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Today In The News

Final toll on Oklahoma school budgets for FY 2017: $54 million less to spend: With final state aid payments out Thursday, local school leaders throughout Oklahoma finally have a clear picture of their finances for the fiscal year ending June 30. Stronger revenue collections at the close of the fiscal year helped reduce the impact of shortfalls in previous months, but Oklahoma schools still saw their payments from the state reduced by $4 million for June. All told, schools received $54 million less than what the Legislature initially appropriated for fiscal year 2017, said Matt Holder, deputy state superintendent of finance and federal programs [Tulsa World]. However you count it, Oklahoma’s per pupil education funding is way down [OK Policy].

Oil’s pipeline to America’s schools: Jennifer Merritt’s first-graders at Jefferson Elementary School in Pryor, Oklahoma, were in for a treat. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, the students gathered in late November for story time with two special guests, state Rep. Tom Gann and state Sen. Marty Quinn. Dressed in suits, the Republican lawmakers read aloud from “Petro Pete’s Big Bad Dream,” a parable in which a Bob the Builder lookalike awakens to find his toothbrush, hardhat and even the tires on his bike missing. Abandoned by the school bus, Pete walks to Petroville Elementary in his pajamas [Center for Public Integrity].

Scott Pruitt used two government email addresses in his last job. He told Congress he used one. Five months after first appearing in front of Congress in pursuit of the job of Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt may need to clarify his congressional testimony yet again. Pruitt appears to have used two government email addresses while serving as attorney general of Oklahoma — despite telling the Senate that he used only one government email address during his time in that office. Pruitt is not the only member of President Trump’s Cabinet to be probed for inconsistencies in their confirmation testimony [Washington Post].

Gov. Mary Fallin talks jobs with Trump before trip to Paris Air Show with trade delegation: Gov. Mary Fallin and several other governors on Thursday met with President Donald Trump to talk about workforce development. Trump signed an executive order to expand apprenticeships and vocational training. The order removes federal restrictions that prevented some industries from creating apprenticeship programs, its supporters say. Fallin launched Oklahoma Works in 2015 to ensure students are prepared for high-quality, high-paying jobs that the state wants to retain and attract [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma last in nation in funding for higher education: Continued cuts in state funding have landed Oklahoma dead last in the nation when it comes to state tax support for higher education, the 2017 Grapevine study shows. “We’ve been flirting with that ranking for some time,” said President Don Betz of the University of Central Oklahoma. Shrinking state funding triggers increases in tuition and mandatory fees, which have a human cost, Betz said. “Every time we raise tuition and fees to make up for a lack of state appropriations, we create barriers for students,” he said [NewsOK]. Overwhelmingly, the states where residents earn the highest wages also have the best-educated workforce [OK Policy].

Oklahoma’s Legislature — and apparently its voters — just don’t value higher education like they used to: Oklahoma’s public investment in higher education continues to shrink. When the Legislature adjourned in May, appropriations to the state’s colleges and universities had been cut $30.7 million or 4.5 percent from the level they were promised by last year’s budget. That follows a year when they were cut by almost 16 percent. Which followed a year when they were cut by 2.5 percent. As my colleague Randy Krehbiel reported last week, state support to higher education has been cut by roughly one-fourth since 2015 [Wayne Greene / Tulsa World].

Chicken-Fried News: Ideal budget: Days before lawmakers passed a $6.8 billion spending plan, which cuts most state agencies by about 5 percent and holds funding flat for core services in areas of education, health and human services and public safety, Gov. Mary Fallin called the plan “not an ideal budget.” In a press statement, Fallin also stated the budget “does not address the structural budget challenges that [she has] been working to fix since [she] took office.” Fallin’s warnings have fallen on deaf ears. A week after that spending plan was passed by lawmakers, there was a sign that some were coming around to that warning [Oklahoma Gazette]. Adjusted for inflation, the FY 2018 budget is $1.26 billion, or 15.6 percent, below FY 2009 [OK Policy].

Tentative plan would delay Medicaid payments for a month: A tentative plan that would preserve health care provider payment rates will likely mean the state won’t be able to afford to pay its doctors, hospitals and nursing homes for up to a month. The proposal, which was called the “lesser of two evils” by at least one observer, has some concerned that it could hurt health care providers who rely on the state to pay its bills in a timely manner. While there’s measured relief that the strategy would protect what the state reimburses providers giving care to patients covered under the state’s largest insurer, critics are concerned that it could have an enormous impact on the survival of rural hospitals, doctors and nursing homes and Oklahomans’ overall health [CNHI].

Interested in disability advocacy? Apply for Partners in Policymaking: In one of the few bright spots in an otherwise frustrating Legislative session, advocates for any number of organizations and causes were increasingly visible at the Capitol and statewide. Teams including Together Oklahoma and Let’s Fix This have mobilized advocates through grassroots coalitions and informational resources while groups such as the Oklahoma Education Association and Oklahoma Public Employees Association make noise at the Capitol. Similarly, disability advocates have become more visible through rallies and helping to pass legislation such as the ABLE Act and the Autism Insurance Reform Act [OK Policy].

