In The Know: Oklahoma cuts funding for child abuse prevention due to budget crunch

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 cuts funding for child abuse prevention due to budget crunch: Because of the state’s budget crunch, at-risk children in Oklahoma could lose access to services that try to reduce the odds they will be abused or neglected. The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Monday it will cut funding for nine child abuse prevention programs and 25 community health centers as of Nov. 15. The state faces a $215 million budget gap this year after the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax. About one-third of the budget for the home visiting program in Oklahoma County, which serves about 75 families, will be lost, said Sherry Fair, executive director of Parent Promise [NewsOK]. Child abuse prevention and at-home care for seniors are latest services at risk due to shrinking state government [OK Policy].

State Health Department cuts funding to local social service agencies: The tourniquet tightened a little more on Tulsa social services agencies Monday as the Oklahoma Department of Health cancelled contracts with Morton Comprehensive Health Services and the Parent Child Center of Tulsa. The cancellations were part of a larger move by the Health Department to trim $3 million from its budget. The department has already notified staff of furloughs and layoffs to cope with state government’s financial straits [Tulsa World]. 

ACLU wants to talk to work camp participants after allegations of abuse: American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in Arkansas and Oklahoma are investigating reports of abuse at the Jay-based work camp Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery, or CAAIR. The Oklahoman first reported earlier this month on Oklahoma courts sending drug-addicted defendants to work gutting chickens for the Arkansas-based company Simmons Foods Inc. through CAAIR and a similar program in Tahlequah called the DARP Foundation. Clients in the CAAIR and DARP programs work at the poultry plants in exchange for room and board and a chance to avoid prison [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Department of Education awarded $2.3 million grant: An Oklahoma state agency received some welcome news this week. On Monday, the Oklahoma State Department of Education announced that it had been awarded a $2.3 million, five-year grant to help gifted and talented students with disabilities from minority, economically disadvantaged and English learner populations. Oklahoma was one of 12 recipients of the grant, which will be used to help nearly 6,000 elementary school students in four school districts across the state [KFOR].

Capitol agencies open for business in nearby buildings: While Capitol construction crews update the building’s electrical system, hundreds of state employees will be getting a change in scenery. Agencies usually housed in the Capitol will be spread throughout the city, although many of them will stay close to home. Others, such as Oklahoma secretary of state office employees, will work in their employer’s secondary locations. Officials said that the technical adaptations were a bit challenging, but getting the word out has been more difficult [Journal Record].

Deborah Gist’s contract renewed; Tulsa Public Schools superintendent remains highest-paid common ed official in Oklahoma: Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist received a three-year contract extension Monday night that keeps her the highest-paid common education official in the state. The Tulsa School Board amended Gist’s current three-year contract, which expires in June 2018. The board then renewed the amended contract for three more years. It will begin the day after the current contract expires. Only one member of the school board, Jennettie Marshall, voted against renewing Gist’s contract [Tulsa World].

Most schools choose ACT; a few go with SAT: Nearly all Oklahoma high schools will offer the ACT this year to 11th grade students as the state now requires schools to offer a single college- or career-readiness exam. But 10 school districts — including Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the state’s two largest — have elected to offer the SAT instead. Officials with Oklahoma City Public Schools said the SAT exam had a lower administrative burden, provided richer data tools and was a test the district was already preparing students to take before the state requirement [The Oklahoman].

Kendra Horn raises more than Rep. Steve Russell in OKC congressional race: Democratic congressional candidate Kendra Horn raised slightly more money than incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Russell over the past three months, a sign the Oklahoma City district could be competitive for the first time in recent memory. Horn, a political novice from Chickasha, raised $91,140 from July through September, her first fundraising quarter since launching her campaign July 7, according to Federal Election Commission reports [NewsOK].

Another Oklahoma tribal member takes a leadership spot at Bureau of Indian Affairs: The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs is being led by Oklahoma tribal members. On Monday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Bryan Rice, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is the director of the BIA. “Native Americans face significant regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles to economic freedom and success,” Rice said in a statement [NewsOK].

After losing Medicaid contract, Shadow Mountain had fewer patients in its care: Less than a month after the state ended its Medicaid contract with Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health System, the facility had fewer patients in its care. Shadow Mountain’s contract to provide services paid for by the state’s Medicaid program, also known as SoonerCare, was terminated effective Aug. 1. On Aug. 23, the facility had only 13 of 48 beds surveyed filled, a newly released report from the Oklahoma State Health Department found [The Frontier].

New death sentence pressures officials reviewing execution protocols: Oklahoma jurors recommended the death penalty for a man convicted of beheading a co-worker, which might put pressure on officials attempting to rewrite the state’s execution protocols. The death penalty recommendation came on Thursday, a few weeks after jurors convicted Alton Nolen of beheading a woman and trying to kill another co-worker at a Moore food processing plant in 2014. Nolen had already received three life sentences plus 130 years in prison for the assault and battery charges for the attack on the co-worker who survived [Journal Record].

Quote of the Day

“We’re all competing for a piece of a pie that keeps getting smaller.”

– Susan Savage, CEO of Morton Comprehensive Health Services. The organization lost an uncompensated care contract with the state health department yesterday, the latest in a series of reductions in funding (Source)

Number of the Day

6.2 years

Average prison sentence for Oklahoma women sentenced for drug possession in 2016, a 29 percent increase from a decade ago.

Source: Reveal

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Millions of drivers lost their licenses for failing to pay court fees, study finds: Millions of drivers in the ­United States have lost their licenses for failing to pay court debts, according to a new report, and advocates say the practice unfairly punishes the poor. The report, released in September by the Falls Church, Va.-based Legal Aid Justice Center, which represents low-income Virginians, says that 43 states and the District suspend driver’s licenses because of unpaid fines and fees, trapping people in a “vicious court debt cycle.” The study indicates that the licenses of more than 4.2 million people were revoked in the five states it studied: Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Michigan [Washington Post].

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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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