsuits have followed. The Fish and Wildlife Service has been threatening to step in and for years, a sour prospect for farmers and ranchers, who own almost all the bird’s habitat.
Oklahoma Oil and Gas Regulator Uses Red Tape, Not Rules, to Manage Disposal Wells in Earthquake Country
As earthquakes continue to shake the state and researchers study links to drilling, Oklahoma’s oil and gas regulator has changed the way it approves permits for injection wells. Oil and water have long mixed in Oklahoma and other petroleum states. In the early days of the U.S. oil boom, drillers were focused on finding ways to separate water from the oil they were pumping to the surface. As decades passed, our understanding of the environmental impact of oil drilling changed. After the federal Clean Water Act and Water Quality Act went into effect in the ’70s and ’80s, state governments got serious about keeping oil and oilfield waste out of public water supplies. One of the most effective ways to isolate saltwater, toxic drilling fluid and other hazardous oilfield waste fluid is to pump it into disposal wells so it can be stored deep underground, protected by layers of rock. In Oklahoma, operators must get a permit from the Corporation Commission, the state oil and gas regulator, to drill or use injection wells.
Quote of the Day
“The juvenile justice education programs that serve hundreds of thousands of students are characterized by low expectations, inadequate supports to address student needs, and ineffective instruction and technology. Students come out of the juvenile justice system in worse shape than when they entered, struggling to return to school or get their lives back on track.”
– Southern Education Foundation Vice President Steve Suitts, author of a recent report that found that students in the juvenile justice system receive substandard educations (source: http://bit.ly/1h8Pfk4).
Number of the Day
Percentage of Oklahoma adults making less than $15,000 a year who are limited in some activities because of a disability or mental illness, 2012.
Source: Centers for Disease Control
Obamacare Signups Hit 8 Million
President Obama just announced the final numbers for the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period. Eight million people have signed up for private insurance plans through the new marketplaces. And within those marketplaces that the federal government is managing directly, 28 percent of enrollees are ages 18 to 34. This is good news—very, very good news. Remember, the Congressional Budget Office originally predicted that 7 million people would get insurance through the marketplaces in 2014, with more joining in future years. After the early problems with the federal and some state websites, CBO revised its projection and said just 6 million would get coverage this way. The estimates were not precise and enrollment anywhere in that range would signal that the new system is working. Clearly it is.
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