In The Know: School safe rooms on some ballots

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.

Although legislative efforts to make it easier for school districts to build safe rooms failed, four Oklahoma school districts will have safe room bonds on ballots on Tuesday’s election. Opponents of Common Core in other states are turning to Oklahoma for advice. We’ve written previously about how repealing Common Core could put Oklahoma schools under greater federal control because Oklahoma could lose exemptions from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The Tulsa World’s Editorial Board wrote that the state’s teacher shortage is indicative of a troubled education system.

As many as one in three Tulsa Public Schools students speak Spanish at home, creating communication difficulties between school administrators and parents. TPS says that while they have strong language support in schools, more is needed. On Tuesday, voters will decide on two bond issues totaling more than $40 million for Sapulpa Public Schools.  Advocates warn that the state is moving too slowly in adjusting to allow foster youth to remain enrolled in Medicaid through age 26, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Volunteers with a group that assists youth aging out of foster care say they need more mentors.

Oklahoma Watch spoke with the executive director of Mental Health Association Oklahoma about mental health issues in Oklahoma. Data from the Tulsa Housing Authority shows that housing subsidy vouchers have gradually shifted south and east as families gravitate towards better schools and better jobs. The Oklahoman’s Editorial Board called for greater scrutiny to be employed in issuing tax credits, noting that state lawmakers don’t know how many tax credits will be handed out in a given year, how many will be cashed in, or if they generate any economic activity. We’ve written about tax credit reform before.

Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday in a statewide runoff election, including Tulsa County’s first District Attorney election in 15 years. Ginnie Graham wrote that the Department of Corrections’ plan to seal towers in six state prisons is a futile attempt to generate minimal savings when the system desperately needs a substantial infusion of resources. Oklahoma officials have begun authorizing $120 million in bonds to renovate the state’s crumbling Capitol.

OETA warns that further budget cuts could mean programming cuts or loss of service to rural areas. OETA’s state appropriations have dropped nearly 20 percent in the last four years. An Oklahoma reporter finished the last leg of his 16-mile walk down Peoria, speaking with and photographing residents encountered on the way. ThinkProgress argued that between staging a Black Mass in Oklahoma City and raising funds for a statue on Capitol grounds, Satanists are testing the limits of religious freedom in Oklahoma. 

State agencies are concerned about their ability to implement the EPA’s carbon reduction goals, which all for a 40 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from state power plants by 2030. The state is currently involved in a lawsuit challenging the rules for existing power plants. A new report suggests that if usage continues at current rates, Oklahoma’s Garber-Wellington Aquifer will be 50 percent depleted by 2049. Broken Arrow residents are being asked to voluntarily conserve water because a combination of high heat and algae in the Verdigris River are affecting production at a new water treatment plant.

The Number of the Day is Oklahomans’ per capita spending on energy in 2012, the 12th highest in the US. In today’s Policy Note, The New York Times discusses new federal rules tightening the prescribing of hydrocodone in an effort to combat prescription drug abuse.

In The News

Some Oklahoma school districts get safe room bonds on ballots

Three months after legislative efforts to make it easier for school districts to build safe rooms fell apart, four Oklahoma districts are seeking voters’ approval to build school storm shelters. Those four bond issues are among several issues that Oklahoma voters will see on the ballot in Tuesday’s election. Voters in the Elmore City-Pernell, Rush Springs and Panama school districts will consider school bond proposals that include language regarding safe rooms.

Read more from NewsOK.

Common Core Opponents Turn to Oklahoma for Advice

Oklahoma lawmakers and parents are serving as advisors of sorts in the ongoing fight against the Common Core academic standards in Louisiana, Arizona and Colorado. Five Louisiana lawmakers visited Oklahoma City Friday, while lawmakers from Arizona and Colorado participated in a phone conference, to discuss how to use an Oklahoma bill repealing the standards as model legislation in their states. State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Ryan Brecheen, R-Coalgate, discussed how they wrote the bill and how they built public support for repeal.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

See also: Common Core repeal could put Oklahoma schools under more federal control from the OK Policy Blog.

Teacher shortage is a sign of troubled education system

We want an effective teacher in every classroom, but as school begins it is apparent some children couldn’t even count on a permanent teacher being there on Day One. A survey by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association shows that public school districts still had more than 800 teaching vacancies as the school year approached. The survey represented nearly three-quarters of the state’s school population, and reflected that large and small districts were struggling with the same issue. In Tulsa, officials say they still had 70 vacancies as of Monday.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Schools struggling to accomodate Hispanic growth

Nearly 1/3 of all students in Tulsa Public Schools are Hispanic, and speak Spanish at home. District leaders, like Laura Grisso, the Title 3 Director for TPS, tell FOX23 a lot of the growth is happening at schools like Skelly Elementary, in east Tulsa. “Our Hispanic population, as of last year, is the largest racial and ethnic population across the district. So a lot of those families need that support in Spanish and we haven’t been able to find as much staff as we need. We’ve got a lot, but we need more,” said Grisso.

