In The Know: Oklahoma makes progress in foster-care capacity

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 makes progress in foster-care capacity: A national report shows Oklahoma bucking the trend on the number of children entering foster care and having the greatest increase in foster-care capacity in the nation. The report by the Chronicle of Social Change touts itself as the “first ever report of its kind” and analyzed state data from 2012 through 2017 to determine if the government is providing enough supports to provide placements for foster-care children and youth [Tulsa World].

Step Up Oklahoma plan adds to the consensus that new revenues are essential: The new Step Up Oklahoma coalition, a bipartisan group of business and civic leaders and organizations, has put forward a comprehensive plan aimed at stabilizing Oklahoma’s budget and reforming state government. While far from perfect, their plan is a serious and laudable attempt to address the budget problems that have plagued our state for years. The most significant aspect of the coalition’s plan is its clear recognition that Oklahoma has a structural budget deficit that can be fixed only through approval of substantial new permanent revenue [OK Policy].

‘Return to its roots’: New facilities and cultural shift change course of state juvenile justice agency: The youths’ rooms at the facilities are small, about the size of an office cubicle, and separated by dividers. Many of the spaces don’t have windows, and the ones that do are covered with spray paint. Each cubicle has a metal bed frame with a thin mattress and a desk nailed to the wall. In some dormitories, blind spots can make it difficult for staff to keep an eye on all of the children at once [The Frontier].

Organizations announce support for Step Up Oklahoma proposals: The Oklahoma Academy for State Goals and Tulsa Regional Chamber on Wednesday announced their support for Step Up Oklahoma’s package of proposals to resolve the state’s budget impasse, provide $5,000 pay raises for teachers and restructure state and county government to improve accountability. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, which represents the state’s 2,700 locally elected school board members, announced its support for the teacher pay raise and revenue raising parts of Step Up’s far-ranging proposals [NewsOK]. Education groups also stepped up their advocacy [NewsOK].

Two GOP gubernatorial hopefuls reject Step Up Oklahoma plan: Two Republican gubernatorial candidates came out Wednesday against the revenue and reform plan developed by state business leaders, with one suggesting it be called “Pay Up Oklahoma.” Candidates Gary Richardson, a Tulsa attorney, and Kevin Stitt, a Tulsa businessman, said they couldn’t support raising taxes for a state government they consider broken [NewsOK].

Prosperity Policy: The Pink Wave: Last Saturday, thousands of Oklahomans joined millions of Americans in cities across the nation to celebrate the second annual women’s march. At the rally I attended on Tulsa’s Guthrie Green, a diverse and cheerful crowd, basking in the unusually warm January weather, carried signs defending access to reproductive care, denouncing the president’s offensive language and demanding an end to sexual violence and gender discrimination [David Blatt / Journal Record].

Teacher by day: Davis makes ends meet as Uber driver: Brian Davis’ first and foremost job is teaching seventh-graders about eastern hemisphere geography at Central Middle School. But Davis also has a second job, a necessity that’s becoming increasingly common among Oklahoma schoolteachers. Even after 20 years experience in public education, he has to spend after-school hours and weekends working as an Uber driver in order to earn extra money. He also gives private pitching lessons on the side, and in the summer, operates a fireworks stand and teaches summer school [Bartlesville Examiner].

Senator proposes abuse prevention training: In the weeks after sexual abuse within schools made headlines, a state senator filed legislation that would require training on appropriate relationships between teachers and students. State Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, introduced a bill that would mandate all Oklahoma teachers undergo annual training to keep their certificates. Senate Bill 899 would allow the State Department of Health to develop coursework informing teachers and other staffers about the potential penalties they could face if charged with crimes related to sexual abuse or exploitation [Journal Record].

Bergstrom files two bills aimed at Oklahoma education: State Senator Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) filed two bills aimed at helping to recruit and retain teachers in Oklahoma schools. Senate Bill 1188 would allow a certified classroom teacher to earn a tuition waiver worth 12 credit hours of resident tuition each year the teacher is employed by an Oklahoma public school district to be used for the postsecondary education of the teacher’s child or children [Miami News-Record].

Safety guidelines aim to protect children at daycare: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services watches closely for violations at child care facilities. Casey White, the communications manager at DHS, said they want to prevent any children from being harmed while they’re there. DHS will do three unannounced visits to child care businesses every year. Staff will do more if there is a complaint or non-compliance to make sure any violations are fixed [KOKH].

