In The Know: K-12 enrollment up more than 8,000 across the state

In The KnowIn 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 Oklahoma public schools have 8,388 more students enrolled this school year and 27,036 more than five years ago. University of Oklahoma President David Boren slammed Governor Fallin’s proposal to again cut higher education funding while cutting taxes further. NewsOn6 reported on how Oklahoma’s new high stakes reading test is creating major anxiety for third graders. Oklahoma’s assistant superintendent in charge of testing has resigned from her post. Her interim replacement is a private consultant based out of Florida.

The Associated Press reported that Oklahoma lawmakers are unlikely to decriminalize marijuana this year, but they may ease the penalties. More than 125 DHS employees were fired, suspended without pay or demoted last year due to serious infractions. A huge shortage of foster homes still exists throughout northwest Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Senate passed a bill that would add Oklahoma to the growing list of states working to ensure that the presidential candidate receiving the most votes becomes president. It became the first legislative body in a GOP-leaning state to embrace the National Popular Vote.

A free public lecture next week will discuss communicating respectfully with people who have disabilities. Oklahoma City’s office market managed to grow slightly in 2013 despite huge vacancies created by Chesapeake Energy’s consolidation. Based on oil and gas production forecasts, Chesapeake Energy is predicted to have a $1 billion cash flow deficit this year.

The Oklahoman editorial board endorsed some recommendations to improve Oklahoma’s long-term budget planning, after a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ranked the state last in the nation. Oklahoma’s state Capitol architect wrote that failing to fix the Capitol is costing us more every year.

The Number of the Day is how many Oklahoma earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude or greater were felt or reported in 2013. In today’s Policy Note, Economic Policy Institute finds that efforts to transform Oklahoma’s state pensions into a defined contribution system could actually increase costs.

In The News

K-12 enrollment up more than 8,000 across the state

Oklahoma public schools have 8,388 more students enrolled this school year, the state Education Department said Friday. Total enrollment of students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 for the 2013-14 school year is 681,578, up from 673,190 last year and 27,036 more than five years ago, according to a news release. “Because of this sharp growth in enrollment over the past five years, I have asked for additional funding for schools from the state Legislature,” State Superintendent Janet Barresi said.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

David Boren: Wake Up, Oklahoma!

Our future is at risk. The current state budget now before the Legislature will put us on the wrong path. It is time we asked ourselves some basic questions: Who are we as a people? What kind of state do we want to be? What kind of state do we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren? A few months ago, our state government asked businessmen and women across our state a question: What will bring higher paying jobs and more investment to Oklahoma? The resounding answer was: Invest more in achieving excellence in education.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma 3rd graders worried about Reading Sufficiency Act exam

Heidi McComb’s 9 year old son Zane has always loved school. Something changed for this straight-A student soon after he started 3rd grade. “He started complaining about stomach aches every morning and not wanting to go to school,” Heidi said. “My husband would drop him off and he would start to cry.” Concerned for her son, it finally clicked. Heidi asked her son, “‘Are you worried about not passing the 3rd grade?’ He’s one of those kids who worry. A little tear just kind of came down his eye and he shook his head, ‘Yes.'”

Read more from NewsOn6.

Oklahoma education official in charge of statewide testing to resign

Maridyth McBee, the state’s assistant superintendent for accountability and assessments, has resigned from her post but will stay on the job until March 14. She is in charge of statewide testing at public schools, and some educators have expressed concern that her last day comes weeks before April testing. Wes Bruce, a consultant who has been working with the department since before McBee’s decision, agreed to expand his role in assessments in the interim. Bruce is the former chief assessment officer for the Indiana Department of Education under former Superintendent Tony Bennett, who lost the election in 2012 for another term.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Legal pot in Oklahoma unlikely, but lawmakers could ease penalties

Despite last week’s pro-marijuana rally at the Oklahoma Capitol, there is little appetite in the conservative Oklahoma Legislature to join other states in legalizing cannabis, even for medicinal purposes. Legislators from both sides of the aisle say that while attitudes may slowly be shifting toward loosening laws that prohibit Oklahomans from smoking pot, the idea isn’t worth the potential political fallout in a state with a tough-on-crime reputation that predates statehood — especially during an election year. But with a growing prison system that consumes more of the state’s budget each year, along with the societal costs of locking up a greater share of its residents than nearly every other state, even conservative politicians in Oklahoma have expressed a willingness to look at options other than just longer prison sentences.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

More than 125 DHS employees disciplined last year

Despite new leadership and a series of reforms, the state Department of Human Services still is having some of the same old problems with its employees, records show. More than 125 DHS employees were fired, suspended without pay or demoted last year, the agency’s disciplinary records show. Child welfare specialists were disciplined for falsifying investigations, embezzlement, neglect of duty, sleeping on the job and, in one instance, picking up the wrong baby from a day care.

Read more from NewsOK.

Foster homes in big demand, short supply

There are about 150 children in Garfield County in and out of foster home placement because of abuse or neglect, but there are only 27 non-relative foster homes in the county. A shortage of foster homes exists throughout northwest Oklahoma, and volunteers are needed to become foster parents. Communities without enough foster parents are seeing children in need of foster care going to foster homes several hours away from their biological parents, or being placed in shelters across the state.

Read more from the McAlester News-Capital.

