In The Know: New Census data shows Oklahoma improves on poverty and uninsured rates but still lags behind nation

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

New Census data shows Oklahoma improves on poverty and uninsured rates but still lags behind nation: New Census data shows Oklahoma made some progress in reducing the percentage of families living in poverty in 2015. In 2014, nearly one out of six Oklahomans (16.6 percent) were making less than the poverty line ($24,000 a year for a family of four) before taxes. In 2015, about 13,000 fewer Oklahomans were living below the poverty line, dropping our state’s poverty rate to 16.1 percent. The official poverty rate for the United States as a whole fell even more, from 15.5 percent in 2014 to 14.7 percent in 2015. These improvements widened the gap between the percentage of Oklahomans and the percentage of all Americans living in poverty [OK Policy].

Oil downturn continues to slow Oklahoma’s economy: Low oil prices and the oil industry slowdown continue to create financial challenges in Oklahoma and nine other oil-dependent states, according to a report released Wednesday by Moody’s Investors Service. The report looked at direct revenue effects including production taxes and revenues, indirect revenue effects such as industry spending cutbacks and layoffs, and the ability of the state to adapt to the ongoing challenges. Moody’s rates Oklahoma’s credit as Aa2, which is the company’s third-highest rating. Moody’s gives the state a negative outlook, largely because of the likely effects of oil prices on the state economy [NewsOK].

Oklahoma City Council opposes “right-to-farm”: The Oklahoma City Council declared people should vote against State Question 777, the “right-to-farm” measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. The council voted 6-2 Tuesday for a resolution that asserts passage of SQ 777 could threaten the city’s ability to promote residents’ health, safety and welfare. Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher said he was concerned the proposed constitutional amendment would adversely affect access to clean, safe drinking water [NewsOK]. Learn more about SQ 777 and the six other questions on Oklahoma ballots this year with OK Policy’s State Question Guide.

Oklahoma Communities Learning To Deal With Four-Day School Weeks Created By Budget Cuts: More than 100 school districts in Oklahoma are thinking about implementing a four-day school week, and that’s putting pressure on working parents. It’s also forcing employers to adjust. In the eastern Oklahoma town of Wagoner, several major employers haven’t complained about absent parents. Daycare centers are also expanding to make room for more children, even though childcare availability in the state has shrunk significantly since 2008 [KGOU].

One percent sales tax continues argument on how to fund Oklahoma education: Phyllis Hudecki and Dave Bond agree on one thing, Oklahoma education is in trouble. What to do about it? That is where the agreement ends. Hudecki, a former state secretary of education, and Bond, the CEO of a free-market advocacy group, spoke about Oklahoma State Question 779 Wednesday at the Norman Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly general membership meeting. If State Question 779 passes in November, Oklahoma will have an average sales tax rate of 9.8 percent — the highest in the country. Hudecki said Oklahoma’s education system will stay at 48th in the nation if the proposal fails [Norman Transcript].

University of Oklahoma reaches record 90 percent retention rate: The University of Oklahoma has reached a milestone in academic success by achieving a 90 percent freshman-to-sophomore retention rate. Nine of every 10 students who were freshmen last fall returned to campus for the fall 2016 semester. OU’s research and reporting staff validated the retention numbers Tuesday. Retention of first-year students and the graduation rate of those students are used as important measures of success in higher education. “This is one of the highest academic achievements in the university’s history,” President David Boren said. “The entire university community has reason to celebrate this remarkable milestone for OU.” [The Oklahoman]

