In The Know: Millions spent in Oklahoma drug testing welfare applicants for few positive results

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

Millions spent in Oklahoma drug testing welfare applicants for few positive results: Over the past five years, Oklahoma has spent nearly $2.2 million on mandatory drug testing for people applying for federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds, commonly known as the federal welfare program. The results of that testing — 557 individuals between 2012 and 2016 tested positive for drug use, or about 2.8 percent of the 19,878 adult applicants who underwent screening during that time, according to data from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services [The Frontier].

Any revenue-raising measures passed in special session would take time to kick in, governor says: Gov. Mary Fallin on Monday said it will take 90 days for any revenue-raising measures passed in a special legislative session to take effect, further complicating the state’s budget situation. “The money could not be collected for a long period of time — 90 days,” she said. Fallin said she believes a special session will be needed after the Oklahoma Supreme Court determined the Legislature violated the law in passing a $1.50 a pack “fee” on cigarettes, which was expected to generate $215 million for fiscal year 2018. The Supreme Court ruled the fee was actually a tax that was improperly approved [Tulsa World]. Governor Fallin is likely waiting on court decisions before calling a special session [Tahlequah Daily Press]. With the doomsday clock ticking, how might the state’s budget emergency be solved? [OK Policy]

Charities try to help Oklahoma teachers survive pay collapse: Tiona Bowman was overcome with emotion when the walls were erected last spring on her first-ever new home, a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Tulsa built through Habitat for Humanity. Bowman was flanked by her daughter and members of her family, work colleagues and a handful of local reporters who had come to document the event [Associated Press].

Big Oil, Small Schools: In Oklahoma, oil drillers have reaped the benefits of the lowest effective tax rates in the nation while the state’s schools have struggled to keep their doors open. As U.S. oil patches boomed between 2008 and 2014, oil and gas companies prospered in energy states such as Oklahoma, one of the top oil and gas producers in the nation. Several oil-dependent states began stashing away millions of dollars in production taxes then – but in an effort to draw more business, Oklahoma kept taxes low on some wells instead. And as the boom went bust and other oil-dependent states dipped into deep “rainy day funds,” Oklahoma found its coffers nearly empty, with a $878 million budget deficit this year [US News & World Report].

Passion, concern and ‘some anger’: Tulsa superintendent reflects on state of education after her three days teaching: Three days teaching in a third-grade classroom left Deborah Gist with the emotional mixture of concern, passion and “maybe even some anger.” “This is nobody’s fault,” Gist said of the state’s teacher shortage. “It’s up to us.” The Tulsa Public Schools superintendent’s work at Marshall Elementary was a stopgap as she and more than three dozen TPS administrators pitched in to fill teaching vacancies. A mixture of pending paperwork and vacant positions forced the district to make sure certified staff were in the classroom for the first day of school. This was the second year in a row district administrators staffed classrooms [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma City Public Schools can celebrate some recent wins: Taking the time to celebrate wins is important, and never more important than when times are tough. Oklahoma City Public Schools has had plenty of tough times the past few years. Crippling budget issues and a plethora of other bad stories have made the news on an almost daily basis. But, some stories that don’t always grab the headlines deserve attention. In a recent presentation to a crowd of South OKC Chamber members, hosted by the Police Athletic League and the Wheeler District, and again at the State of the Schools event hosted by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Superintendent Aurora Lora spoke about some wins that everyone in Oklahoma City should know about [Mary Mélon / NewsOK].

Tulsa known as a ‘magical’ place for early education research: Tulsa’s national reputation for offering innovative early childhood education programs has attracted another long-term study to see what exactly makes these classrooms so effective. Researchers from Georgetown and Harvard universities are partnering with the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa’s Early Childhood Education Institute to take the next step in understanding why pre-K programs work. The project is expected to add a significant layer to the burgeoning field of early education research, adding data and analysis based on classroom observations, teacher feedback and questionnaire responses provided by parents and children [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World].

Multiple options for how special session might play out: It’s a reasonable and prudent thing for legislative leaders and the governor to be attempting to develop a plan for what they would do in a special session before actually going into special session. It’s also reasonable to wait until the Supreme Court rules on two more pending challenges to bills that provided significant funding for this year’s budget. But predicting the ultimate outcome of a legislative proposal before bills are even filed, if that’s what they expect to do, is a real challenge. I’d guess that sooner or later the Legislature will have to go into special session without knowing if they have the votes to do what they hope to do [OK Policy].

