In The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.
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Today you should know that Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and House Minority Leader Scott Inman both said they have issues with tapping road and bridge funds to increase education funding, as proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee. NPR reported that the Oklahoma GOP’s turn against Common Core is creating a split with state business leaders. The Tulsa World called for Governor Fallin to veto efforts to repeal Common Core standards.
Thousands of Oklahoma students will begin state testing on Thursday that could determine whether they repeat the third grade or graduate from high school. Some retained students may be promoted to the fourth grade in the middle of the year if they pass an alternate test by November 1 of their repeat year. The latest version of a bill to change the third-grade reading requirement would allow students who fail the test to receive a “probationary promotion”.
David Blatt wrote an editorial in The Oklahoman on why it’s time to end Oklahoma’s tax break for horizontal drilling. See OK Policy’s full issue brief here on why this tax break has become unnecessary and unaffordable. OK Policy is now accepting applications for the 2014 Summer Policy Institute, a three-day learning and networking opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students. Tulsa World editor Julie DelCour expressed disappointment that a bill to ban texting while driving has once again failed in the Legislature.
Oklahoma Watch released an in-depth investigation on how Oklahoma puts little effort into identifying and investigating doctors who supply deadly dosages of prescription drugs. See OK Policy’s fact sheet on prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma. Heroin deaths are on the rise in Oklahoma, as some addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative.
Records show that a private halfway house operator in Oklahoma frequently wrote up inmate escapes as lesser offenses, so they wouldn’t be transferred out of the halfway house to state prisons. State Corrections Department officials said they have more than tripled the number of prisoners the agency processes every day to reduce crowding in county jails.
Oklahoma candidates for state and federal races have three days this week to file documents to run for public office. Oklahoma election officials are preparing thousands of voting machines and workers as campaign season nears. On April 17, the University of Oklahoma will host Professor Nicholas Carnes for a free public lecture about factors that prevent working-class people from running for office and the effect that over-representation of wealthy Americans in legislatures has on political outcomes.
Officials with St. John Health System say reports that doctors at their medical center in Bartlesville can no longer prescribe contraceptives are false. StateImpact Oklahoma shared four things Oklahomans should know about a $5 billion settlement to clean up sites contaminated with nuclear fuel and rocket fuel waste by Oklahoma company Kerr-McGee. A Senate committee passed a bill calling for a public vote to allow school districts a one-time increase on bonding capacity to pay for school safety upgrades. The city of Moore is implementing new building codes to make homes more resistant to tornadoes.
The Number of the Day is the percentage of African-American children in Oklahoma who have asthma. In today’s Policy Note, Scholars Strategy Network researchers discuss how the growing, bipartisan momentum to roll back America’s prison boom.
In The News
Oklahoma Senate, House leaders oppose education funding proposal
The leader of the state Senate says he is opposed to a plan to tap into funds earmarked for road and bridge improvements to boost state education funding. Increased education funding is needed, but lawmakers should look elsewhere for the money, said state Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Oklahoma City, said he also has issues with tapping road and bridge funds for education as proposed in the version of the education funding bill that Wednesday came out of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Common Core Turns Business Leaders Against Oklahoma GOP
Mike Neal gets annoyed when he talks about politicians in his state. Just three years ago, when the Common Core State Standards for education were implemented, no one had a problem with them, says Neal, president of the Tulsa, Okla., Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s been a really frustrating situation to the business community in Oklahoma in that we’ve all been on the same page, from the governor, the House, the Senate, school board members,” Neal says. “They’ve all been behind this.” Now, things are different. “You’ve got a lot of people just running scared,” Neal says.
Fallin should veto efforts to repeal Common Core standards for Oklahoma
Gov. Mary Fallin should veto legislation that would end Oklahoma’s commitment to the Common Core education standards. A bill doing that still has some distance to go in the Legislature, but Fallin has already tipped her hand that she isn’t likely to use her veto power. She should reconsider. The Common Core standards were a good idea when the state approved them in 2010; they were a good idea when Fallin supported them as chairwoman of the National Governors Association, which helped design them, and they’re still a good idea. But — driven by misunderstanding and deliberate distortion — the standards have become political poison in Republican Party politics.
Assessment tests begin Thursday for Oklahoma students
The anxiety is building for thousands of Oklahoma students about to take state tests that could determine whether they repeat the third grade or graduate from high school. Spring testing in a variety of subjects, including math and reading, begins Thursday for students in grades three through eight. Additionally, some middle school and high school students will be taking end-of-instruction exams that measure proficiency in seven core subjects — four of which they must eventually pass to receive a diploma. For the first time, third-graders who score unsatisfactory on a test to measure reading proficiency will be held back unless they meet certain good cause exemptions or until they can demonstrate the ability to read at a second-grade level or higher.
