In The Know: OKCPS Board of Education passes resolution to pursue legal action against legislature

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

OKCPS Board of Education passes resolution to pursue legal action against legislature: The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education has passed a resolution instructing their legal counsel to pursuing a law firm for possible legal action against the state legislature. The board voted unanimously to pass a resolution that instructs their legal team to begin the process of hiring a law firm to sue to Oklahoma Legislature. The special meeting was called last week and took just over 10 minutes. One board member, Carrie Jacobs, was not present during the meeting. Board members after the meeting told FOX 25 they are excited about the move and that they are stepping in to help kids [KOKH]. Here’s what to watch for in the lawsuit [Oklahoma Watch].

Fallin, legislative leaders mull options to deal with budget hole: Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders are waiting on more information before possibly returning in special session to fix a major budget hole. “It is not necessary to make the call for a special session until a workable solution has been identified,” said Michael McNutt, a Fallin spokesman. “The governor and her staff are discussing with legislative leaders and legislators options that will bring about a solution. This is not an easy task and will take time to accomplish.” Fallin met with Republican legislative leaders on Friday. Lawmakers are poised to return to the Capitol in special session after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled invalid a $1.50 tax on cigarettes because lawmakers didn’t follow the law when passing it [Tulsa World]. Here are a few ways it might play out [OK Policy].

Oklahoma has an ambitious plan to bring health insurance premiums down. Here’s how: Last year, health care premiums in Oklahoma for policies offered on by the state’s lone remaining nongroup insurer soared by more than 70 percent, the highest increase that year. In response, the state is now poised to use the Affordable Care Act to develop a reinsurance program that is expected to decrease premiums by more than 30 percent in the first year while restraining future premium growth, bringing more lives into the market, and shielding insurers from higher medical expenses [OK Policy].

Despite closure threats, state parks survived the budget process: Matthew Mears and other small-town officials get to breathe easy for a while. He’s the town administrator of Hinton, a central Oklahoma community with about 3,000 residents. Just outside the city lines lies Red Rock Canyon, a state park known for its crimson cliff walls and A-frame cabins. “When you talk to people around the state, and you talk about Hinton, they might not know where it is,” he said. “You say ‘Red Rock Canyon,’ they know where that is.” Red Rock Canyon was on the list of 15 parks slated for closure earlier this year [Journal Record].

In Oklahoma and Across Nation, Industrial Waste Pollutes Drinking Water: In Picher, Oklahoma, decades of lead and zinc mining left residents with an aquifer contaminated with lead and heavy metals. The flow of polluted mine water into streams, lakes and a large groundwater aquifer still poses a threat to drinking water for nearby communities nearly 60 years after mining stopped. While manufacturing, mining and waste disposal companies — and dozens of others —  provide millions of jobs, products and services to Americans, these industries are also among the country’s worst water polluters, based on a News21 analysis of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, Discharge Monitoring Reports and Superfund data [News21].

Oklahoma community colleges ranked high for affordability, outcomes: Oklahoma’s community college system ranks 14th best in the nation, with Northern Oklahoma College making the list of Top 10 colleges in a study released Monday by the personal finance website WalletHub. NOC — with campuses in Tonkawa, Enid and Stillwater — ranked eighth in the 2017 Best & Worst Community Colleges list. WalletHub analysts compared a sample of 728 schools from the American Association of Community Colleges membership across 14 key indicators of cost and quality [NewsOK].

Special session a waste of money without legitimate plan: It didn’t take long for the Oklahoma Supreme Court to overturn the $1.50 per pack fee on cigarettes. Rejecting the claim that the fee protected the public by discouraging smoking, the state Supreme Court quickly ruled the cigarette fee was an unconstitutional tax. That’s because laws prohibit legislators from passing revenue-raising measures in the final five days of session, and require those measures to receive the approval of three-quarters of lawmakers, not a simple majority [Editorial Board / Enid News].

Lawmaker objects to relaxed charter school rules: As Oklahoma’s laws progress to allow more charter schools to open, one official said the laws could set a precedent diminishing the control elected officials hold. For almost two decades, officials have been updating laws to loosen restrictions on charter schools. Before the turn of the new century, charter schools had to contract with school districts to open new schools. They faced several other limitations. For example, charters could open only in districts with 5,000 or more students in counties with 500,000 or more residents. Officials have been slowly peeling those restrictions away [Journal Record].

Charter school growth slows in Oklahoma: The pace of new charter schools opening in Oklahoma has slowed after a spurt of growth over several years. Santa Fe South Schools Superintendent Chris Brewster said charter schools posted a nearly 4 percent growth rate in 2016 after enrollment increased by nearly 10 percent in 2014 and by more than 17 percent in 2015. “I think you have seen some communities become saturated with (charter schools) to a point where it might be a little harder to open new ones,” Brewster said [Associated Press].

Donor agrees to pay to remove Confederate officers names from Oklahoma City schools: A local attorney with ties to Oklahoma City Public Schools has agreed to pay to remove all signs and symbols associated with Confederate officers that are in district schools. Kyle Sweet, a health care attorney with offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, told The Oklahoman on Monday that he’s more interested in doing the right thing than making a political statement [NewsOK].

Is Scott Pruitt on the campaign trail? Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has logged thousands of miles this summer touting his plans to rewrite the Obama administration’s environmental regulations — and fueling speculation that he’s laying the groundwork for a future political campaign. The former Oklahoma attorney general — who made a name for himself by launching more than a dozen lawsuits against the Obama administration — has visited 10 states in a few short weeks, hitting local media outlets along the way. His strategy, Beltway operatives say, more resembles a candidate seeking political support than an EPA administrator pressing for regulatory changes [Politico].

Quote of the Day

“We are starting to say that our kids can’t take anymore. We certainly need to fund all of the kids in Oklahoma and we need to provide the best education we can.”

-Oklahoma City Public Schools Board Chair Paula Lewis, explaining the board’s decision to file a lawsuit against the state legislature for failing to adequately fund schools (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma veterans who served post-September 2001

Source: US Census 2011-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The human cost of college debt that becomes “purgatory”: Bowie navigated a daunting obstacle course of family and health crises during his teenage years and made it to his dream school – Georgia State University. But he left in the middle of his sophomore year, with $12,000 in federal student loans. In doing so, he joined more than 108,000 other students who withdrew from Georgia’s public colleges and universities between 2013 and 2015 with thousands of dollars in federal student debt but no degree. These former students have few prospects for well-paying jobs, yet the loans they racked up mean that making a decent wage is even more imperative [Hechinger Report].

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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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