In The Know: Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System trustees fire executive director

In The KnowIn 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.

Today you should know that trustees voted to fire James Wilbanks as executive director of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System but have released no information about why he was fired. Two former inmates testified before a Senate committee about how prison diversion programs helped them battle their addictions and turn their lives around. Oklahoma Watch spoke to lawmakers with different views over whether Oklahoma should expand the use of private prisons.

Oklahomans are running into roadblocks when seeking basic services from federal programs during the government shutdown. If the shutdown continues for weeks, it could lead to cutbacks in a program that helps feed low-income women, infants and children in Oklahoma. The OK Policy Blog discussed why charities do not have the resources to replace the government safety net.

Oklahomans seeking to enroll in the Affordable Care Act marketplace experienced long delays as the site received nearly 3 million visits on the first day. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discusses how the Oklahoma Medicaid program has succeeded in dramatically reducing the number of uninsured children in the state. The state Department of Education is threatening a Jenks middle school principal with loss of certification after their investigation found he encouraged a testing opt out movement among parents.

The Oklahoma Tax Commission will require legally married gay couples to file state taxes as single people, forcing them to compute their federal taxes twice. The Enid city council voted down a measure to prohibit discrimination against city employees based on their sexual orientation.

The Number of the Day is the number of children with immigrant parents in Oklahoma who are U.S. citizens. In today’s Policy Note, Tulsa doctor John Schumann gives nine predictions about health care in the Obamacare era.

In The News

Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System trustees fire executive director

James Wilbanks was fired Wednesday as executive director of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System. Trustees voted 11-0 to fire Wilbanks, but were secretive about the reason for his dismissal. Photo – James Wilbanks, until recently the executive director of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System James Wilbanks, until recently the executive director of the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System “Information came to the attention of the board in recent weeks that related to day-to-day operational decisions made by the executive director,” the board said in a news release prepared in response to questions from The Oklahoman. “Based on this information, the board voted to terminate the employment of the executive director.”

Read more from NewsOK.

Two former Oklahoma prisoners endorse value of addiction programs

Two former inmates testified before a Senate committee on Tuesday about how prison diversion programs helped them battle their addictions and turn their lives around. Sen. Rob Standridge said he requested a study to highlight the role that drug addiction plays in Oklahoma’s incarceration rate and said programs that could potentially divert drug-addicted criminal offenders from the state prison system hold promise. With nearly 27,000 inmates, Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is one of the highest in the nation. Its incarceration rate for women has been the highest in the country for more than a decade. Drug possession and distribution are among the top offenses for Oklahoma inmates, accounting for more than one-quarter of all prisoners in the state.

Read more from NewsOK.

Two views: Is it good for Oklahoma to expand use of private prisons?

Oklahoma prisons continue to see a growth in inmates, who are pushed into a system that’s bursting at the seams. The number of inmates housed at state-run and private prisons in Oklahoma now exceeds 26,700 and is only expected to rise. Meanwhile, the Department of Corrections budget is stagnant, although corrections officials have discussed seeking additional funds from the Legislature before the end of this fiscal year. Cramped conditions at state prisons have led to an increased use of private-prison beds in the state. Over the past year, the number of private-prison beds leased by the state has risen by about 1,000 inmates, to more than 5,800.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Oklahomans face hurdles in federal government shutdown

After waiting for close to an hour for the Oklahoma City Social Security Administration offices to open, Marsha Johnson left less than a minute after she walked through the glass doors inside Shepherd Mall. “They said that they couldn’t accommodate that because they are shut down,” said the 53-year-old Johnson. Johnson, who is new to the Social Security disability program, said she was told she would not be able to get a replacement card until the shutdown is resolved. Johnson said she needs her card to ensure she can receive benefit services.

Read more from NewsOK.

