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 drops one spot to 50th in national health scorecard: The report by the Commonwealth Fund, which measures all states and Washington, D.C., found that out of 42 health indicators, Oklahoma ranked in the bottom five states for nine, the bottom quartile in 24 and the top quartile for three. Only Mississippi ranked lower overall than Oklahoma. In factors relating to access and affordability, the state dropped from 37 to 48 compared to last year’s report [Tulsa World].

Tulsa Mayor Files Brief Against 1-Cent Sales Tax For Education: OCPA Impact, part of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, filed a challenge to the initiative on November 12 with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, arguing the initiative violates Oklahoma’s rule that requires only one subject per petition. On December 7, 2015, Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett and the Oklahoma Municipal League filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that raising the state sales tax would hurt towns and cities across Oklahoma [NewsOn6].

Oklahoma financial experts examine education, economy: The topic might have been the economy, but panel members and attendees of this year’s Oklahoma Economic Outlook Conference had a lot to say about education, too. University of Tulsa professor Matthew Hendricks made a presentation regarding teacher salaries and labor market outcomes. Hendricks has done research on how to increase teacher productivity and teacher retention, which in turn is connected to higher student performance, both in the short and long term [Norman Transcript].

Energy slump, policies contribute to state’s budget shortfall: Holiday cheer may be in the air, but the long-term forecast for the state’s budget looks bleak, according to David Blatt, executive director for the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Speaking to the Monday Rotary Club, Blatt explained Oklahoma’s “structural budget deficit” is a significant problem that state lawmakers and residents will deal with not only in the upcoming fiscal year but well beyond unless basic changes are made [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise].

Until the state proves it can live within its means, it really should stop reducing them: The billion dollar question that has persisted for months around the state Capitol is soon to be answered. On December 21, fiscal policymakers will have their first official estimate of funds available for fiscal 2017 appropriations. Until November revenues are baked into the projection, no one is certain of the estimate – but we do know it will be less than last year and that much of the problem is self-inflicted [Ken Miller / OK Policy].

New labor commissioner wants to look at revenue: New Labor Commissioner Melissa McLawhorn Houston said the Department’s fee structure might not be able to sustain operations in the wake of Oklahoma’s budget crisis. “I don’t want to sound like an unfunded mandate person, but there are several areas that the agency is directed to do by statute, (such as) inspect elevators and rides.” As a mother, Houston said, she wants to make sure rides at fairs are safe. “So that’s a proper role for the Department of Labor; but if they are losing money on every single inspection, at some point it becomes unsustainable,” she said [Journal Record].

OKC City Council passes ordinance against panhandling: After years of trying to pass the ordinance and several hours of heated debate and public comment on Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Council approved an ordinance that would ban panhandling from city medians. The council voted 7-2. Members Dr. Ed Shadid and Pete White voted against the measure. Despite the lopsided vote, supporters at the meeting were outnumbered nearly four to one [News9]. The OKC panhandling ordinance is part of a trend of criminalizing poverty [OK Policy].

Oklahoma lawmakers may need Plan B for Indian cultural center and museum: This year the Legislature voted to offload the half-built American Indian Cultural Center and Museum from the state to Oklahoma City — provided city officials agree to the deal. Lawmakers may need a Plan B. City officials still have review work to do, and they don’t rule out assuming control of the museum. But during a recent meeting with The Oklahoman editorial board, Mayor Mick Cornett and City Manager Jim Couch noted a number of serious flaws [NewsOK].

Planned Parenthood challenges Oklahoma audit’s billing error claims: Planned Parenthood officials asked the state Tuesday to reconsider audit findings that its Oklahoma operations have major billing errors. Gov. Mary Fallin cited the audits in asking that the organization be dropped from the state’s Medicaid program. Planned Parenthood says any problems are exaggerated. If the organization is dropped as Fallin has requested, thousands of people who use Planned Parenthood would not be able to seek Medicaid reimbursement for services they receive there [NewsOK].

Companies ask Oklahoma judge to toss earthquake lawsuit: Two energy companies are asking a judge to throw out a lawsuit by an Oklahoma woman who claims she was injured in an earthquake caused by the injection of wastewater deep into the ground — a method used for decades by the industry to dispose of the chemical-laced byproduct of oil and gas production. The lawsuit by Prague resident Sandra Ladra alleges the companies are liable because they operated the wastewater disposal wells that triggered the largest earthquake in state history, a 5.6-magnitude temblor that hit in 2011 [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“It’s certainly frustrating for us to be falling downward to No. 50. I think what it boils down to is one pretty straight-forward thing: Our state’s refusal to accept federal dollars and expand Medicaid will continue to punish us and cause us to decline in rankings like these.”

-University of Oklahoma-Tulsa President Dr. John Schumann, speaking about new national health rankings in which Oklahoma scored lower than every state except Mississippi and saw a large drop in ranking for health care access and affordability (Source)

Number of the Day

19.9%

Percentage of Oklahoma bachelor’s degree holders whose degree is in education.

Source: U.S. Census 2014 American Community Survey

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

There are way more gifted kids from disadvantaged backgrounds than we usually find: Gifted and talented programs at most school districts that have them disproportionately feature kids from higher-income families. New research from David Card and Laura Giuliano shows that a fairly simple administrative tweak can greatly close the gap. Depressingly, however, the research also shows that even though the tweak was extremely successful, it was abandoned rapidly in the face of budgetary pressure, and all the gains for low-income kids have since been erased [Vox].

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