Oklahoma schools have several options if a third-grader fails reading test
Not every third-grader who fails the reading test and is retained will repeat the entire third-grade year. Under the test-based retention law, every school district must adopt its own policy to guide how it handles mid-year promotions, said Sherri McMillan, who is executive director of elementary curriculum and instruction for Bixby Public Schools. The amended Reading Sufficiency Act provides that students may be promoted at mid-year if they pass an alternate, state-approved reading test by Nov. 1 of their repeat year. A district’s policy, in part, will address whether to implement blended or transitional classes that would combine fourth-grade curriculum and third-grade reading instruction.
For a refined third grade reading mandate
A measure to revise the state’s high-stakes third grade reading mandate is evolving in the right direction. A 2011 law requires that all third-graders who can’t pass an end-of-term reading test must be held back. Earlier this year, the state House passed a measure to ease that mandate, leaving the retention decision to a committee that would include the child’s parents, a teacher, an administrator and a reading specialist. Last week, the Senate Education Committee revised the proposal. The latest version would allow students who fail the test to receive “probationary promotion” if that is the recommendation of a committee that includes the student’s parents or guardians, a teacher assigned to the student, a fourth grade teacher, the school principal and a certified reading specialist.
David Blatt: It’s time to end tax break that has become unaffordable for Oklahoma
Last fall, a survey by the National Association of State Budget Officers found that across most of the nation, state finances are thriving. In 37 states, revenues are meeting or exceeding forecasts. The New York Times reported that “unexpectedly robust revenues from taxes and other sources are filling most state coffers, creating surpluses not seen in years and prompting statehouse battles over what to do with the money.” The situation in Oklahoma is very different.
See also: Unnecessary and Unaffordable: The Case for Curbing Oklahoma’s Oil and Gas Tax Breaks from Oklahoma Policy Institute
Calling all college students! Apply for the 2014 Summer Policy Institute
Oklahoma Policy Institute is excited to announce our second annual Summer Policy Institute (SPI) from August 3-6, 2014. The SPI brings together over 50 highly-qualified undergraduate and graduate students for an exciting and in-depth learning experience. SPI will offer participants a unique opportunity to become better informed about vital Oklahoma policy issues, network with fellow students and leaders in the policy process, and prepare for their future studies and work in public policy-related fields. The Institute is hosted and led by the staff of OK Policy and involves leading policy experts from government, academia and community organizations throughout Oklahoma.
Texting bills DOA — again
I should be dead.Last week, that headline ran above a letter in The Oklahoman by Mary McGuire, an Oklahoma City resident describing her recent near-death experience with a texting driver who had run a red light on a busy corridor. McGuire ended with a question to the Legislature, which was meeting across town: “…Why can’t (we) have a law against texting while driving?” Fair question, and one that we, at the Tulsa World, have asked during every session for years.
Addicted Oklahoma: Oversight gaps slow response to drug-overdose scourge
On Jan. 27, 2010, Dena Kay Brasfield died in her sleep. Two days earlier, the 40-year-old clothing store worker had gone to see Oklahoma City doctor Cecil Allen Moore, complaining of migraines, anxiety and panic attacks. He prescribed her large doses of alprazolam, an addictive anti-anxiety drug, and oxycodone, a potent opiate painkiller. It wasn’t until late 2011, after receiving complaints about Moore from pharmacists, other patients and relatives, that the board launched an investigation of his prescribing practices. They soon made a gruesome discovery: Eight of Moore’s patients had died of overdoses in 2010 and 2011. Not one had been reported to the board.
See also: Prescription drug abuse in Oklahoma from Oklahoma Policy Institute
Heroin deaths in Oklahoma on the rise
Oklahoma has long struggled with prescription drug and meth abuse. Of the estimated 844 drug-related deaths in Oklahoma in 2012 — the most recent year for which data is available — heroin didn’t show up in the top eight drugs found in the systems of the deceased after autopsies were conducted, according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. But agency spokesman Mark Woodward said anecdotal evidence suggests heroin is a drug that’s on the rise in Oklahoma due to cheaper prices. “We’re hearing that heroin is going to be rising in popularity nationwide and certainly in Oklahoma,” Woodward said. “Reports from the streets and from police officers and users themselves tell us they’re seeing more heroin moved (in Oklahoma).”
Escape dilemma at Avalon
Before cellphone video of an inmate fight club surfaced, before the Department of Corrections canceled the contract for its Tulsa halfway house, Avalon Correctional Services had another not-so-small problem: inmates escaping. At each of Avalon’s three Oklahoma halfway houses in recent years, one-quarter or more of offenders written up for misconduct were reported for escape or a related offense, a Tulsa World analysis shows. Frequently, records show, Avalon staff chose to write up escapes as “failure to comply with the limits of confinement.” That type of misconduct is less severe and ultimately could result in fewer inmates being transferred out of lower-security halfway houses back to higher-security prisons.
Oklahoma Corrections Department aims to lower number of inmates in county jails
In an effort to reduce the backlog of inmates waiting in county jail for an empty prison bed, officials of the state Corrections Department say they have more than tripled the number of prisoners the agency processes every day. All male inmates are first processed through the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, where they are assigned a security level and a facility to serve out their sentence. Director Robert Patton said that in the last two weeks, not only has staff at the prison decreased the number of days it takes to process each inmate from nine to four, they also have increased the number of prisoners they receive each day from 30 to 100.
