In The Know: Oklahoma City Public Schools announces 208 teacher layoffs

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

Oklahoma City Public Schools District announces teacher layoffs: The Oklahoma City Public Schools District will eliminate 208 classroom teaching positions to help grapple with a $30 million revenue shortfall, the district’s top official said on Wednesday. The layoffs are the latest impact of the state’s declaration of “revenue failure” late last year amid a collapse in the price of oil and gas, which it relies on for tax revenues [Reuters / Yahoo]. Oklahoma leads the nation in cuts to education funding since the start of the recession [OK Policy].

Gov. Fallin signs funding bills for Oklahoma public schools, prisons: Gov. Mary Fallin signed two measures Wednesday that will tap into Oklahoma’s $80 million Rainy Day Fund. Senate Bill 1572 will appropriate $51 million to the state Department of Education to provide money for public schools. Senate Bill 1571 will also appropriate $27.5 million to the Department of Corrections to pay prison staff and other services [KOCO]. Oklahoma’s Rainy Day Fund was designed specifically to be used, in part, to address mid-year revenue shortfalls [OK Policy].

Prosperity Policy: The blame game: As Oklahoma grapples with one of the worst budget crises in state history, the question of who or what is responsible is being heatedly debated. Are our troubles due exclusively to economic forces beyond our control? Or do policy decisions made at the state Capitol play a role? Legislative leaders and the governor tend to fix the blame on the impact of plummeting energy prices [David Blatt / Journal Record]. OK Policy has five reasonable solutions to Oklahoma’s budget crisis [OK Policy].

Final resolution on school standards elusive: A resolution on new academic standards for reading and math remained uncertain Wednesday as lawmakers left the Capitol early without taking final action. The standards were developed to replace Common Core standards, which were adopted by lawmakers and then repealed by the Legislature in 2014. The law required the creation of new standards to be approved or disapproved by lawmakers within 30 legislative days of submission [Tulsa World].

Standards issue aside, problems loom for OK Education: New math and English standards should be ready for implementation next school year, state Education Department officials said Wednesday. Meanwhile, larger concerns of a teacher shortage, under-performing school districts and financial uncertainty remain on the horizon for Oklahoma’s public education system [NewsOK].

What I didn’t get from my tax cut: (Guest post: Erin Taylor, PhD): This year I will receive my lavish savings from Oklahoma’s latest tax cut. It’s likely in the vicinity of $90. What I did not receive, thanks to slashed state services, costs my family a great deal more. My youngest child, who has a developmental disability, is on his sixth year on the Waiting List for the Home and Community Based Waiver [OK Policy]. Thousands of Oklahomans with disabilities are on that waiting list [OK Policy]. You can calculate your own tax cut here [OK Policy].

Legislation aims at Internet tax bandits: The state House and Senate have passed separate bills to require more online merchants to collect state and local use taxes on their sales to Oklahoma customers. If you buy something from outside the state and use it here, you owe use taxes on the purchase. The use tax is equal to the sales-tax rate and is payable with state income taxes. But only 4 percent of state taxpayers do that, and, with the vast increase in online sales in recent years, state and local governments are getting shorted by millions [Tulsa World]. Improving the collection of taxes from online sales is one of a handful of sensible solutions for the budget shortfall [OK Policy].

Community forum will focus on mental illness, criminal justice system: An upcoming community forum will focus on the rising number of residents with mental illnesses and substance use disorders entering Oklahoma’s jails and prisons. At the forum, Oklahomans diagnosed with a mental illness or who have experienced addiction will share their personal stories [NewsOK].

Freed up: Bill would make it easier for felons to get professional licenses: Rehabilitated felons could have more chances to find a job under legislation in the state Senate. House Bill 2585 would prevent automatic disqualification of someone who seeks a job-related license, such as real estate agents, social workers and those in some construction trades. The bill follows another piece of legislation adopted into law last year [Journal Record]. Licensing restrictions are one way we continue to punish offenders after they’ve served their sentences [OK Policy].

Local nonprofits feel the effects of statewide budget cuts: “Will I continue to receive services?” is the single most dreaded question for the staff at Hope Community Services Inc., a community mental health center in south Oklahoma City. Last month, state leaders announced the budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year had swelled to $1.3 billion. Exactly how the revenue crisis impacts the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), its 15 community mental health centers and patients is a guess until lawmakers vote on the final budget in May [Oklahoma Gazette].

Despite Continued Violence, Private Prisons ‘Only Relief Valve’ For Overcrowding: Oklahoma’s three privately-operated prisons house roughly one-third of the the state’s imprisoned population and cost the Department of Corrections more than $92 million last year. But a recently released video offers a glimpse into a series of violent disturbances at one facility. The video, from what appears to be a contraband cell phone, shows a group of inmates throwing another prisoner over a balcony onto the floor below [KGOU]. Private prisons have been shown to have more incidents of misconduct than public prisons [OK Policy].

