In The Know: No chance for teacher pay raise, House minority leader says

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

No chance for teacher pay raise, House minority leader says: The state expects to have at least $900.8 million less to allocate in crafting the fiscal year 2017 budget. To close the hole, Fallin has suggested the review of sales tax exemptions, an increase in the cigarette tax and applying the sales tax to services, among other things. Meanwhile, the state is facing a teacher shortage. Inman, D-Del City, said tax increases would require a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, which is unlikely to happen [Tulsa World].

Plan to fund Oklahoma teacher pay increase draws opposition: Millions of dollars in property tax money dedicated to school building funds could be diverted to teacher salaries under a proposal supported by the governor. There is up to $200 million in unused building funds that could theoretically be applied to teacher salaries if legislation was passed to permit this, said John Estus, a spokesman for the state Office of Management and Enterprise Services. House Minority Leader Scott Inman criticized the building fund proposal, saying it “would shift the tax burden for educational support from a state tax base to local property owners, such as Oklahoma farmers and ranchers” [NewsOK].

Tahlequah Public Schools prepares for $2 million cut for next year: Students and educators across the state are looking at major changes for the 2016-2017 school year as the state braces for one of its biggest budget shortfalls in history. “Our district will prepare for $1.5 million to $2 million less in state aid for the upcoming school year,” said Lisa Presley, superintendent of Tahlequah Public Schools. “When you hear $1.5 million, that equals 30 people in our district. If there are retirements, some teaching vacancies will have to be filled and others will not” [Tahlequah Daily Press].

Here are our top priorities for Oklahoma’s 2016 legislative session: Over 1,700 bills and resolutions have been introduced for the 2016 legislative session, along with an equal number of measures from last session that remain alive and could still be considered this year. Despite the plethora of legislation, there is little doubt that this session will be dominated by debates over how to address the state’s massive budget shortfall, which is at $901 million and is likely to grow even larger when the Board of Equalization certifies new projections in mid-February [OK Policy].

Our view: Oklahoma legislature needs to quit cutting school budgets: When we write about Oklahoma’s disregard for education funding, we sound like a broken record: Shame on Oklahoma legislators — why aren’t they making education a priority? Why are they cutting state appropriations to public education when we’re perpetually underperforming compared to other states? Last month, Oklahoma’s State Board of Education approved a $47 million cut to public school funding as a result of the state’s budget crisis. Some school districts are being forced to close at a time when public school enrollment is up by more than 30,000 from 2010 [OU Daily].

Oklahomans have embraced free, universal early education — and it’s working: One of the biggest employers in this hardscrabble working class town in western Oklahoma is the Bar-S Foods Company meat packing plant, where many of the city’s 9,500 residents work. Clinton also boasts a Route 66 Museum, a somewhat epic indoor waterpark, and free universal preschool for every 4-year-old in town. Ninety-one percent of the town’s 170 4-year-olds enroll in a public program annually, said Tyler Bridges, the assistant school superintendent. Those high numbers are impressive especially since only 53.7 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds are in school nationally and the U.S. ranks 30th for preschool enrollment among OECD nations, a common proxy for nations with advanced economies [PBS Newshour].

Lawmakers continue work to lessen Oklahoma budget woes: Following state leaders declaring revenue failure in December and a $177 million midyear budget trim, lawmakers faced a grim situation this week when returning to the Capitol. Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin told reporters the $900.8 million budget hole was an opportunity. Opportunity wasn’t how David Blatt, executive director of Oklahoma Policy Institute, described the revenue failure and midyear cuts [OK Gazette].

Fallin administration approves thousands of exemptions to state’s hiring freeze: In the wake of a hiring and salary freeze imposed by Governor Fallin one year ago, state agency heads were allowed to continue making hires and giving raises, as if there was no freeze. A News On 6 investigation shows the governor’s cabinet approved thousands of exemptions to the executive order, costing tens of millions of dollars, and raising questions about how seriously the administration took the state’s revenue challenge [NewsOn6].

Why Continued State Funding Cuts Could Squeeze Programs Protecting Public Water: Many of the programs protecting Oklahoma’s air and land are paid for with fees and federal dollars. Oversight and inspection of local water systems, however, are funded by state revenue that has dwindled — and failed. Chandler, a city of about 3,000 residents, like many small communities in Oklahoma, has struggled with deteriorating pipes and pumps, limited funding to make repairs and upgrades, and increasing demands to provide clean water to more and more customers [KOSU].

State budget cuts could mean closing historical sites: Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed budget would take $40 million from historical and recreational sites and place it back into general revenue, which could lead to shutdowns across the state. Oklahoma Historical Society Executive Director Bob Blackburn said if the Legislature adopts Fallin’s plan, the OHS could see its budget fall by 25 percent. “My calculations right now, we would be closing between 15 and 20 sites and museums around the state,” said Blackburn [Journal Record].

