In The Know: Hundreds of students walk out to protest budget cuts

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

Hundreds of students walk out to protest budget cuts: Hundreds of students from at least three schools in the Oklahoma City district walked out of classes Monday morning to protest budget cuts that have resulted in teacher layoffs and program reductions. An estimated 600 students walked out at U.S. Grant High School in south Oklahoma City to protest the cuts, Principal Greg Frederick said. “Students have free will and we’re not going to chain the doors,” Frederick said. “I would prefer that they exercise their rights to assemble not during school time; I absolutely want them to be in class right now” [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Senate advances bills to cut tax credits: The Oklahoma Senate passed finance reform measures Monday intended to save the state millions of dollars a year as lawmakers try to close a $1.3 billion budget hole. Bills that cleared the Senate on Monday included: Senate Bill 1604, which is to generate $28.9 million a year by reducing the earned income tax credit. Under the bill, the credit can still be applied against taxes, but direct cash payments would not be offered for those who don’t owe taxes [NewsOK]. SB 1604 would devastate a key tax credit for Oklahoma working families [OK Policy].

Cigarette tax hike clears first Oklahoma legislative hurdle: A plan to hike the tax on cigarettes in Oklahoma by $1.50 per pack to help stave off deep cuts to the state’s health care system has passed its first major hurdle in the Legislature. A House budget committee voted 16-11 on Monday for the bill, which is projected to generate about $180 million in revenue each year. The money will be available for the Legislature to appropriate to state agencies that receive federal Medicaid funding [Associated Press]. 

OKC school district to announce additional $7 million in cuts: The acting superintendent for Oklahoma City Public Schools will announce an additional $7 million in district budget cuts during Monday night’s school board meeting, officials said. To date, the district has announced $23 million in reductions for the 2016-17 school year and is seeking to reach $30 million in cuts to counter the state’s projected revenue shortfall of $1.3 billion [NewsOK].

Bartlesville school board slashes $1.9 million from budget; 39 jobs cut: The school board voted Monday to reduce Bartlesville Public Schools’ budget by $1.9 million — including the elimination of 39 jobs — for the new fiscal year beginning July 1. The jobs to be eliminated are 21 teaching positions, 15 support positions and three district-level administrative positions. The position of executive director of secondary schools will go unfilled after Chuck McCauley moves from that position to superintendent July 1 [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma remains a national leader in Pre-K education: The National Institute for Early Education Research has released its annual State of Preschool 2015 report, which ranked Oklahoma fourth in the nation in preschool access for 4-year-olds. While Oklahoma maintained its ranking from the previous school year, the state fell from 26th to 28th in state funding. Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, highlighted the importance of pre-k to Oklahoma’s schoolchildren [Daily Ardmoreite].

Are Oklahoma tax dollars being wasted on too many tax breaks for oil, gas companies?: State lawmakers have less than two weeks now to figure out the budget. Many experts blame the $1.3 billion budget shortfall on the plummeting prices of crude oil. Other experts say there’s more to the puzzle. You’re seeing it in your kids’ schools and your rural hospitals. Budget cuts are crippling core services in Oklahoma. You can find experts on both sides of the aisle who blame the drastic cuts on the price of oil [KFOR]. Even amid the energy bust, Oklahoma’s oil and gas tax breaks exceed $400 million per year [OK Policy].

Oklahoma legislators must save health care: This is National Hospital Week, National Nursing Home Week and National Nurses Week – annual celebrations of the contributions health care providers make to their professions and quality of life for all Americans. But, this is no time to celebrate in Oklahoma – health care in our state is on the brink of collapse. With impending medical reimbursement rate cuts coming to an already inadequately funded health care system, what will be left to celebrate next year? [Richie Splitt / Norman Transcript]. Here’s what know about the plan to extend health coverage [OK Policy].