Locked out: Affordable housing still scarce in OKC: Michelle Lancaster needs a better place to live. Her apartment building flooded and mold has started growing. While the complex, Rockwell Villa, has some low-income units, she has been paying market-rate rent. She’s been to the hospital twice because the mold has made her sick. Her boyfriend, Julius Wright, and his two children stay with her sometimes. All four of them are asthmatic. “(The mold) has gotten worse,” she said. “I don’t need anyone else to get sick.” [Journal Record]

Oklahoma wages increasing faster than national average: Oklahoma wages have grown faster than the national average in 2017 after shrinking in 2015-16. A new report by Chad Wilkerson, branch executive, vice president and economist at the Oklahoma City Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said wage growth in February, March and April was an average 3.8 percent on an annual basis in Oklahoma. That is almost a full percentage point higher than the national wage growth average for the same period, Wilkerson said [Tulsa World].

BCBS back in business in Muskogee: Hundreds of health care customers in eastern Oklahoma exited limbo Thursday when Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma announced it had reached an agreement with the health system buying hospitals in their area. After Saint Francis bought the hospitals in Muskogee, the insurance provider told its patients that they would no longer have access to the two hospitals in the city and a slew of their associated physicians. BCBSOK covers more patients in the state than any other insurer, and it’s the only option for Oklahomans on the federal exchange [Journal Record].

Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office asking for more manpower: Caseloads continue to rise for Tulsa County public defenders, but the funding is not matching the trend. Chief Public Defender Rob Nigh said attorneys in his office do not have time to spend with their clients because they are so overworked. “Any good lawyer will tell you the key to success for your client is to prepare and taking time to know your client,” Nigh said [KJRH].

Oklahoma City School Board approves pay increases: Oklahoma City School Board members reversed course Thursday, unanimously approving $343,000 in retroactive pay increases for central office workers. Under a revised proposal, 220 central office staff and select operations workers, including members of Superintendent Aurora Lora’s cabinet, will receive $1,200 each for 2016-17. Another $1,200 will be added to each employee’s base salary for the 2017-18 school year at an additional cost to the district of $343,000 [NewsOK].

Temporary property tax increase will pay jail’s debt: A $3.3 million judgment against Oklahoma County government will be paid through an adjustment in residents’ property taxes for the next three years, officials said. Commissioner Brian Maughan said that although the additional levy seems small at $2.79 per year per $150,000 in a home’s value, it is not something he can easily put up with. …The judgment by the state Supreme Court leaves no further options available to commissioners to fight the lawsuit filed in 2015 by Armor Correctional Health Services after former Sheriff John Whetsel failed to pay for jail detainee services [Journal Record].

State ranks 5th in unused vacation time: Oklahoma ranks fifth in the nation in unused vacation time, according to a new report. Project: Time Off, an initiative of the U.S. Travel Association that encourages American workers to take their unused vacation time, released a new research report on Thursday called “Under-Vacationed America: An Analysis of the States and Cities that Need to Take a Day.” AAA is a travel industry coalition partner of Project: Time Off. According to the report, 69 percent on Oklahomans do not use all their vacation time, compared with 54 percent nationwide [Journal Record]. The report is available here.

State senator to likely miss 2018 session while deployed with military to northern Africa: Sen. Joe Newhouse, a member of the Navy Reserve, will be deploying to northern Africa as part of the fight against terrorism, the Oklahoma Senate announced Thursday. He will likely miss the 2018 legislative session. Newhouse, R-Broken Arrow, has been a member of the Senate since 2016. His district includes south Tulsa, Bixby, Broken Arrow and Jenks [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“It is likely we’ll be back here next spring talking about a crisis. Unless we change our method of governing and leading, that will most likely happen. My hope is legislative leaders get together this fall, create a plan and pass that next February instead of waiting until May.”

– Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, on education funding in Oklahoma (Source)

Number of the Day

$116

Oklahoma’s spending on prisons per state resident in 2015.

Source: Vera Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How the AHCA would create ‘Three Americas’ for health care: What’s the current state of health care in America? As Margot Sanger-Katz of the New York Times pointed out a few years ago, the answer depends on which “America” you’re referring to. There’s one America of states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, where the uninsured rate has dropped 9 percentage points since 2013 to about 9 percent, and hospitals’ uncompensated care costs have fallen significantly. And there’s another America in non-expansion states, where the ACA’s coverage growth has been much more limited, dropping the uninsured rate by only 5 percentage points to about 18 percent, and hospitals on average have lower profit margins. So what would the state of health care in America look like under the House GOP’s ACA replacement plan? [Advisory Board]

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