Read more from FOX23.

Sapulpa school district to put $40 million-plus bond issue before voters

Two Sapulpa Public Schools bond propositions totaling more than $40 million, the largest proposal in the district’s history, top area elections Tuesday. “This is a wide-ranging bond issue that’s going to serve everybody in a positive way and hopefully provides some excitement in the community — and some growth,” said Steve McCormick, president of the district’s school board.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Tulsa group asks for more mentors for youths aging out of foster care programs

Repairing bicycles is such a part of Dick Banks’ life that sometimes the 83-year-old will come home from work to find damaged bikes parked outside his garage. “Where do they come from? I guess the bike fairy,” Banks said. “Maybe the Lord dumps them here for me.” Banks has been riding bicycles since he was an 8-year-old, but for the past 19 years, he’s been fixing them. It began as a service for Eugene Field Elementary School, but in the last four years he’s started repairing them for a program aimed at helping youths who are aging out or have aged out of foster care or government housing programs.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Glitches delay Medicaid enrollment for former foster kids in Oklahoma

April Merrill has lost track of the number of phone calls she has made, trying to get young people signed up for Medicaid. There was the young man who had a painful abscess in his mouth and was having trouble communicating at work. There was the young woman who could no longer afford her mental health medication after she no longer had Medicaid coverage. An estimated 2,300 former foster youth — these two examples included — are now eligible to remain on the state’s Medicaid program until age 26. Some advocates are worried, however, that not enough former foster children are being enrolled into the program.

Read more from NewsOK.

A Mental-Health Mission Goes Statewide

Growing up in Kansas near the Oklahoma Panhandle, Michael Brose saw firsthand the struggles of rural residents to find quality health care. Later, in two decades as executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, Brose observed similar problems with urban residents’ access to affordable care for mental illness and substance abuse. Today, Brose is using his experience in those two settings to carry out a new, broader mission for his advocacy organization.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Housing vouchers: Our map shows where they’re being used the most in Tulsa

Tulsa Housing Authority data show a continued shift in housing subsidy vouchers in the past 15 years from north Tulsa outward to the rest of the city. South and east Tulsa in particular have seen increased rent subsidies through the Housing Choice Voucher program — formerly Section 8 — since 1998. “As our voucher program began to expand, we noticed the number of people moving into other areas of the city,” said Chea Redditt, president and CEO of the Tulsa Housing Authority.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma policymakers should give greater scrutiny to tax credits

Oklahoma lawmakers don’t know how many recipients may cash in tax credits this year, don’t know the total amount of tax credits that will be handed out in any given year, and don’t know if those tax credits actually generate economic activity. But other than that … No private business would operate this way, yet it remains par for the course in state government. We’ve noted this before, but it bears repeating: State government budgeting is a mess. Lawmakers should consider simple changes that could reduce wild swings in revenue collections — swings that are unrelated to economic downturns.

Read more from The Oklahoman.

See also: The promising life and untimely death of tax credit reform in Oklahoma from the OK Policy Blog.

Oklahoma voters go to polls Tuesday in statewide runoff election

Voters will decide primary runoff races Tuesday for Congress, the Oklahoma Legislature and the key office of state school superintendent. A marquee race will be the contest between former Edmond Mayor Patrice Douglas, a lawyer and banker, and Steve Russell, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and former Oklahoma state senator. They are vying to represent the 5th Congressional District in Oklahoma, Pottawatomie and Seminole counties.

Read more from NewsOK.

Voters to choose new Tulsa County DA for first time in 15 years

For the first time in more than 15 years, Tulsa County on Tuesday will elect a new district attorney, the only countywide post up for grabs in Tulsa’s Republican and Democratic runoff elections. After current District Attorney Tim Harris announced his retirement, the chief of the county’s criminal division, Steve Kunzweiler, and two state Legislators, Rep. Fred Jordan and Sen. Brian Crain — all three of whom are Republicans — filed for the position.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

DOC’s towering problems

In the newest re-configuring of deck chairs on the Titanic, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is considering unmanning guard towers at six state prisons, including the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. The proposed closing of the towers, as reported by Graham Lee Brewer of The Oklahoman last week, is outlined in an internal DOC staffing evaluation memo. Creating greater efficiencies and cost-cutting have become the bywords for a struggling system with old-woman-in-the-shoe syndrome. DOC Director Robert Patton has so many inmates he doesn’t know what to do – 27,000, and counting.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

See also: Oklahoma Corrections Department considers decommissioning prison towers from NewsOK.

