In The Know: ‘The Teacher Caucus’: Pro-public education candidates to file Wednesday for state legislative races

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

‘The Teacher Caucus’: Pro-public education candidates to file Wednesday for state legislative races: At least 30 public school educators, spouses of public school educators, local school board members and other supporters with school ties from across the state are planning to file en masse for legislative races on Wednesday afternoon. They include Oklahoma’s Teacher of the Year and national Teacher of the Year finalist Shawn Sheehan, Blanchard Public Schools’ superintendent and two Tulsa Public Schools teachers [Tulsa World].

Survey: Funding cuts could force districts to cut 1,000 jobs: State funding reductions could force school districts to cut more than 1,000 jobs, and more than 100 districts are considering shorter weeks or fewer days, according to a new survey of school officials. Oklahoma schools have suffered more than $50 million in budget cuts since January, and deeper cuts are anticipated for the coming school year. The Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration surveyed 263 districts in late March to identify budget-cut plans for the current year and next year [NewsOK]. Byng Schools announced yesterday it would shorten its school year [KXII].

Oklahoma’s Revenue Options for the Budget Emergency: Oklahoma is grappling with a $1.3 billion shortfall for next year’s budget. Without new revenue to close the shortfall, state agencies and school districts face massive budget cuts that will be disastrous for Oklahoma families, businesses, and communities. We must do something to minimize budget cuts that would do irreparable harm to the building blocks of a healthy, safe, and prosperous state [OK Policy]. We published a new fact sheet outlining a long list of options to boost state revenues that should be considered as part of a fair and sustainable budget.

Oklahoma lawmakers have plan to trim state tax credits, two top legislators say: Top Oklahoma lawmakers have a plan to eliminate or reduce tax credits to fill part of a $1.3 billion budget hole for the fiscal year starting July 1. Sen. Mike Mazzei, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Earl Sears, chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, confirmed Tuesday a series of proposals to be put into legislation. “These are items and concepts for an overall tax credit reform package that we’ve agreed on with our House counterparts,” Mazzei said [NewsOK].

New Sooner Survey Explores Voter Opinions On Taxes, Increased Revenues: The survey shows historic highs in support for new revenues, including 74% of Oklahomans supporting an increase in taxes on tobacco products. Strong majorities also support accepting federal funds for providing health care to the poor (57%) and collecting sales tax on internet sales (55%) [Sooner Survey].

Nearly 90 school districts losing more through vehicle tax collections than state aid cuts: An ongoing fight over how to distribute motor-vehicle tax collections to school districts has shown that 86 districts are losing as much or more from collections distributions this year than they lost from state aid cuts. Last year’s change in the law that sought to cap the amount of motor vehicle tax money that education receives has led to some unintended consequences, including more than $9 million “changing hands” between districts — creating winners and losers for those disbursements [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma General Revenue Fund Collections Beat Estimate: General Revenue Fund collections for the state of Oklahoma in March exceeded the estimate for the first time since July 2015. According to a new release, March General Revenue Fund collections were $394.2 million, which was $3.1 million, or 0.8 percent above the official estimate, upon which the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriated state budget was based. The $394.2 million was $30.1 million, or 7.1 percent, below last year’s year amount.. The General Revenue Fund is the key indicator of state government’s fiscal status and the predominant funding source for the annual appropriated state budget [NewsOn6]. Persistently low collections led to revenue failures in December and February [OK Policy].

Oklahoma’s plan to extend health coverage: What we know: It’s now been nearly four years since the U.S. Supreme Court made it optional for states to extend coverage to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act. Oklahoma has been among the dwindling number of states refusing to act, leaving over 170,000 Oklahomans without insurance options and saddling hospitals and other health care providers with the rising cost of uncompensated care. But a new plan recently announced by state officials means we might finally join the 32 other states that have expanded coverage [OK Policy].

Poor Oklahomans dying younger than rest of Americans: Low-income Tulsans live an average of 77.6 years. In Lawton, those in the same income bracket make it to 77.2 years on average. That may sound like a ripe old age, but Tulsa is considered “below” and Lawton “very low” when compared to the life span averages of other U.S. cities. Actually, the entire state looks pretty bad for poor people. At best, some spots — such as Woodward, Enid, Bartlesville and Idabel — are “about average” with the rest of the nation [Ginnie Graham / Tulsa World].

Oklahoma City superintendent denies report; ‘I have not resigned’: Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu said Tuesday he has not resigned, according to brief statement issued by the school district. “I have not resigned. I am very disappointed that this was reported in the news media. I have no further comment at this time,” the statement reads. The Oklahoman has reported Neu told some board members over the weekend he plans to resign, according to sources [NewsOK].

Fallin applauds Senate committee for prison reform support: Gov. Mary Fallin commended the Senate Appropriations Committee for its bipartisan support of four bills related to reforms she highlighted in her State of the State address at the start of this year’s legislative session. “Our state prisons are filled to well over capacity, so it is crucial that we make some changes to our criminal justice system,” said Fallin. “These measures do not jeopardize public safety while addressing Oklahoma’s prison population, which is among the highest in the nation. I appreciate the support of the Senate Appropriations Committee in approving these vital measures” [Tulsa Business & Legal News].

Did justice system get it right in ’94 murder case?: The Oklahoma Innocence Project at Oklahoma City University School of Law is transforming the landscape of the Oklahoma legal system as the first, and only, organization in Oklahoma evaluating post-conviction claims of innocence. It is funded almost entirely from private donations — post-conviction relief cases can cost upwards of $150,000. Law students from OCU, licensed attorneys, interns and investigators working with the project are handling more than 100 active cases for clients like Malcolm and De’Marchoe, with hundreds more awaiting review [Vicki Behenna / NewsOK].

Oklahoma corrections director discusses need to fix overcrowding, 30-year-old record-keeping software: Joe Allbaugh told fellow professionals Tuesday of what he has learned in his first 96 days on the job as interim director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections: State-run prisons are overcrowded and understaffed, agency operations underfunded, and record-keeping remains three decades behind technological advancements. “This is what runs our system in Oklahoma today,” Allbaugh said, holding up a large folder containing a former inmate’s records. “It’s sad, and I’m here to change it. It’s going to be difficult to do, because software costs a lot of money” [Tulsa World].

ACLU to challenge Oklahoma City’s anti-panhandling ordinance: Oklahoma’s leading civil liberties organization says it will challenge the constitutionality of Oklahoma City’s new anti-panhandling ordinance. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma said Tuesday it plans a federal civil rights lawsuit over the measure. Attorneys are partnering with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma in the lawsuit. