In The Know: School accountability plan seeks to improve Oklahoma letter grade system

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

School accountability plan seeks to improve Oklahoma letter grade system: State education leaders believe a new accountability plan will improve the controversial A through F grading system of Oklahoma public schools, yet critics see a chance for the letter grades to be dropped altogether following federal rule changes last week. Oklahoma’s proposed school accountability system puts greater emphasis on college and career readiness, chronic absenteeism and highlights student subgroups, giving more attention to performance gaps that exists in public schools [NewsOK].

State superintendent vows to fight for funding: Oklahoma’s school superintendent predicted “fierce fighting” on securing more money for education in 2017. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister issued the warning Monday during an education town hall at Muskogee’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. Hofmeister discussed educational issues and answered questions from a room full of educators, school administrators and parents. State cuts in public education, which plagued area schools in 2016, was a repeated concern [Duncan Banner]. 

Oklahoma lawmakers, schools brace for more possible funding cuts: It’s no secret Oklahoma has the worst teacher pay in the nation and a shortage of teachers. But some superintendents still can’t find enough for their classrooms. “The biggest challenge for us is the shortage. There were two positions we have not filled until the end of the semester until some kids graduated from Northeastern State University because we could not find a teacher,” said Mike Garde, of Muskogee Public Schools. He joined the Oklahoma School Advisory Council Tuesday for a legislative lunch. “We are waiting to see if there is going to be a shortfall. But we are in a little better shape this year than last year to handle a shortfall,” said Garde [KTUL].

Colorado internet-tax case could change online shopping: Buying things online could get pricier after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a case Monday that could ultimately lead to states collecting billions of dollars in sales taxes lost to increasingly popular internet retailers. The court would not hear a challenge to a Colorado law requiring online sellers such as to notify customers and the state how much they owe in taxes. State officials have estimated that Colorado alone has been missing out on as much as $172.7 million a year. At least three other states – Louisiana, Oklahoma and Vermont – have passed similar laws that could take effect given the resolution of the Colorado case [Associated Press]. Oklahoma passed its law this year [OK Policy].

Join us for the 2017 State Budget Summit: As Oklahoma’s 2017 legislative session approaches, the combination of continued budget shortfalls at the state level and a new national Administration and Congress committed to far-reaching changes to critical programs have created an unprecedented level of uncertainty and apprehension. OK Policy’s 4th Annual State Budget Summit, which will be held on Thursday, January 26th in Oklahoma City, will bring together all those with an interest in state policy issues for a day of thoughtful discussion and exchange of ideas aimed at understanding the challenges we now face and charting a course for a more prosperous future [OK Policy].

Without legislative action, Oklahoma will need three new prisons during the next 10 years: If no state action is taken to constrain prison growth, Oklahoma’s prison population during the next 10 years will increase by 25 percent — more than 7,000 people — and require three more prisons to be built or contracted, newly released data shows. The Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force, created in July, found that Oklahoma’s current prison population greatly exceeds capacity, posing problems for prison staff and reducing the ability to rehabilitate offenders, 94 percent of whom return to the community. The task force was scheduled to make its final report to Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders Thursday for possible legislative action next year. However, Fallin’s office announced Tuesday afternoon that the task force wouldn’t meet that deadline [NewsOK]. Here are a few ideas about what  might be included in the next round of justice reform [OK Policy].

Criminal justice reform will make Oklahoma safer: Public safety should be the bedrock of any reforms to our criminal justice system. As members of the victims’ community, we appreciate the need for a correctional system that truly works to reduce crime and victimization, which is why we are encouraged by the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force’s efforts. Grounded in the evidence to reduce recidivism, the task force is developing policy recommendations that promise to protect public safety and victims’ rights while safely reducing the prison population [Jan Peery and Dianne Barker Harrold / NewsOK]. 

Debbie Aldridge: Running a Prison for Women: Debbie Aldridge worked for more than 20 years at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Now she runs Oklahoma’s largest prison for women, the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud. She talks about the uniqueness of overseeing female inmates and the sometimes frustrating efforts to encourage them to give up criminal behavior. Aldridge is originally from western Kansas and was the first person in her family to enter law enforcement or corrections. She worked as a dispatcher for a police department in a Denver suburb, then moved to McAlester, where she had family, to work at the prison. She said she was drawn to that career because she is rules-oriented [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma lawmaker wants treatment center patterned after San Antonio model: Representative George Young toured the Restoration Center and Haven for Hope in San Antonio last month and said he was very impressed with what he saw. “It was 22 acres, and we walked over the whole thing. It was really, really really a wonderful, wonderful kind of facility,” said Young (D) Oklahoma City. The facility boasts 30 different agencies on those 22 acres offering services for the homeless as well as mental health and addiction services. Young toured it as part of the Southern Legislative Conference [KFOR].

State Supreme Court approves turnpike bonds: The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously approved the issuance of $480 million in Oklahoma turnpike bonds, clearing the way for the first phase of multiple turnpike improvement and expansion projects that will be accompanied by systemwide toll increases. The bond sale is likely to occur in mid-January and 12 percent toll increases will be implemented Feb. 1, said Jack Damrill, spokesman for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. The initial 12 percent toll hike will increase the cost of driving a passenger car from Oklahoma City to Tulsa on the Turner Turnpike by 50 cents — rising to $4.40 for Pikepass customers and $4.50 for cash customers [NewsOK].

Indian Country Faces Funding Uncertainties, Again: In recent sessions of Congress, budget uncertainty has become normalized thanks to a continuing reliance by legislators on so-called continuing resolution (CR) budgeting. The problem for Indian country is that CRs create tremendous uncertainty because they are not appropriations. They are more like “IOU notes” from federal agencies to the federal government. These “IOUs” will be deducted from the final annual budget appropriations, whenever those are approved [Indian Country Today].

Oklahoma Court Tosses Abortion Law on Hospital Privileges: The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a law requiring abortion clinics to have doctors who have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their facility. The court ruled that measure, which requires doctors with admitting privileges to be present for abortions, violates both the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions. Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed it into law in 2014, but courts had blocked it from going into effect. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down a similar provision in Texas [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“As substance abuse issues touch more families and communities, we need to focus on treatment to help women get on the right path and keep families together. With the work of the task force, we have an opportunity to bring long-needed improvements addressing crimes driven by substance abuse disorders.”

-Jan Peery, CEO of YWCA Oklahoma City, and Dianne Barker Harrold, Indian Country consultant and victim specialist, on the work of the Justice Reform Task Force that will produce proposals to reduce the prison population before the 2017 legislative session (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma children per 1,000 who were living in foster care in 2013, the highest rate in the US (tied with West Virginia)

Source: Center for American Progress

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

When Having Insurance Still Leaves You Dangerously Uncovered: One of the few things that Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton seemed to agree on was that high out-of-pocket spending on health care was a problem. One of Mrs. Clinton’s most popular health care proposals during her campaign was to reduce out-of-pocket spending to more “manageable” levels for many Americans. President-elect Trump said he could fix this problem by repealing Obamacare and replacing it with something better. As I’ve written before, while more Americans are insured, many are still underinsured — meaning that they are exposed to significant financial risk from out-of-pocket payments [The Upshot / New York Times].

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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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