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 the Senate passed a measure (HB 2625) that allows students who don’t pass a third grade reading test to be promoted to the next grade if they have unanimous support from a team of parents and educators. The bill now returns to the House to consider Senate amendments. NewsOn6 reported that some parents are looking into opting their kids out of standardized testing, but it can have the same consequences as failing the test. House Democrats increased calls for boosts in Oklahoma’s education funding.
David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed why legislators now seem to face the impossible choice of supporting good roads or good schools. The Tulsa World editorial board wrote that it’s time for state leaders to take a more realistic look at Oklahoma’s legitimate needs and rethink the rush toward a tax cut. The OK Policy Blog discussed how Oklahoma Medicaid faces severe cuts if lawmakers do not find more revenue.
A new Tulsa County health profile shows wide disparities in health between different zip codes, with north Tulsa showing worse numbers diabetes, obesity, tobacco use and mortality than suburbs south of Tulsa. NewsOK reporter Jaclyn Cosgrove spoke with Dr. Eric Beck about the obstacles to providing emergency care in rural versus urban areas. The Tulsa World questioned why a bill to prevent doctor-shopping for prescription drugs is being blocked by a House committee chair.
Tensions between the state House and Senate came out into the open as House members debated a Senate request to take Thursday off so senators could take a four-day Easter holiday. Rep. Mike Turner, a 27-year-old first-term state representative from Oklahoma City who is running to replace James Lankford in Congress, leads in fundraising after putting $500,000 of his family’s money into his campaign. Under a bill waiting to be signed by Governor Fallin, Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee. The Oklahoma Water Resources Board approved a $50.3 million loan to the city of Norman for improving it’s water treatment plant, the single largest loan the board has made.
The Number of the Day is how much Oklahoma needs to increase funding for SoonerCare, Mental Health, and the Department of Human Services just to maintain existing services. In today’s Policy Note, Stateline discussed how some states are seeking to crack down on for-profit colleges that mislead students about their financing, recruitment practices and graduates’ employment rates.
In The News
Senate passes measure to help third-graders who don’t pass reading test
The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure designed to give students who can’t pass a third grade reading test more options for promotion to the next grade. House Bill 2625, by Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, and Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, returns to the House for consideration. Stanislawski said he anticipates the House will accept Senate amendments and send the measure to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk. Third-graders this year must pass a reading test to be promoted.
Parents Ask About Opting Students Out Of State Testing
Most public schools are in the middle of state testing. But there are parents asking questions about opting out their children from the process. Tulsa Public schools said some parents have asked about getting children out of standardized testing, but not a single one has actually gone through the process to do it. Parents can opt out, but that can have the same consequences as failing the test. While Oklahoma’s public school children are hunkered down in test mode, a handful of parents, according to Tulsa Public Schools, have checked into opting out. The consequences for the student vary by grade level, but for the school, it could impact those yearly A-F grades.
Oklahoma House Democrats call for education funding
Some Oklahoma public school teachers and school administrators have joined a group of House Democrats in calling for an increase in tax dollars spent on public education. Educators and Democratic lawmakers gathered at the Capitol on Wednesday, about two weeks after thousands of teachers and school administrators rallied at the Capitol for more classroom funding and better teacher salaries. House Democratic Leader Scott Inman of Oklahoma City says budget cuts have reduced state revenue for public schools by about $200 million in recent years. But Inman says schools are under more demands to implement unfunded education mandates and high-stakes testing of students.
Prosperity Policy: Bad choices
A decade ago, following the overwhelming defeat of a referendum to boost state taxes on motor fuels, advocates for increased transportation funding hit on a new approach. In 2005, the Legislature created the Rebuilding Oklahoma Access and Driver Safety, or ROADS, fund dedicated for maintenance and repair of state highways and bridges. State dollars would be allocated directly off the top from tax collections without having to compete with other priorities during the appropriations process. The fund would be guaranteed an automatic annual increase until it reached an overall cap. The idea worked.
Tulsa World: Trooper pay raise not the only one that’s needed
The state House of Representatives has approved a state trooper pay raise that could bump Oklahoma Highway Patrol pay as much as 14 percent. The measure previously was approved by the state Senate, so it goes to Gov. Mary Fallin, who previously has endorsed trooper raises. So, unless there’s some unexpected development, this one seems like a done deal as it should be. Troopers put their lives on the line on a daily basis and haven’t had a raise in eight years.
Medicaid on the chopping block
Just prior to the start of the legislative session we ran a blog post titled “Avoiding devastating health care cuts will require hard choices.” Two-and-a-half months later, as legislative leaders begin to look in earnest at crafting a budget deal, the budget outlook for the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services continues to look grim. Lawmakers have not yet done anything to stave off cuts that would create serious hardship for Oklahomans.
