In The Know: Schools can access millions to expand free school meals

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

Schools can access millions to expand free school meals: At all elementary and middle schools and some high schools in the Houston Independent School District — 220 in all — every student begins the day with a free breakfast right in the classroom. The result: fewer absences and discipline problems and an increase in math scores, according to the district’s former superintendent Terry Grier. Houston, the nation’s seventh largest school district, where three out of four students live in poverty, also offers free lunch to all students at 186 schools, without requiring applications to qualify. The potential stigma of receiving a free meal is eliminated, and so is much of the paperwork burden on school staff, according to advocacy groups fighting poverty-related hunger [Oklahoma Watch]. Community Eligibility can help make Oklahoma schools hunger-free [OK Policy].

Repealing Obamacare could be ‘devastating’ for Oklahoma hospitals: As Republicans in Congress plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, people all over the country are concerned about what happens next. In the state of Oklahoma, about 140,000 residents are covered under Obamacare. That includes Rozena Curran who we met during her appointment at Morton Comprehensive Health Services. Curran says she gets peace of mind from Obamacare, so she’s happy to pay a reasonable monthly premium. Rozena is better off than 50 percent of the patients who visit Morton, because half don’t have any insurance. So the repeal of Obamacare could add more people to that list and increase Morton’s costs [KTUL].

Fallin urges lawmakers to work with her to find new revenue: If the Oklahoma Legislature wants to keep funding critical services like education, public safety and infrastructure, Gov. Mary Fallin says lawmakers should work with her to come up with permanent ways to fund those priorities. As the Republican governor prepares to deliver her seventh state of the state speech on Monday, she intends to lay out a plan for a “major overhaul of our tax system” designed to close the budget gap and eliminate the continual need for lawmakers to use one-time sources of money to plug deficits [Associated Press].

New Oklahoma House speaker wants early focus on budget: Charles McCall’s office was incomplete less than a week before the start of a new legislative session, as framed pictures line the base of the wall waiting to be hung. The newly appointed House speaker is easing into his position when it comes to office decor, but said he has jumped right in on policy and political challenges that will come when the Legislature convenes Monday. … McCall welcomes the idea of overseeing the House for four years and believes it could be a span when the state’s budget rebounds and the Legislature approves comprehensive changes to spending and tax structures [NewsOK].

Political State Podcast: Previewing the 2017 Legislative Session: The Oklahoman’s Ben Felder and Dale Denwalt host their inaugural episode for “Political State,” a weekly podcast that looks at the world of politics on a state, local and federal level. This week, they’re joined by Bailey Perkins, of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, and Effie Craven, state advocacy and public policy director for Oklahoma Food Banks [NewsOK].

What your legislators think is important: Teacher raises, state astronomical object and school uniforms for all: More than 2,100 pieces of legislation were filed by the Jan. 20 deadline for the first session of the 56th Legislature, including 831 in the Senate bills and 1,340 in the House. Tulsa World paged through all those measures to give you an idea of what your lawmakers are working on this year. The 2017 legislative session will reconvene on Monday, Feb. 6. At least 11 measures seek to give raises to Oklahoma public school teachers [Tulsa World].

State workers passed over?: As lawmakers vow to give raises to teachers, thousands of other state workers who staff prisons, patch roads and work with the poor are wondering why they’re being passed over. Most of the state’s 33,000 workers who hold jobs outside public schools haven’t seen any sort of raise in a decade, said Sean Wallace, policy director for Oklahoma Public Employees Association. Yet dozens of lawmakers have filed measures seeking to increase pay for more than 40,000 teachers. Their plans generally don’t address the wage gap experienced by everyone else. State workers say their benefits have been frozen, health care costs have increased, newer workers don’t get pensions and the cost of living is outpacing their stagnant salaries. Much like teachers jumping state lines in search of better offers, more state workers are ditching their jobs, too [Enid News].

Tulsa Republican Rep. Dan Kirby Resigns: After a weeks-long investigation that ended with a recommended expulsion, Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, announced he will be resigning, avoiding a potentially damaging floor vote. The announcement was made in a statement via a private consulting firm with which Kirby has been working. The firm, Precision Strategy Group, has been sending releases on Kirby’s behalf. State Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, is listed as an agent for the firm. Kirby had been accused of sexually harassing two former aides [News9].