Time slips away on a solution to the state budget problem: More than two weeks after an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision tore a hole in the state budget, we’ve yet to see a plan out of Oklahoma City to solve the problem. Gov. Mary Fallin has said she’s waiting to see if the Supreme Court will tear that hole a little wider before calling the Legislature into special session to address the issue. There’s some wisdom in that patience, but still we wish we were seeing some signs from Oklahoma City that a deal was nascent. We aren’t [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

A new class of Oklahoma debtor is rising: Lou Carmichael’s staff often focuses on educating Oklahomans on how to navigate the state’s complex health care system. One of the first lessons: Only go to the emergency room during a legitimate health emergency. It’s a lot cheaper to go to a local doctor or urgent care clinic for basic ailments. Still, Carmichael’s staff has discovered a surprising number of Oklahomans don’t realize that. “I think people just grow up thinking (the hospital) is the only access they have, so that’s just where they go,” said Carmichael, who is CEO of the nonprofit Variety Care, which operates community health centers in Oklahoma, Cleveland, Caddo and Tillman counties [CNHI].

Scott Pruitt’s travel to Oklahoma will be investigated by EPA inspector general: The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general will investigate Administrator Scott Pruitt’s recent taxpayer-funded travels to Oklahoma. “This assignment is being initiated based on congressional requests and a hotline complaint, all of which expressed concerns about Administrator Pruitt’s travel — primarily his frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense,” the inspector general’s office wrote in a letter to Pruitt and other EPA leaders Monday. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who maintains a home in Tulsa, has been criticized for his travel by the Environmental Integrity Project, a group of former EPA officials [NewsOK].

Oklahoma job licensing changes won’t happen easily: THE state Department of Labor has begun the overdue work of reviewing job licensing requirements in Oklahoma, with an eye on perhaps changing some of those requirements. An initial public meeting about the idea offered a glimpse of how difficult it could be to make much of a dent. The meeting last week was meant primarily to discuss a blueprint that a task force is developing for evaluating licensing requirements, and not so much to debate the issue of deregulation. But it steered more toward the latter than the former [Editorial Board / NewsOK].

Opioid abuse is still an emergency … and the state is getting ready to do something about it: Remember when opioid abuse was a national emergency? For about half a news cycle, the national media stopped worrying about the latest presidential tweet and paid some attention to an issue that really matters to families in the heart of the nation. Opioid abuse, driven by excessive prescriptions, is destroying lives in America. The national emergency hasn’t passed, although much of the media attention has [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Hunting a Killer: Sex, Drugs and the Return of Syphilis: For months, health officials in this socially conservative state capital have been staggered by a fast-spreading outbreak of a disease that, for nearly two decades, was considered all but extinguished. Syphilis, the deadly sexually transmitted infection that can lead to blindness, paralysis and dementia, is returning here and around the country, another consequence of the heroin and methamphetamine epidemics, as users trade sex for drugs. To locate possible patients and draw their blood for testing, Oklahoma’s syphilis detectives have been knocking on doors in dilapidated apartment complexes and dingy motels, driving down lonely rural roads and interviewing prison inmates [New York Times].

Critical PACE program fundraiser tries to fill state budget gap: F. Scott Fitzgerald might have been proud of the folks from Cherokee Elder Care Friday, as its annual fundraiser – the Turtle Round UP – played off the theme of “A Roaring 1920s Casino Night.” Guests of the fundraiser strutted among the crowd in vintage 1920s clothing, sporting flapper dresses or Gatsby-era suits. While some of the folks who benefit from the Cherokee Elder Care program may have been born in the 1920s, they didn’t act like it [Tahlequah Daily Press].

Inmates struggle with mental health: Oklahoma County Sheriff candidates were asked how they would improve mental health and substance abuse issues plaguing the Oklahoma County Jail. Answers ranged from better processing and screening, better separation of inmates, and more staffing and better pay for staff. This question was answered at Tussle at the Tower in Oklahoma City, a recent debate that included acting-Sheriff P.D. Taylor, Republican; Oklahoma County Deputy Mike Hanson, Democrat; and former Canadian County Undersheriff Ed Grimes, Independent [Edmond Sun]. Video of the Oklahoma County Sheriff debate is available at NonDoc.

Quote of the Day

“Obviously I was grateful and excited. But on the other hand, I was like: I went to school for all these years, I have these degrees, and I qualify for a program like this?”

– Tiona Bowman, a Tulsa middle-school English teacher with three years of experience and a master’s degree, speaking about a Habitat for Humanity program that she qualified for due to her $34,000 salary (Source)

Number of the Day


Median family income among households with children in Oklahoma in 2015


See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Often Missing In The Health Care Debate: Women’s Voices: Women, in particular, have a lot at stake in the fight over the future of health care. Not only do many depend on insurance coverage for maternity care and contraception, they are struck more often by such diseases as autoimmune conditions, osteoporosis, breast cancer and depression. They are more likely to be poor and depend on Medicaid — and to live longer and depend on Medicare. And it commonly falls to them to plan health care and coverage for the whole family [Kaiser Health News].

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.