In The Know: State to pay $350,000 in settlement over six-year-old’s death

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 Oklahoma is paying $350,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that blamed DHS for a 6-year-old girl’s death. While leading an interim study on the issue, Rep. Gus Blackwell called for a corrections funding increase to better compensate workers and to send more offenders to private halfway houses before full release. He also called for the immediate transfer of 1,000 inmates to private prisons. Sean Wallace, the director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals Association, wrote that attempts to radically change pensions for state workers would make the bad prison situation worse.

Oklahoma state regents are making a case for a boost in funding to higher education, but state revenues are falling behind last year. The okeducationtruths blog explains why the funding Oklahoma provides to help students who are struggling on high stakes reading and end of instruction tests is seriously inadequate. A poll of Tulsans showed large majority support for local Superintendent Keith Ballard and for increasing education funding.

Multiple polls in Kansas show that Governor Brownback’s tax cut experiment is out of sync with what voters want. Oklahoma’s jobless rate rose to 5.5 percent in October, the highest level so far this year. While renegotiating tobacco tax deals with tribes, Oklahoma is making additional stipulations to reduce smoking and increase use of natural gas vehicles.

A new state website allows Oklahomans to search for public transit systems by county. Members of Dream Act Oklahoma are fasting to raise awareness about the need for immigration reform. M. Scott Carter writes that legislators are avoiding a requirement to allow voters to decide whether to have a constitutional convention. The Oklahoma Editorial Board writes that Oklahoma needs to reduce stigmas around suicide and mental health issues.

The Number of the Day is the number of children in Oklahoma who don’t have health insurance. In today’s Policy Note, PR Watch details the latest attempt from right-wing interest groups to block the Affordable Care Act — pass state laws to suspend the licenses of insurers that sell policies on the ACA marketplace.

In The News

State to pay $350,000 in settlement over six-year-old’s death

Oklahoma is paying $350,000 to settle a federal lawsuit that blamed DHS for a 6-year-old girl’s death. The girl’s mother, Christina Marie Potter, sued the Oklahoma Department of Human Services after Alexis Morris died on Sept. 25, 2009. Potter now has the last name of Wiggins. In the lawsuit, she alleged DHS workers failed to remove her daughter and her son, Jordan Morris, from their abusive stepmother’s home, despite repeated reports of problems there.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Lawmakers push for more appropriations, increased use of private facilities in corrections

Additional appropriations and stricter adherence to Oklahoma statutes in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections are imperative, said one lawmaker at a Thursday interim study. Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Lavern, who hosted the study on prisons with Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said the DOC could use at least an additional $20 to $25 million in state appropriations. During the study, he also tried to explore ways the prisons can counter overcrowding issues. Blackwell said he would like to see the department follow Oklahoma statutes by transferring prisoners into step-down programs before release by utilizing more privately owned halfway houses.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Lawmaker urges more use of private prisons to relieve pressure on Oklahoma Department of Corrections from the Tulsa World

Sean Wallace: Governor’s pension plans would make bad prison situation worse

One in four children in Oklahoma live in poverty and one in four struggle with hunger. More Oklahomans are on food stamps than any other time in Oklahoma’s history. Despite recent legislative efforts, more kids are still being abused and neglected at an increasing rate under the supervision of underpaid and understaffed Department of Human Services caseworkers. And then there is Oklahoma’s criminal justice system, where prisons have grown by a staggering 444 percent since 1980, while the violent crime rate in the state has only worsened.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma Regents make case for increased funding to higher education

The question isn’t whether spending state dollars in support of higher education is a good investment. The question is how much money will be available to appropriate next year. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education is requesting an increase of $76.3 million in appropriations for the 2015 fiscal year, an increase of 7.7 percent. Making the case for increased funding, the regents point to the return that comes from more people working, earning higher incomes and paying taxes.

Read more from NewsOK.

“Typical” remediation

Last week, Oklahoma school districts received their allocation notices for two major reform programs: the Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA) and Achieving Classroom Excellence (ACE). The per pupil allocation for RSA is about $76. For ACE, it is about $66 for each student with an unsatisfactory score and about $50 for each student scoring limited knowledge. If a “typical” district has a going rate for tutoring of $15-20 per hour, and schools decide to use their money this way, there would be enough funds for three to five sessions per student. This, of course, would leave nothing for materials, software, summer programs, or professional development – which is how the SDE recommends districts spend 25 percent of their RSA funds.

Read more from okeducationtruths.