Oklahoma Senate endorses National Popular Vote plan

The Oklahoma Senate voted Wednesday to pass a bill that would add Oklahoma to the growing list of states working to ensure that the presidential candidate receiving the most votes becomes president. It became the first legislative body in a GOP-leaning state to embrace the National Popular Vote, an interstate compact that would ensure that the candidate who garners the most votes in each presidential election would also receive a majority in the Electoral College.

Read more from Think Progress.

Upcoming event: Policy & Practice lecture series presents “Communicating Respectfully with People who have Disabilities”

On February 25, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services will host Ann Trudgeon and Helen Kutz for their talk “Communicating Respectfully with People who have Disabilities” as part of its Policy & Practice lecture series. Trudgeon and Kutz will discuss methods to help overcome fears and insecurities in communicating with individuals with disabilities and to learn empowering language inclusive of individuals with disabilities. The free public lecture will be from noon to 1pm at the Oklahoma History Center’s Chesapeake Room (800 Nazih Zuhdi Dr., Oklahoma City, OK 73105).

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Oklahoma City growth chases away Chesapeake’s shadow

Chesapeake Energy Corp. cast an 800,000-square-foot shadow over Oklahoma City’s office market last year, but the city shined on. Suburban vacancy still dropped from 11.8 percent to 11.6 percent “despite the onslaught of inventory,” Price Edwards & Co. reported in its 2013 year-end office market summary. “The suburban markets continue to thrive,” the firm said, even with Chesapeake’s divestiture of office buildings and consolidation onto its corporate campus at NW 63 and Western Avenue. It was a year for the suburban record books.

Read more from NewsOK.

Chesapeake Energy’s $1 billion cash flow deficit

Based on Chesapeake’s production forecasts, and assumptions of a NYMEX Henry Hub natural gas price of $4.00 per thousand cubic feet (current prices are at ~$4.80, with the 12-month strip at ~$4.60) and $90 per barrel for NYMEX WTI crude oil (current prices are at ~$100, with the 12-month strip at ~$95), the company estimates operating cash flow of $5.1 billion to $5.3 billion. With operating cash flow of ~$5.2 billion, and a capex budget of $5.4 billion, it appears that CHK would only outspend cash flow by ~$200 million. However, note that CHK capitalizes most of its interest. Taking into account estimated interest expense of ~$800 million over 2014, CHK will be outspending cash flow during the year by ~$1 billion.

Read more from Market Realist.

NewsOK: Some Oklahoma budget process changes may be worthwhile

We recently noted that one national report ranked Oklahoma among the nation’s more fiscally sound state governments. Now another report ranks Oklahoma worst in the country for long-term budget planning. The second report doesn’t directly contradict the first — the focus of each report was different — but the new report suggests Oklahoma policymakers could improve their budget-writing process. The new report, from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, ranks states on how well they make use of 10 fiscal planning tools. Oklahoma was given high marks for having a well-designed rainy day fund and using regular budget status reports, but ranked poorly on the other eight metrics.

Read more from NewsOK.

Previously: Oklahoma ranks worst in the nation for long-term budget planning from Oklahoma Policy Institute

Oklahoma state architect: Fixing Capitol building needs to get done

Fixing the state Capitol — a century-old building that’s part office, part museum and the seat of state government — transcends any conventional construction project. This project is about the preservation of something we can’t replace. With the building’s list of troubles miles long and growing, the question is no longer if we fix it, but when and how we do. My recommendation, as a lifetime taxpayer and an architect of over 25 years, has been that we fix it now and fix it right. Each day passed and each step skipped just costs us more. Given the cost of inaction, it would be fundamentally unwise to pursue anything other than the total systems replacement the building needs to remain useful and useable for another century.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

One of the questions we need to ask ourselves is: Can we afford another tax cut when we can’t give another tax cut without cutting vital services? It is not only schools and colleges that are damaged. What about bridges like the one being closed between Lexington and Purcell? What about overcrowded prisons that are ticking time bombs? Who will get this proposed tax cut? Is it worth hurting education more? Sixty percent of Oklahomans will get $2.50 per month or less. Those who earn over $1.2 million per year will get a little over $2,000 per year. This proposed tax cut is certainly not based on the principle that those who can reasonably contribute more should do so.

-University of Oklahoma President David Boren, on Governor Fallin’s proposed budget that cuts the top income tax rate while slashing higher education and most other services (Source:

Number of the Day


Oklahoma earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude or greater felt or reported in 2013, more than 3 times as many as in 2012.

Source: Oklahoma Geological Survey via NewsOK

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Oklahoma State Worker Pension Plan: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Break It

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, goes the saying. But in a rapidly moving effort to radically restructure Oklahoma pensions for state employees, the more apt phrase is “if it ain’t broke, don’t break it.” Oklahoma policymakers appear set on taking a financially sound, cost-effective state pension plan that provides modest middle-class retirement security for Oklahoma nurses, food safety inspectors, cooperative extension agents, and other public servants, and replacing it with a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan increasingly recognized in the private sector as an abject failure. This shift is possibly on a fast track without basic due diligence – such as an actuarial study of the taxpayer costs and impact on retirement security of closing the existing Oklahoma Public Employee Retirement System.

Read more from Economic Policy Institute.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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