Budget cuts put unbalanced burden on places of worship: This afternoon, I speak from a voice born out of a Baptist heritage including John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and John Leland. I am a Jeffersonian and Madisonian disciple of complete religious liberty and upholding a wall of separation between church and state. The first sixteen words of the Bill of Rights are paramount, forever drawing a line between the institutions of the church and state. This separation, however, does not prevent the church and state from working together to address the common good for all our citizens [Dr. Mitch Randall / OK Policy].

Fight to bring medical marijuana to Oklahoma takes step forward: A petition to get medical marijuana laws on the ballot in Oklahoma is once again making the rounds. On Saturday, Tulsa-based Oklahomans for Health started gathering signature. It’s the first day they’re allowed to under Oklahoma law. The organization has been working to get the issue on the ballot for the past few years [KOCO].

Oklahoma House fails to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of vaccination disclosure bill: Members of the Oklahoma House on Monday rejected an effort to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a bill she said could have reduced vaccination rates and increased chances for communicable disease outbreaks. House Bill 3016 would have required doctors to give parents additional material about vaccinations at the time children receive them. Consumers already receive a two-page summary of the benefits and risks of vaccines before they are administered [NewsOK].

Bill addressing court’s sodomy ruling clears Oklahoma panel: A bill designed to fix a loophole in Oklahoma’s forcible sodomy law has cleared a key legislative committee. A Senate budget panel on Monday approved the bill that was introduced after criminal charges were dropped against a 17-year-old boy accused of forcing a heavily intoxicated girl to perform oral sex. Oklahoma’s highest criminal court upheld the dismissal of charges, saying in a unanimous ruling that while Oklahoma’s rape law addresses unconscious or intoxicated victims, the forcible sodomy law does not [Associated Press].

Earthquake surge rattles Oklahoma’s fracking industry: Oklahomans are no strangers to natural disasters. The Midwestern state stretches across Tornado Alley — one of the most tornado-prone places in the world — and residents grapple with hail, thunderstorms and severe weather. In the past few years, however, homeowners, property developers and insurers in Oklahoma have faced an unfamiliar challenge: earthquakes. Oklahoma experienced 890 earthquakes with a reading of 3.0 or greater on the moment magnitude scale last year, compared with just one in 2007, according to the US Geological Survey [Financial Times].

Gov. Mary Fallin’s signature makes catfishing illegal in Oklahoma: Catfish someone in Oklahoma and you could find yourself on the hook. Under a new law, anyone who uses another person’s photos or video to carry out a so-called catfishing scam may be held liable for monetary damages. The bill, which was House Bill 3024, passed both legislative houses by overwhelming margins. Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill into law this week [NewsOK].

Apparent misunderstanding complicates Tulsa County’s Vision tax vote; second election possible: An apparent misunderstanding over when and how many times legal notices for the April 5 county sales tax election were to be published in the Tulsa World is at the bottom of a situation that could lead to a new election on that single issue. As previously reported, a legal proceeding is expected to determine whether Tulsa County’s portion of the Vision vote was valid. Municipal Vision sales tax votes, including the city of Tulsa’s, are not affected by the issue [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“This whole gathering is to show that just because we are considered children does not mean that our education isn’t valued to us, and it should be valued to everybody else. This is our education, this is everybody’s future.”

-Cassidy Coffey, a junior at U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City, who organized a student walkout to protest budget cuts to Oklahoma schools (Source)

Number of the Day

2,525 per 100,000

2014 jail incarceration rate for residents age 15-64 in Jefferson County, OK, the highest in Oklahoma and more than 5 times higher than the state average.

Source: Vera Institute of Justice

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Suicide rates – and how Medicaid can help: Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released results this week to document that suicide rates have increased by 24 percent since 1999. The increase has been especially rapidly among women and among middle-aged people of both genders between the ages of 45 and 64. This is just a huge problem. Quite properly, the story has gotten much play. This morning’s New York Times includes a front-page story: “U.S. Suicide rate surges to a 30-year high” [].

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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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