Tulsa County health profile shows wide ranges between zip codes
Tulsa County has a diverse range of health behaviors, with north Tulsa showing worse numbers in areas such as diabetes, obesity, tobacco use and mortality than suburbs south of Tulsa, according to a report released Wednesday night. The Tulsa County Health Profile, an analysis of health factors broken down by ZIP code that the Tulsa Health Department releases every few years, was presented to the department’s board of directors Wednesday.
Rural versus urban: Understanding the obstacles of providing emergency care in Oklahoma
Across Oklahoma, the obstacles that emergency responders face vary widely, from serving dense urban populations to reaching rural residents in the furthest corners of the state. Regardless of where emergency care is being delivered, it must be well managed and organized to ensure the best results, said Dr. Eric Beck, associate chief medical officer at American Medical Response and Evolution Health. Beck was recently in Oklahoma City at an Emergency Medical Services Authority workshop and answered a few questions about care in rural and urban areas.
Why is doctor-shopping legislation being blocked?
Oklahomans’ addiction to prescription drugs is epidemic one in eight residents abuse painkillers. These controlled drugs are coming from physicians known by patients, who go from one doctor to the next stocking up on more meds than they need. In 2012, 534 Oklahomans died from overdoses of prescription drugs. With that kind of preventable statistic, you’d think the Legislature would move quickly to stop doctor shopping. Not so fast. Rep. David Derby, chairman of the House Public Health Committee, wouldn’t allow a prescription monitoring bill to be heard last week during the panel’s final gathering before a deadline for committee approval.
Oklahoma Senate break rankles House members
Simmering tensions between the state House and Senate boiled over onto the House floor Wednesday as House members testily debated a Senate request to take Thursday off so senators could take a four-day Easter holiday. House members ultimately voted 51-32 to grant the senators’ request, but only after taking several digs at members of the other chamber. “There’s work to do here. Why in the world would we agree to let them take a vacation?” asked state Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City.
Self-funded Legislator Leads Fundraising
A 27-year-old first-term state representative from Oklahoma City who put $500,000 of his own money into his campaign has amassed the biggest war chest in the race to replace Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford in the 5th Congressional District. Federal campaign finance documents provided by Republican state Rep. Mike Turner’s campaign show he spent about $170,000 during the reporting cycle that ended March 31. Most of that was spent on a television ad buy in the Oklahoma City market.
Oklahoma will charge customers who install their own solar panels
Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy through solar panels or small wind turbines on their property will now be charged an additional fee, the result of a new bill passed by the state legislature and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R). On Monday, S.B. 1456 passed the state House 83-5 after no debate. The measure creates a new class of customers: those who install distributed power generation systems like solar panels or small wind turbines on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. While those with systems already installed won’t be affected, the new class of customers will now be charged a monthly fee — a shift that happened quickly and caught many in the state off guard.
OK’s Largest Water Loan Goes to Norman to Fix Stressed, Stinky Treatment Plant
The Oklahoma Water Resources Board uses the state’s good credit to secure loans for communities and rural water districts that need help paying for expensive upgrades to their water systems. And at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, the board approved a $50.3 million loan to the Norman in what Joe Freeman, chief of OWRB’s financial assistance division, calls the “largest single loan request” it’s ever acted on. The money will be used to expand capacity at Norman’s wastewater reclamation facility from 12 million gallons per day to 16 million.
Quote of the Day
“We should remember that Oklahoma’s federal match is decreasing due to an increase in the state’s per capita income. The federal government is subsidizing us less because our state’s relative prosperity can provide the resources to take care of our own. That we are not taking care of our own isn’t because we can’t afford it; it’s because we are choosing not to.”
-OK Policy Executive Director David Blatt, on the prospect that Oklahoma lawmakers will cut SoonerCare funding when the program needs a $90 million funding increase just continue existing services, due to reduced federal matching funds and higher costs and enrollment (Source: http://bit.ly/1pa0KS8)
Number of the Day
How much Oklahoma needs to increase funding for SoonerCare, Mental Health, and the Department of Human Services just to maintain existing services.
Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute
States Crack Down on For-Profit Colleges, Student Loan Industry
When Murray Hastie returned to New York in January 2006 after two tours of duty in Iraq, he hoped to use the GI Bill to complete his college education. Denied admission to two state colleges, Hastie came upon DeVry University. The day after he filled out an online request for information, a representative from the for-profit university visited him at his home and encouraged him to enroll in a biomedical informatics program in New Jersey. DeVry said he would receive in-state tuition and that his GI benefits would cover all of his educational costs, and helped him apply for loans, Hastie said. Three semesters into the program, Hastie was struggling.
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