Construction on Tulsa jail pods continues largely unnoticed: While public scandal and controversy plagued the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office during the past year, work continued mostly unseen on an important transformation inside the Tulsa County jail. Four new jail pods, two of them devoted to mental health, are being built on the back side of the David L. Moss Justice Center. When completed in December, the pods will allow significant changes in jail operations. They will also add $1.7 million a year in operating revenue [Tulsa World].

OCC clarifies rules for disputes over disposal wells: There’s a clearer path for disposal well disputes at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. The agency’s three commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to approve rules that specify how operators and OCC staff members should proceed if a resolution can’t be reached. The issue arose in December 2015 when agency Oil and Gas Conservation Division workers told SandRidge Energy Inc. to shut down six wells and reduce wastewater volumes in 50 others in northern Oklahoma [Journal Record].

Williams’ departure called ‘major dent’ for Tulsa, local economy: Instead of keeping robust operations in Oklahoma, Energy Transfer Equity now says it will consolidate the corporate offices and headquarters of ETE and Williams Cos. in Dallas. Energy Transfer disclosed in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday that Williams workforce in Tulsa and Oklahoma City will be “significantly reduced” if the proposed merger goes through [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“After years of these cuts, Oklahoma schools have no good options to keep fulfilling their mission unless state leaders come up with new revenues for education.” 

– Oklahoma Policy Institute Policy Director Gene Perry, on Oklahoma City Public Schools’ decision to cut more than 200 classroom teaching positions (Source)

Number of the Day

$39.5 billion

Total federal spending in Oklahoma in FY 2014, which amounts to 21.8% of the state’s total gross domestic product.

Source: Pew Charitable Trusts

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The racial divide in the opioid crisis: The rate of heroin-related overdose deaths throughout the country has nearly quadrupled since 2002. An estimated 30,000 people every year die from opioid overdoses. But unlike drug epidemics of the past, minority populations have seen a less dramatic increase in addiction and deaths when compared to white young adults. The rate of heroin use among white adults increased by 114% between 2004 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the rate among nonwhite adults remained relatively unchanged during that same period [Modern Healthcare].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

One thought on “In The Know: Oklahoma City Public Schools announces 208 teacher layoffs

  1. While the Daily Oklahoman and the Oklahoma Observer took dictation from the governor’s office on the evils of former DOC director Justin Jones a couple of years back, the Tulsa World correctly linked the fire he was taking to the desire of private prison companies to use the policymakers they had funded (governor, speaker, committee chairs) to remove him from his position. He had thwarted two of the major prongs of their privatization strategy by using county jails as repositories of inmates and by using the department’s revolving funds as a means of maintaining facilities left unfunded by a legislature following the tried-and-true playbook of privatizers to defund state programs and facilities to such an extent that they couldn’t perform their functions well and then to use that deliberately lowered performance as the justification to privatize (“private companies always do everything better”). The governor’s revenue director, now under severe criticisms for his own management and planning performance, raised enough innuendo about the revolving funds that they were removed. And the new DOC director after Jones immediately started pulling inmates out of the county jails. The results were the situation you see now, or as the imminent philosopher Gomer Pyle once said, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” “No alternative” but the private prisons. And no way out once you’ve signed contracts with no or vague performance guarantees for the companies but big promises of guaranteed occupancies at artificially high rates for that “no alternative.” As OK Policy said in the link provided above, there is an alternative–SERIOUS sentencing policy change. But the problem even with that is that, once you lock into the private companies and start closing public facilities, as has been proposed, you don’t have an exit from the private contract you’ve made with the devil.

    The “reforms” being passed by the legislature now and even those proposed by Speaker Steele only really get at flows of inmates into the system and those who churn out at the fastest rates anyway. And they don’t do anything for the problem of the aging of that inmate population that makes up the “stock” of the system, the ones who cost 2, 3, 7, 10 times more than the usual inmates due to their health and other expenses, thereby requiring you to divert 2, 3, 7, 10 inmates for every one aging inmate you either bring in or have age in within the system just to break even on your costs. Jones was very aware of this latter problem and involved in planning to deal with it at least somewhat more effectively, given available resources. What he was doing with jails and revolving funds was part of that. Neither of his successors indicated they even had a clue.

    So, in the end, the private prisons have used their “support” from policymakers to achieve what they were after. More private prison use, fewer state facilities, weak tea sentencing reforms that won’t cut into most of their populations, weak tea treatment requirements that they are branching into to work similar magic as they have with private prisons as detailed at OK Policy Blog, guaranteed profits and use while the vital functions of the state, including public safety, get watered down and eliminated even beyond the low standards already forced on state agencies by their funding providers.

    Jones meanwhile landed on his feet well and continues good work elsewhere while still consulting nationally with organizations that recognize what OK had when it had him.

    No, I am not Justin Jones writing as “Mike.”

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