Government shutdown could curb benefits for Oklahoma women, children

If the partial shutdown of the federal government continues for weeks, it could lead to cutbacks in the federally funded program that helps low-income women, infants and children in Oklahoma, officials said Wednesday. One possible result could be limiting the aid provided under the federal Women, Infants and Children program to only one or two of those groups, such as infants. Around 90,000 Oklahomans are on the WIC program, which offers nutritional assistance, such as formula, milk, cereal, fresh fruits and vegetables, and various services to expectant mothers, infants and children under 5 years old.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Charity can’t replace the safety net

The third annual food drive sponsored by Governor Fallin and Oklahoma’s Regional Food Banks began this week. In previous years, the food drive has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars and many more pounds of food for Oklahoma’s poorest families. Yet even as Governor Fallin travels the state seeking contributions for meals, Republicans in Congress are attempting to undo all of her work. House Republicans, including all five members of Oklahoma’s delegation, recently voted to make deep cuts to the food stamp program (SNAP). The GOP’s proposed cuts would be on top of cuts already on the way due to the expiration of stimulus funds.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Strong interest, long delays mark uneven start for Affordable Care Act enrollment

The Affordable Care Act got off to a rough start in Oklahoma and most other states Tuesday, with technical glitches and long waits for help enrolling in plans under the new law. Many visitors to the federal government’s website — — trying to enroll for health insurance were stalled early in the process of creating an account. Among the issues: Boxes designed to let users select security questions did not work. Consumers trying to get help over telephone lines or via live chat online had long waits. Federal officials pleaded for patience, saying the site had received nearly 3 million visits since midnight Tuesday.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Prosperity Policy: A Sooner success story

Although Oklahoma continues to struggle with a high number of residents without health insurance, one group has made tremendous strides in recent years: children. Overall, more than one in six Oklahomans (17.1 percent), or 638,000 people, were uninsured during 2011-2012, according to new census data. Oklahoma’s rate of uninsured remains above the national average, which stood at 15.4 percent in 2012. But the number of Oklahoma children without insurance fell below 1 in 10 in 2011-2012, and is now half the rate of 1999-2000. Conversely, 24 percent of working-age adults were uninsured in 2011-12, up from 21 percent in 1999-2000. The difference between adults and children has been Medicaid.

Read more from the Journal Record.

State threatens Jenks principal for encouraging testing ‘opt out’ movement

Jenks Public Schools participated in and encouraged a movement to opt students out of field tests last April, an Oklahoma State Department of Education investigation found. In a July 7 report provided to the Tulsa World this week in response to an open records request, the state said it had evidence that Jenks Middle School Principal Rob Miller “initiated a movement to opt out ‘teachers and students’ from all field tests administered at Jenks Middle School.” Joel Robison, chief of staff for state Superintendent Janet Barresi, said Miller’s certification could be at risk.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Married same-sex couples can’t use federal returns for state taxes, tax panel rules

The Oklahoma Tax Commission is requiring legally married gay couples to file state taxes as single people, forcing them to compute their federal taxes twice. The August announcement by the Internal Revenue Service that same-sex married couples may file taxes jointly left Oklahoma in a quandary. While a state law requires Oklahoma residents use the same filing status on state tax forms as they do on federal forms, a 2004 vote added language to the state’s constitution banning the recognition of same-sex marriages. The tax commission posted a notice last Friday on its website stating gay couples who file as married federally cannot do so on state forms.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Enid votes down anti-discrimination ordinance

A vigorous 25-second ovation followed the dismissal of an ordinance designed to include sexual orientation as a protected class when hiring municipal employees Tuesday. A majority of four commissioners is needed to pass ordinances. Only three voted in support. After the vote, Commissioner Ben Ezzell said providing discrimination protections to gay and lesbian city workers would take baby steps. “It’s going to happen,” he said. “Some day.”

Read more from the Enid News & Eagle.

Quote of the Day

We’re not forgiving them for the crime just because of their drug addiction, but maybe there’s a way to both punish them for the crime and treat the drug addiction so they don’t come back. I think most citizens are in favor of (diversionary programs) for crimes that don’t involve stealing something from somebody or hurting somebody.

-Senator Rob Standridge (R-Norman), who held an interim study on programs to divert non-violent drug offenders from the state prison system (Source:

Number of the Day


The number of children with immigrant parents in Oklahoma who are U.S. citizens, 2010-2011

Source: U.S. Census via The Urban Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A doctor’s nine predictions about the ‘Obamacare era’

Debate is raging about Obamacare, and not just in Washington. Out here in Oklahoma we’re grappling with implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Patients. Employers. Hospitals. Doctors. Insurers. All of us. Here then are one doctor’s predictions about what we will see in the short and medium term for what I see as the unfolding Obamacare era — the biggest domestic health expansion since the enactment of Medicare in 1965.

Read more from NPR.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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