Oklahoma State Capitol repair bonds authorization begins for crumbling facade of building in OKC

Oklahoma officials are beginning the process of authorizing $120 million in bonds to renovate the state’s nearly century-old Capitol. Legislation authorizing a 10-year bond issue to repair the Capitol building goes into effect on Friday, 90 days after it was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. The Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority has scheduled a meeting on Monday to begin the process of authorizing bonds to pay for repairs to the Capitol.

Read more from KJRH.

How Satanists Are Testing The Limits Of Religious Freedom In Oklahoma

A legal dispute of biblical proportions flared up in Oklahoma this week, pitting Catholics against Satanists in a case that raises questions about when — or if — the government can uphold the religious claims of one faith group over another. Earlier this month, a Satanic group in Oklahoma City known as the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu requested the use of the local Civic Center Music Hall on September 21 for the performance of a Satanic ritual known as the “Black Mass.”

Read more from ThinkProgress.

OETA navigates shrinking state funds

For now, Oklahomans can still get to Sesame Street, but cuts to state appropriations for OETA have meant scaled-back local programming. Further loss of revenue for the station could mean deeper programming cuts or even put the station’s reach to rural areas in jeopardy, OETA’s executive director warns. Since fiscal year 2010, state appropriations to the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority have dropped 19 percent.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Street Level: Peoria, the end of an 8-month journey

I should have known that nothing could live up to the expectations I had placed on the final two miles of my 16-mile walk on Peoria Avenue. Such high hopes for the perfect ending to this self-assigned passion. As I parked my car in a shopping center at Skelly Drive, things looked promising. The Supermercados Morelos grocery store bustled with shoppers. None would be photographed.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

State Agencies Concerned About Carrying Out EPA’s ‘Aggressive’ Air Pollution Plan

State environmental and utility regulators on Thursday said it would be a struggle to accomplish carbon dioxide reduction goals outlined in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan.” The EPA’s proposal, first outlined in June, “would mean carbon dioxide reductions of more than 40 percent from Oklahoma power plants by 2030,” The Oklahoman‘s Paul Monies reports.

Read more from StateImpact.

Garber-Wellington Aquifer Being Depleted

A large, Central Oklahoma aquifer will be 50 percent depleted as early as 2049 if usage continues at the current rates, an updated study presented Tuesday to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board shows. The study on the Garber-Wellington aquifer, which lies beneath much of central Oklahoma, including Oklahoma City, Moore, Norman, Shawnee and other cities, examined the rates of water usage from 1987 through 2009. “This analysis indicates that this pumping rate … is not sustainable for more than 41 years if every landowner with a potential well in each acre in the Central Oklahoma aquifer exercised their temporary right to pump at that rate,” the study states.

Read more from KGOU.

Voluntary Water Conservation Continues In Broken Arrow

The City of Broken Arrow said they are still asking residents to voluntarily conserve their water. Saturday they said the rising heat and a high concentration of algae in the Verdigris River are affecting production at the new water treatment plant. They said the water being pulled into the water treatment plant was clogging the filters faster than technicians could clean them out. “Because of the algae problem, the plant is pumping treated water at a reduced capacity. Essentially, the plant is sending less treated water into the City for customers to use.

Read more from NewsOn6.

Quote of the Day

“Our Hispanic population, as of last year, is the largest racial and ethnic population across the district. So a lot of those families need that support in Spanish and we haven’t been able to find as much staff as we need. We’ve got a lot, but we need more.”

– Laura Grisso, the Title 3 Director for Tulsa Public Schools. Nearly one in three TPS students speak Spanish at home, prompting need for more bilingual resources in schools (Source:

Number of the Day


Oklahomans’ per capita spending on energy in 2012, 12th highest in the nation

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

In Move to Curb Drug Abuse, D.E.A. Tightens Rule on Widely Prescribed Painkiller

The federal government tightened the prescribing for the most common form of painkiller in the country on Thursday, the final step in a policy shift that has been years in the making. The stricter rule for hydrocodone, which is the most widely prescribed painkiller in the United States and which is an ingredient in drugs like Vicodin, is one of the most far-reaching efforts to stop the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse. More than 20,000 Americans die every year because of prescription drug abuse, according to federal data. The rule places hydrocodone in a tougher, more restrictive category, and the changes it requires are sweeping.

Read more from The New York Times.

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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