Tulsa poll shows strong support for Superintendent Ballard, increased funding for schools

After five years on the job, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard continues to enjoy strong public support, the latest Oklahoma Poll shows. Almost two-thirds of the 400 Tulsans surveyed by SoonerPoll either strongly or somewhat approved of Ballard’s job performance, a result almost identical to those from an August 2009 Oklahoma Poll. Ballard’s support was even stronger among those with students in the TPS system. More than 70 percent of those respondents said they like the job Ballard has done.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Kansans skeptical of Brownback experiment

Last year Gov. Sam Brownback went on national TV and boasted that he was leading Kansas through “a real live experiment” in taxing and spending. Recent surveys suggest that Kansans are skeptical if not downright opposed to where Brownback is taking them. Three statewide surveys released in October give a current reading of what Kansans think of Brownback and his red-state strategy. These surveys indicate that the Brownback experiment is out of sync with what Kansans say they want on a number of measures.

Read more from The Hutchinson News.

Oklahoma jobless rate at 2013 high of 5.5 percent

Oklahoma’s jobless rate rose to 5.5 percent in October, the highest level so far this year, according to information released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. October’s rate was up from 5.4 percent in September and 5.3 percent in August. The rate was 5.2 percent in October 2012. The state’s lowest jobless rate this year was 4.9 percent in April. The numbers are seasonally adjusted.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Oklahoma, tribes working on new tobacco tax deals

In tribal nations, tobacco taxes fuel essential services for its members and translate into jobs, health programs and construction. The Comanche Nation alone receives more than $1 million a year in tax revenue from tobacco sales at its dozen licensed retailers. That’s why the Comanches initiated a court battle this week to get the best deal they can on their tobacco tax compact — an agreement which outlines how much of the tax revenue they share with the state. In December, the governor’s office began renegotiating compacts with all the tribes.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma “United We Ride” website helps residents find public transportation options

The Governor’s Oklahoma United We Ride Council recently launched a new public transit information website at The site allows citizens to search for public transit systems by county, and serves as a useful resource for Oklahomans. The new website offers Oklahomans, particularly those who are transportation disadvantaged – individuals who, for any number of reasons, do not drive and must rely on friends, family, or other transportation modes to get them from place to place – an online portal with links that redirect users to transit system information and resources about public transportation services in a specific Oklahoma county.

Read more from Business Wire.

Oklahoma Dream Act group fasting to raise awareness about immigration issues

Several Hispanic immigrants are spearheading “Hungry 4 Justice,” a series of activities they hope will call attention to the urgent need for immigration reform in America. Judith V. Huerta, co-founder of the Oklahoma City Chapter of Dream Act Oklahoma, said she and five other chapter members plan to eat one meal a day for 11 days as a type of fast to raise public awareness about the plight of immigrant families in Oklahoma and throughout the country. Dream Act Oklahoma is a group that advocates for undocumented immigrants.

Read more from NewsOK.

Fourth Reading: Put constitutional convention question to voters

State Rep. Gary Banz has tried several times, once in 2009 and another in 2011. Despite his best efforts, however, Banz, a Republican from Midwest City, still can’t get legislation concerning one particular issue through both houses of the Oklahoma Legislature. Banz has, at least twice, run a bill that would ask the voters of Oklahoma if they want to hold a constitutional convention. A requirement under Article 24 of the Oklahoma Constitution, the referendum would ask voters whether or not they wanted to hold a convention for the purpose of updating the constitution.

Read more from the Journal Record.

In Oklahoma, an uphill battle to reduce stigma of suicide, mental health issues

If he were still alive, Brandon Magalassi would be approaching his mid-20s. Nearly a decade after their son’s suicide, Michele and Billy Magalassi are focused on outreach, talking to other parents whose children have committed suicide. “I just hope it helps,” Michele told Oklahoma Watch. “We just never know who it’s going to touch.” They aren’t alone in trying to raise awareness and reduce the stigma attached to suicide and mental health. It’s unfortunate that they’re fighting such an uphill battle.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

Almost across the board, Oklahoma’s health statistics are bad — disturbingly, alarmingly bad. It’s no secret that there’s a tie between overall poor physical health and issues with substance abuse and mental health. If Oklahoma is ever to turn its health statistics around, it must address all types of health.

-The Oklahoman Editorial Board (Source:

Number of the Day


The number of children in Oklahoma that don’t have health insurance, 11 percent of the state’s children.

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

ALEC’s “Nuclear Option” to kill the Affordable Care Act

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is pushing a new “Obamacare kill bill” to thwart implementation of the Affordable Care Act on the state level, but the bill is based on a thin legal argument, and even some ALEC legislators are calling it “the nuclear option.” The “Healthcare Freedom Act,” developed by Michael Cannon of the Cato Institute and adopted by ALEC as a “model” in August, is a risky maneuver. The legislation threatens to suspend the licenses of health insurers that accept subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, which Cannon and ALEC claim would effectively thwart the “employer mandate.” It is a surprisingly heavy-handed move for the purportedly pro-business ALEC.

Read more from PR Watch.

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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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