In The Know: Governor’s proposal for special session on teacher pay raises gets mixed reviews

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

Governor’s proposal for special session on teacher pay raises gets mixed reviews: A proposed special session of the Legislature to dole out $140.8 million in excess funds for teacher pay raises drew criticism from several quarters on Thursday. It also had some supporters. Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday said she was considering a special session to use the funds for pay raises. A revenue failure in the last fiscal year resulted in cuts to state agencies [Tulsa World]. Oklahoma’s teacher shortage is about more than salaries [OK Policy].

Local students face changes on first day of school year after budget cuts: A year ago, Cassidy Coffey was one of the fortunate students to claim a desk when she arrived at history class at U.S. Grant High School. With more than 30 students entering the south Oklahoma City classroom, a handful of students had to take their seats around a folding table. Coffey can’t image even larger class sizes but expects to find them when she enters her senior year Monday [Oklahoma Gazette]. Oklahoma continues to lead the nation for the largest cuts to general school funding since the start of the recession [OK Policy].

Prescription Drug Deaths Subside; Meth, Heroin Overdoses Soar: Prescription drug overdose deaths appear to be subsiding in Oklahoma as new laws and outreach efforts take effect. But black-market methamphetamine and heroin deaths are surging. Drug law enforcers and medical professionals said they were both encouraged and alarmed by the latest overdose death data, generated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and compiled by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics [Oklahoma Watch].

Tobacco sales to minors doubles in Oklahoma: An annual inspection of tobacco compliance measures in Oklahoma has determined tobacco sales to minors throughout the state has doubled in the last four years, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS). The annual inspection measures compliance on restricting the sale of tobacco products to minors. The tests are conducted throughout the state and the results are not tabulated by county, but as a state as a whole [Duncan Banner].

It’s time to address racial disparities in Oklahoma’s prisons: A new report on racial disparities in state prisons underscores the need for policymakers and state administrators in Oklahoma to take a hard look at the policies, practices and prejudices that are playing out in the state’s criminal justice system. By analyzing U.S. Justice Department data, the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization The Sentencing Project found that Oklahoma has the nation’s highest incarceration rate for black men, nearly twice the national average. One in 15 adult black men in Oklahoma is in prison, compared with a national average of 1 in 26 [Ryan Kiesel and Ashley Nellis / NewsOK]. The full report is available here. Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, up from fourth highest in 2012, with approximately 1,310 out of every 100,000 of our citizens incarcerated in 2014 [OK Policy].

Equal pay bill deserves hearing in the Legislature: Two legislators are promising a small but important change to address the gender pay gap. Oklahoma already has a law that prohibits employers from willingly paying less to women than men for comparable work on jobs with comparable skill requirements unless the differential is based on seniority, a merit system that measures earnings on quantity or quality of performance or a differential on some factor other than gender. Despite that, women in Oklahoma continue to be paid about 70 cents for every dollar that men earn in comparable jobs [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]. Oklahoma women can’t afford wage discrimination [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Insurance Regulators Still Face An Unprecedented Risk: Regulators in Oklahoma are working to manage an expanding local insurance market, as the frequency of earthquakes in the state has leaped and created an unprecedented risk in the state. As a result of an astronomical increase in the number of earthquakes – there was a record 890 of 3.0-magnitude or greater in 2015, compared with just 12 between 2000 and 2008, according to the United States Geological Survey – interest in earthquake insurance has outpaced the market’s natural ability to evolve [Forbes].

Ronald Reagan, Okie DNA and boogeyman politics: The knee-jerk conservatism that now rules Oklahoma politics was built in no small measure on around-the-clock demonizing of the federal government. It’s Ronald Reagan’s “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help,’” writ large. Indeed, if state taxpayers were given a dollar for each time Republican officeholders invoked the phrase “federal overreach” this century, Oklahoma probably would have more households worth $5 million-plus than the rest of the nation combined [Arnold Hamilton / Journal Record].

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission struggles with phone and online system failures: Hundreds of Oklahomans experienced frustration after the phone lines went down at the state unemployment office. “Whenever I tried online Sunday night it said it could not be processed,” Lisa Hand said. When Hand tried calling for her unemployment benefits the same thing happened. “It just kept hanging up on me,” she said. “It would take my social security number, and it would just hang up.” [KFOR]

Oklahoma Forestry Services closing 4 offices due to budget: Oklahoma Forestry Services says it’s closing four offices and reducing services as part of a restructuring program forced by budget reductions. Forestry Services Director George Geissler says the agency plans to reallocate resources to maximize its remaining services. While some services will no longer be available to landowners in western Oklahoma, all 77 Oklahoma counties will continue to receive wildfire suppression support [KOCO]. OK Policy’s FY 2017 budget highlights are available here.

Mosquitoes Connected To Zika Virus Found In Southwest Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Department of Health confirms that the mosquito connected with the Zika virus has been found in southwest Oklahoma. In a news release Thursday, ODH said a small number of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been found in Altus. The health department confirms as of this week, 13 Oklahoma residents have acquired Zika – all during international travel. That number includes one person who was pregnant when she got the disease [NewsOn6].

Why City of Hugo Hasn’t Seen One Cent of Record Settlement Over Improperly Treated Drinking Water: Oklahoma’s primary environmental agency made a private contractor pay just under $1 million earlier in a settlement over improperly treated water in a small city in southern Oklahoma. But the state’s budget shortfall swallowed up the money before the city of Hugo had a chance to use it [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Quote of the Day

“There was one teacher to every 30 students last year. I can’t imagine a 35-to-1 ratio. It’s hard for a teacher to make sure 25 students are focused. How can a teacher get students to focus when the student ratio gets bigger?”

– Cassidy Coffey, an organizer of last spring’s student walkouts and now a senior at U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of telemarketers working in Oklahoma as of May 2015

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Challenges Facing Low-Income Female Students: Being a low-income student in college is difficult, but it’s probably tougher for women. Barbara Gault, executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, points out that female students are much more likely than men to be raising children and possibly caring for older relatives as well. Colleges’ schedules and services, which have long catered to traditional, childless students, she says, need to change to accommodate a new student population [The Chronicle of Higher Education].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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