In The Know: Oklahoma school districts begin the year with 536 teacher vacancies

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 school districts begin the year with 536 teacher vacancies: As students across the state are back in class, school boards say they are still being affected by the teacher shortage. For years, teachers have been asking Oklahoma lawmakers to find a way to fund a pay raise for educators across the state. When another legislative session came to a close without a teacher pay raise, many educators decided to leave the classroom or the Sooner State for better pay [KFOR]. Blame the Oklahoma Legislature [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

TPS superintendent staffs third-grade class as school year starts: Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist returned to her professional roots Monday, teaching a third-grade class at Marshall Elementary. Gist’s reunion with teaching came as a stopgap measure for TPS. She was filling in for a newly hired teacher whose paperwork was still being processed. It wasn’t like hopping on a bike, she said during a brief visit with reporters in the school’s library. Gist said it was the first time since the late-1990s that she had taught [Tulsa World].

New legislation would require line item budget for major state agencies: Seven Oklahoma legislators unveiled new legislation Tuesday that they said would force lawmakers to physically get involved with the budgeting process and increase transparency by requiring agencies receiving more than $100 million in appropriated funds to submit line item budgets. Senate Bill 875 would require the Oklahoma Legislature to approve the line-item budgets for the agencies that receive the vast majority of state appropriations each year. One of the bill’s authors, Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) said that line-item budgeting isn’t a new idea, but that line item budgets were ended in 2009 to give agencies more flexibility in times of limited resources [Red Dirt Report].

Democratic lawmakers meet with Gov. Mary Fallin on possible special session: Democratic legislative leadership on Tuesday met with Gov. Mary Fallin and her key advisers to discuss prospects for a special session. Lawmakers could return to the Capitol in a special session after the Oklahoma Supreme Court determined a $1.50 “fee” on cigarettes was passed unconstitutionally. The measure was expected to generate $215 million, with the bulk of the dollars going to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Service, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Human Services [Tulsa World].

Several paths for Oklahoma’s latest budget shortfall: Oklahoma lawmakers face some tough decisions following a court case that struck down $215 million in new revenue this month. What can they do? Here are some options. The first big decision is whether to convene a special session of the Legislature. Several of Oklahoma’s political leaders believe that’s the only way to reverse major cuts to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the Department of Human Services [NewsOK].

Oklahoma specialty plate contest designed to drive up teacher numbers: The state Department of Education is looking to increase teacher recruitment and it will sell specialty license plates to fund the effort. But first the state needs to design the license plate, and it’s turning to students for help. The Department of Education is accepting entries from pre-K through senior students until Sept. 22 [NewsOK].

For some schools, four is the new five: The state’s public school districts are adapting to shorter teaching weeks, education officials said. The cultural shift lies at the heart of Coyle Superintendent Josh Sumrall’s doctoral dissertation at Oklahoma State University. His 350-student district just kicked off its third year of four-day school weeks instead of five. “I’m pretty passionate about the topic,” he said. “We love it here, all of the parents and community. There’s literally not one person that’s come into my office or sent a letter saying it doesn’t work for them.” [Journal Record]

Executions will not resume in Oklahoma in 2017: Oklahoma will not execute anyone in 2017 and the death chamber will stay quiet until after the third anniversary of the last time the state carried out a death sentence. The Oklahoma Attorney General promised the courts in 2015 that it would not seek a new execution until 150 days after new protocols for executions were adopted by the Department of Corrections following a grand jury investigation into botched execution and mismanagement of the capital punishment system [KOKH].

Oklahoma State students face up to 6-percent tuition hike in fiscal year 2018: To counteract drastic state budget cuts, the price of tuition at Oklahoma State University continues to climb. From fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018, tuition and mandatory fees have jumped by $417 per year, or 5 percent, for undergraduate OSU-Stillwater students who reside in Oklahoma. Tuition for undergraduate out-of-state OSU-Stillwater students has skyrocketed by $1,332 per year, or 5.9 percent. Increased tuition rates will also take a toll on graduate students [O’Colly]. Oklahoma already led the nation in cuts to K-12 education. Now we lead in cuts to higher ed too [OK Policy].