Advocates, lawmakers say a more inclusive Legislature would bring better policies: Oklahoma’s Legislature doesn’t look like the voters it represents. Lawmakers are overwhelmingly male and white. Although women compose more than a majority of the state’s population, they make up only 13 percent of the state’s legislators. African-Americans make up more than 7 percent of the state’s population, and more in areas such as Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Lawton and Muskogee, but only six black legislators will serve this session. The handful of officials who break from the demographic pack said they feel the need to remind their colleagues their issues exist. Advocates said that is necessary [Journal Record].

Voters still have a say in the lawmaking process: With all the money and power in politics, voters often feel they have no real say in government. Politicians themselves, especially those at the state and local level, say otherwise. “I think the citizens underestimate how much ability they have to influence their legislator,” said Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner and former state Speaker of the House Todd Hiett. In recent years, activist citizens have played an important part in changing the direction of state policy on health care and education, to name just two prominent issues [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma’s Mission of Mercy: ‘We need more access to dental care’: It’s always jarring to see hundreds of people lined up at dawn for health care in the world’s richest nation. Friday night, I traveled to Woodward to cover day two of the 2017 Oklahoma Mission of Mercy free dental-care weekend. OKMOM events are both a spectacle of enormous charity and a reminder of how hard it can be for working Americans to access oral health care. “It’s a blessing,” said Jarod Garrison of Guymon. “I got like five teeth that are bad.” Garrison sat behind dozens of other patients who were waiting for teeth to be extracted [NonDoc].

As health lab shows, Oklahoma lawmakers’ delays only increasing taxpayer costs: Oklahoma lawmakers’ “kick the can down the road” approach to state budgeting only drives up long-term costs to taxpayers and increases the likelihood of major disruption. Just take a look at the state’s public health laboratory. The lab has been at its current location at the state Health Department since 1972. That makes it one of the oldest such facilities in the nation. The lab performs a wide range of services, including diagnosing, monitoring and preventing the spread of communicable diseases; providing newborn screenings for inherited metabolic disorders like sickle cell anemia; and more [Editorial Board / NewsOK].

State financial aid growing despite Oklahoma’s higher ed budget woes: The amount of financial aid awarded to college students has nearly quadrupled since 2000, even though state funding for higher education is flat. The appropriation to Oklahoma’s higher education system has increased and declined over the years — peaking at more than $1 billion in Fiscal Year 2008 — but for FY17 it stands at $810 million, the same amount that was appropriated 16 years ago. In that time, the percentage of funds allocated for student aid has grown from 3.4 percent to 11.3 percent. The majority of state financial aid comes from the Oklahoma’s Promise tuition scholarship, which doesn’t rely on state appropriations [NewsOK].

FBI Traces November Racist Messages to Tulsa, Norman: Federal agents investigating racist messages sent shortly after the 2016 presidential election interviewed three men who graduated from Tulsa-area high schools in recent years, obtaining search warrants for the home and phone of one of them, federal court records show. The FBI inquiries were in connection with messages sent to several University of Pennsylvania freshmen in November – an incident that sparked outrage at that university, made national headlines and was listed among several examples of race-based harassment that followed the election. The University of Pennsylvania is Trump’s alma mater [Oklahoma Watch].

Oklahoma’s unemployment continues above national average: Oklahoma’s unemployment rate decreased for the first time since August. Going from 5.1 percent in November to 5 percent in December, the state remains above the national average of 4.7 percent, according to a report released by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, 64 have an unemployment rate higher than one year ago, seven counties have a lower rate and six remain unchanged [Enid News].

Quote of the Day

“There should be a comprehensive plan in place that addresses pay for working professionals in the state. (This) shouldn’t be a political football that’s kicked around. (Employees) may be 10 years without a raise simply because their agency is too large. It would just be a huge blow to see people forgotten time and time again.”

-Oklahoma Department of Human Services employee Cindy Shewmake, speaking about the need to increase pay for state workers, who make 23.5 percent less on average than comparable positions elsewhere (Source).

Number of the Day

56 percent

Percentage of nonviolent offenders sent to Oklahoma prisons in FY 2015 who had little or no serious criminal history.

Source: Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

State Budgets Aren’t Accounting for Obamacare Repeal: On his first day as president, Donald Trump signed an executive order to begin the process for repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In the weeks before that, the Republican-controlled Congress made several moves toward dismantling the law. But you likely wouldn’t know all that by looking at most states’ proposed budgets. If Trump makes good on his campaign promise to repeal Barack Obama’s landmark health-care law this year, states could take a major financial hit and don’t appear to be preparing for that [Governing].

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.