Lawsuit by school districts shorted by state for 22 years moving to district court: More than 45 school districts suing the state to recoup state aid that was erroneously paid to other districts every year from 1992 through 2014 had to move their case to Oklahoma County District Court this week. The move Wednesday followed Monday’s decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court not to assume original jurisdiction in the case. “We always knew that was a possibility,” said Ponca City Superintendent David Pennington, who discovered the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s error. “We were hopeful it would go to the state Supreme Court because we thought it would speed everything up, but they decided not to do that.” [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma prosecutors ask for $11.5 million for critical needs: Oklahoma prosecutors are seeking an increase in state appropriations to the tune of $11.5 million for critical needs. Members of the District Attorneys Council voted Thursday to submit a fiscal year 2018 budget request of slightly more than $46 million. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater submitted the largest critical-needs request for slightly more than $1.5 million. His appropriation is about $5 million. Prater said his office is down 10 prosecutors but filed a record 9,100 felonies last year and is on track to file 10,500 this year [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma County Sheriff debate: ‘Who the hell does he think he is? Wyatt Earp?’: At an Oklahoma County Sheriff’s candidate debate today that featured about as many free pizzas as audience members, Republican challenger Mike Christian aggressively criticized Democrat incumbent John Whetsel. “I’m surprised he’s not wearing a red coat today — King George,” Christian said while answering “no” on whether he would support a tax increase for a new Oklahoma County Jail. “He’s more concerned about his rolling billboards running around for his re-election than running the jail.” Christian, who spoke in short, quick bursts that were occasionally indecipherable, criticized Whetsel for a federal audit’s negative analysis of the jail [NonDoc].

Prematurity remains a leading cause of infant deaths in Oklahoma: According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), September as Infant Mortality Awareness Month. IMR is defined as the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births; the current IMR in Oklahoma is 7.4, which remains above the national average of 5.9. OSDH and their public health partners have made continual efforts to drive down the IMR and improve overall maternal and infant health. A statewide initiative launched in 2009, Preparing for a Lifetime, It’s Everyone’s Responsibility, works to positively impact factors that contribute to lower infant mortality in Oklahoma [KSWO].

DEQ to clean up tire dump sites: Thousands of old, rotting tires in two cities will soon get cleaned up. The projects were delayed after the Legislature cut the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality’s budget in May. But DEQ spokeswoman Erin Hatfield said another tire removal project cost less than expected, so now the agency has money to address the illegal dumps in Pink and in Catoosa. About 400 large agricultural tires and semi-truck tires were dumped about 1 mile north of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, said Ferrella March, DEQ used tire recycling program manager. Rainwater collected in the tires and is a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes, she said. The dump is also near a wedding chapel and homes [Journal Record].

Decades After Turning Backs on Risky Water, Tulsans Wade Into Arkansas River: The section of the Arkansas River that runs through Tulsa is changing. For much of the city’s history, business owners constructed buildings facing away from what has been considered a polluted eyesore. But now Tulsa is embracing its most prominent physical feature. The Arkansas River has always been a critical tool for controlling flooding in the Tulsa area. Like many of the state’s lakes and rivers, recreation has become one of its primary functions. But local leaders faced a tall task to change people’s minds about the Arkansas River, which used to be tainted by pollution from nearby oil storage facilities and a wastewater treatment plant. But the river is now a lot cleaner than it used to be, and people’s perceptions are changing, too [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Cherokee Nation approves largest budget in tribe’s history: The Cherokee Nation has approved its fiscal 2017 budget, which will be the largest in the tribe’s history. The Cherokee Nation Tribal Council on Monday approved the $934.2 million budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. That number includes funding from a combination of grants, compacts, contracts, dividends, taxes and revenue from tribal businesses, including casinos. The tribe says the budget is $167.2 million higher than the previous year’s budget [News9].

Quote of the Day

“And anyone who pretends they don’t exist doesn’t know anything about economics. In small towns, how are you going to deal with this? It’s a real problem, especially since total day care space over the years has declined significantly.”

-Jonathan Willner, economics professor at Oklahoma City University, speaking about how Oklahoma schools going to 4-day weeks to cope with budget cuts is likely to harm the economy due to the opportunity costs of parents not being able to work full-time or having to pay much more for child care (Source).

Number of the Day

53.5 inches

Total precipitation in Oklahoma in 2015, 11th highest in the U.S.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How free preschool may help poor kids when they become parents: The first children of Head Start are old enough now to have children of their own. They’ve moved through high school — if they were able to get that far — and some much farther than that. They’ve entered the workforce and formed their own families. That means it’s increasingly possible to track the long-term effects of a federal program, created in the mid-1960s, that sought to give 3- and 4-year-olds from struggling families an early lift out of poverty. A new analysis from the Hamilton Project suggests that their lives today are measurably better in some important ways than those of poor children who never enrolled in the program [Washington Post].

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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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