Former House speaker named to Pardon and Parole Board: Former House Speaker Kris Steele has been appointed to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. “Kris Steele is passionate about criminal justice and is respected for his fairness,” Gov. Mary Fallin said in a news release Tuesday announcing her appointment. “He will serve on the Pardon and Parole Board with integrity, and he will carefully weigh the rights of victims as well as potential parolees.” Steele, of Shawnee, will complete a term that expires in January 2019 [NewsOK]. Oklahoma ranks 45th in the rate of parole supervision despite having the second highest imprisonment rate [OK Policy].

Oklahoma Corporation Commission passes rule to allow two-mile long horizontal well operations: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission passed an emergency rule to new legislation that will allow for two-mile long horizontal well operations. “The Oklahoma legislature, in its last session, passed a law that allows what are called long laterals to be drilled in Oklahoma regardless of the formation,” said Matt Skinner with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Long laterals, also known as horizontal drilling, were previously only allowed in certain formations. The new legislation changed that [KFOR].

Former Senate Pro Tem Bingman running for Corporation Commission: Former Oklahoma Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman of Sapulpa is making another run for public office, this time as a member of the Corporation Commission. “It’s always been in the back of my mind to run for statewide office,” Bingman said Tuesday. “With my 30-plus years in the oil and gas business and experience in the Legislature, I think that would be a good fit.” Bingman registered his campaign committee with the state Ethics Commission on Friday and plans to formally announce his candidacy next month for the seat currently held by commissioner Bob Anthony [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma woman speaks out after Shadow Mountain funding cuts leave her son without treatment: A Green Country woman is speaking out after she was affected by the state’s decision to cut funding for an area mental health provider. Parent Kiisha Copeland says she feels let down by both the state of Oklahoma and the Shadow Mountain Behavioral Health System. She told FOX23 that since the state cut funding for Shadow Mountain, she can no longer afford for her son to receive the treatment he needs [Fox 23].

Living in a debt trap: The Oklahoma Legislature needs to revise its regulation of payday lenders. About 1 in 8 adult Oklahomans has taken out a payday loan — the highest usage rate in the nation, according to Nick Bourke, director of consumer finance at Pew Charitable Trusts. Payday loans are small, short-term, high-interest loans that are due for repayment from the borrower’s next paycheck, usually within two weeks or a month. The typical borrower takes out 10 payday loans per year, often relying on new loans to pay off old cash advances, Bourke said. Too many Oklahomans are caught in that debt trap [Editorial Board / Joplin Globe].

Inmate who died after going to Oklahoma County jail became upset after police wouldn’t give him a ride: The Oklahoma County jail inmate who died Friday had called police himself that morning — for a ride. Mitchell Everett Willis, 54, became belligerent and aggressive after Oklahoma City police officers refused to take him to pick up his impounded car, according to his arrest report. Police used pepper spray on him after warning him to back up several times, according to the report [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“We’re robbing our children of the very people who can help ensure they enter adulthood well prepared for college and the workplace. We can’t continue to let students bear the burden of adult inaction. Putting a great teacher in every classroom is the very least we can do for children, but we’re falling spectacularly short of fulfilling even that most basic obligation.”

– OSSBA Executive Director Shawn Hime, commenting on his organization’s survey that showed 536 teaching vacancies to start the school year despite the addition of 1,430 emergency-certified teachers districts and 480 eliminated teaching positions since last year (Source)

Number of the Day


Teaching vacancies reported by Oklahoma school districts to start the 2017-18 school year, despite the addition of 1,430 emergency-certified teachers and 480 eliminated teaching positions since last year

Source: Oklahoma State School Boards Association

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How Mental-Health Training for Police Can Save Lives—and Taxpayer Dollars: For those making policy to ameliorate problems, there is a typical dilemma. Saving lives usually means spending a lot of money. Saving money can often mean losing or damaging lives—the current debate over health policy underscores that set of tradeoffs. Rarely do we find a policy option that both saves lives and saves money. But that option is here for this immense problem. It is called crisis intervention team training, or CIT, and it works—there’s data, and results, to prove it [Route Fifty].

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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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