Three-day candidate filing period to begin Wednesday
Candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives along with those for governor, the Oklahoma Legislature and other elected positions have three days this week to file documents to run for public office. Up to 600 people are expected to file Wednesday through Friday at the state Election Board. June 24 is primary election day. A runoff is Aug. 26, and the general election is Nov. 4. In order to get on the ballot, political hopefuls must file their declarations of candidacy and pay a fee or get enough petition signatures by 5 p.m. Friday. Republican Gov. Mary Fallin will be seeking re-election, and Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, has said he will try to unseat her. Both of Oklahoma’s U.S. Senate seats and all five of its U.S. House seats are up for election.
Oklahoma election officials preparing thousands of machines and workers as campaign season nears
Don Bourassa and his counterparts throughout the state are approaching busy season, a time when they must check and re-check hundreds of machines to make sure they perform flawlessly when they are needed the most. Bourassa is voting device coordinator for the Oklahoma County Election Board and 300 optical ballot readers are his responsibility. Voters insert their completed ballots into these machines on election day, and the vote is stored electronically. June 24 is primary election day for Oklahoma races including governor, state cabinet officers, two U.S. senators, five congressmen and many state legislators. Candidates will be filing papers to run for office Wednesday through Friday. A runoff election is Aug. 26 and the general election is Nov. 4.
Upcoming event: Prof. Nick Carnes on “Who’s Keeping Working-Class Americans Out of Office?” at OU
On April 17, the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma will host Professor Nicholas Carnes for a free public lecture titled, “Who’s Keeping Working-Class Americans Out of Office? Political Gatekeepers and the Unequal Makeup of Government.” The lecture will begin at 7:00pm in the J.J. Rhyne Community Room, located in the Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work at the University of Oklahoma.
St. John officials say birth-control policies at Bartlesville hospital unchanged
Officials with St. John Health System say reports that doctors affiliated with Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville can no longer prescribe contraceptives for the purposes of birth control are false. No policies have changed, according to a statement from the health system, which owns the Bartlesville hospital. “Consistent with Catholic health care organizations, St. John Health System operates in accordance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, and therefore, does not approve or support contraceptive practices,” according to the statement. “However, only physicians (not institutions) are licensed to practice medicine and make medical judgments.”
Anadarko’s $5 Billion Environmental Settlement: 4 Things Okies Should Know
Anadarko Petroleum on Thursday agreed to pay more than $5 billion for an immense environmental cleanup that includes U.S. sites contaminated by nuclear fuel, rocket fuel waste and wood creosote. The case was brought by a trust representing the U.S. government, 11 states, Indian tribes and individuals affected by the contamination, and sought funds for cleanups at 2,700 sites in 47 states. “If you are responsible for 85 years of poisoning the earth, then you are responsible for cleaning it up,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement about the settlement.
Oklahoma School Storm Shelter Proposal Passes Senate Committee
An Oklahoma Senate committee has passed a measure calling for a public vote to allow school districts a one-time increase on bonding capacity to pay for school safety upgrades like storm shelters and safe rooms. The Senate Rules Committee voted 12-3 for the bill, which now proceeds to the full Senate. The bill has been touted by Gov. Mary Fallin as a way to allow more districts to pay for safety upgrades.
In tornado-prone Oklahoma, some better prepared than others
The mayor of Moore, Oklahoma, a municipality twice devastated by tornados in the past 15 years, is fixated on garage doors, knowing they are a key to protecting the city from even more damage during this year’s tornado season. Moore, in the heart of “Tornado Alley,” where twisters frequently hit, will be operating this year under new building codes, arguably some of the most stringent in the nation, to protect people and structures from deadly winds. In all new construction starting this month, garage doors must be insulated and storm resistant, roofs must have sheathing to keep them in place, and structures must be better anchored and secured around their edges.
Quote of the Day
Well, what are they there for? We ought to be monitoring those deaths just like we monitor infectious diseases and track where these people are getting their drugs, what’s the source of the drugs, and finding out where we need to intervene.
-Dr. Hal Vorse, an Oklahoma City addiction treatment specialist, who said he finds it hard to understand why Oklahoma medical examiners don’t collect the names of the doctors who prescribed drugs involved in overdose deaths (Source: http://bit.ly/PRspHD)
Number of the Day
Percent of African-American children in Oklahoma who have asthma, more than twice the rates for white (7.9), Hispanic (7.5), or American Indian (10.3) children.
Source: Oklahoma Health Department
How unlikely allies can roll back America’s prison boom
To many liberal critics, America’s swollen prisons have grown like a rapacious weed—one entirely immune to efforts to hack it back. The growth of incarceration seems inexorable and irreversible, driven by a combination of cynical politics, racial inequalities, and lobbying by corporations, unions, and towns that profit from the prison business. These self-reinforcing dynamics are very real, but they are not cause for despair. In fact, there is reason to hope that the political momentum is turning against our over-reliance on cuffs and cages.
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