If Medical Marijuana Is Approved In Oklahoma, This Bill Could Regulate It: Voters will decide in June if Oklahoma will become the 30th state to legalize marijuana for medical use. But, before voters cast their ballots on State Question 788, a bill could be pushed through the state legislature to put restrictions on medical marijuana, if it gets passed. State Senator Ervin Yen says while he understands the United States is moving to some manner of marijuana legalization, he doesn’t support the upcoming state question [KOSU]. How does SQ 788 compare to other states’ medical marijuana laws? [OK Policy]

Oklahoma receives mixed grades for anti-tobacco efforts: While smoking rates have fallen to historically low levels nationwide, Oklahoma still needs to do more in fighting tobacco use, the American Lung Association said in a report Wednesday. The association’s annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, which grades each state and the federal government on anti-tobacco policies, gave Oklahoma mostly low marks, with an “F” for tobacco taxes and a “D” for funding tobacco prevention programs [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma fifth in nation for firearm deaths as nonprofit decries ‘escalating gun crisis’: Oklahoma ranks fifth in the nation in gun death rates, outpacing the rate at which the national average has climbed since 2009, according to a Violence Policy Center analysis. The Violence Policy Center this month released its analysis of homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available. In Oklahoma, the firearm death rate in 2016 was 19.52 per 100,000 people [Tulsa World].

Represent Oklahoma wants to get state lawmakers out of the business of drawing congressional and state legislative districts: As outlined in the Oklahoma Constitution, two years from now, state lawmakers will draw district lines for state legislators and Congress members. In the last year, when Rico Smith explained the process to fellow Oklahomans, he often received worried looks and concerned comments about gerrymandering, which refers to the drawing of elected districts to benefit individual candidates, political parties or both. “Everyone pretty much agreed that there was a problem beginning with whether politicians should be able to draw their own lines,” Smith told Oklahoma Gazette [Oklahoma Gazette].

Redraw Oklahoma Supreme Court election districts to bring more talent to the selection pool: We support Step Up Oklahoma’s call to redistrict the Oklahoma Supreme Court and bring a bigger pool of candidates to the selection process. The nine Supreme Court justices each represent defined geographic districts. District 3 is Oklahoma County. District 6 is Tulsa County. Based on Oklahoma Bar Association records, that means 69 percent of the active lawyers in the state are eligible to serve in only two Supreme Court seats [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Southern Oklahoma water ruling will stand: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by the agriculture, mining and drilling industries that challenged a policy limiting the amount of water that can be used from the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer. The underground water source covers more than 500 square miles in south-central Oklahoma and is a source of drinking water for thousands in the area. It’s also used by farmers and ranchers, along with mining companies and the oil and gas industry [NewsOK].

As filing deadline for 2018 election nears, Tulsa County’s District Attorney looks back at his first term: Last fall, Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler sat on a panel at Oklahoma City’s Tower Theater that included Patricia Spottedcrow, an Oklahoma woman who had become the poster child for the state’s tough stance on drugs. In 2010 Spottedcrow was sentenced to 12 years in prison for selling a $31 bag of marijuana to an informant [The Frontier].

Quote of the Day

“It’s less disruptive to the family right now, but I’m not sitting at home and tweaking my lessons as much as I would like. I’m not researching internet technology ideas for my teachers as much as I’d like. I’d be able to do those things, if it wasn’t working an additional 10-20 hours a week on top of a full-time teaching job.”

– Bartlesville middle school teacher Brian Davis, who has several part-time jobs, including driving for Uber, in order to make ends meet (Source)

Number of the Day

899

Number of drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma in 2016, a 68% increase from 2007

Source: Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

In booming economies, food banks are busier than ever: While the economy is thriving in cities across the country, many middle class people in areas with a high cost of living are struggling to put food on the table. Food banks in cities that have seen strong job growth and soaring home prices are seeing increased demand from locals struggling to make ends meet and relying on assistance to feed their families. “There’s this hunger paradox: You would think the wealth would rise all boats, but it hasn’t and it’s created a major crisis and we are seeing families live on their last legs,” said Cat Cvengros, vice president of development and marketing at Second Harvest of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in California [CNN].

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Gentzler joined OK Policy in January of 2016 as a policy 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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