Oklahoma governor halts tougher commutation policy: Gov. Mary Fallin has blocked the state Pardon and Parole Board from adopting a set of proposed procedures and eligibility for early release consideration that would have disqualified many state inmates from even applying. The parole board wanted to create four classes of offenders, requiring each to serve a specific amount of time in prison, such as 36 months for nonviolent offenses or half the sentence for violent offenses, before applying for a sentence commutation — a rare form of clemency meant to shorten an excessive sentence [NewsOK].

Proposed bill could aid equal pay efforts in Oklahoma: Fifty years after the passage of an Oklahoma law prohibiting sex-based wage discrimination, women are earning 73 cents on the dollar compared to men. That could change with the passage of House Bill 2929. The proposed law protects women who compare paychecks with coworkers. Authored by Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, the bill would make it illegal for an employer to fire an employee who “made a wage claim or discussed, inquired about or consulted an attorney or agency about a wage claim” [OK Gazette].

Enrollment for Affordable Care Act surges in Oklahoma, across nation: The number of Oklahomans getting health coverage under the Affordable Care Act will increase dramatically this year, according to updated enrollment data released Thursday. By the Feb. 1 deadline, 145,329 Oklahomans had signed up for a plan, compared to 126,115 who had coverage in 2015, new Department of Health and Human Services figures show. The number also rose nationally, as 4 million more people enrolled, bringing the number to 12.7 million, the department reported [NewsOK].

Contraction in Oklahoma’s Energy Sector Slows Slightly: While the news turned sour for 172 workers at SandRidge Energy in Oklahoma this week, there was an indication from the Oklahoma Energy Index that its recent contraction had slowed because of some growth in oil and natural gas industry employment and small gains in rig activity. The index of oil and natural gas industry activity fell to 190.4 or a 1.8 percent decline from the previous month’s reading and 25 percent below levels from a year ago. It was the smallest contraction of the Index since June 2015 when crude oil prices began their free fall from $60 a barrel [OK Energy Today].

Musicians Ali Harter and Wink Burcham struggle to keep health care as parents: Because Wink Burcham and Ali Harter have been full-time working musicians for more than 10 years, their newborn daughter Ryland is considered “red dirt royalty” among their Oklahoma music friends and family. She is also one of more than 30,000 children whose pre-natal care, birth and first year of medical coverage are taken care of by SoonerCare — Oklahoma’s version of Medicaid, the program that helps pay some or all medical bills for many people who can’t afford them. In fact, this program pays for nearly 60 percent of all live births in Oklahoma, and some form of Medicaid pays for more than half of all births in the United States [NonDoc].

Group Files Initiative Petition to Change Oklahoma’s Beer and Wine Laws: Oklahomans for Modern Laws, a grassroots coalition aiming to modernize state beer and wine laws, today announced their initiative petition has officially been filed with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. Their measure would call for a statewide vote this November. If passed, the initiative will legalize the sale of cold, regular (above 3.2%) beer and wine in Oklahoma grocery and convenience stores with no limitation to the amount of licenses held, among other changes [The Okie].

Numerous state ballot questions on the way for November: It’s starting to look like November’s ballot could give Oklahomans one of the broadest opportunities in participatory democracy in a long time. Legislative referendums, proposed constitutional amendments and initiative petitions may have voters dealing with everything from state prison policy to the future of farming in front of voters [Wayne Greene / Tulsa World].

Eight District Attorneys in Oklahoma sued for wrongfully disclosing personal information in court filings: Generally, court filings are public records unless sealed from public access by a judge. For this reason, most federal and state courts have adopted local rules over the years that prohibit the filing of sensitive personal information like full Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers in court records. But litigators don’t always redact this information prior to filing documents in a court record, and it has been a recurring problem over the years. In Oklahoma, one woman is fighting back [Data Privacy and Security Insider].

Quote of the Day

“It is the piece that we’ve missed with an equal pay law on the books in Oklahoma for over 50 years. Without the transparency piece, it’s been an ineffective law for women. By [adding] transparency, we will have a bill in place that will work effectively to help women earn equal pay.”

-Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, who introduced a bill that protects women who compare paychecks with coworkers and increases punishments for employers that fire workers for discussing wages (Source).

Number of the Day

78.5 years

Life expectancy at birth for women in Oklahoma, 4th lowest in the U.S.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Better Health Care Access in Kentucky and Arkansas, Study Says: Low-income adults in Kentucky and Arkansas have had similar improvements in access to medical care under the Affordable Care Act, a new study found, despite the two states’ differing approaches to expanding Medicaid. Both states expanded their Medicaid programs in 2014 to cover most adults with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level, as the health law allows. While new enrollees in Kentucky joined its traditional Medicaid program, Arkansas chose to buy private coverage for poor people through the new federal insurance marketplace using federal Medicaid funds, a model that several other states have since followed [New York Times].

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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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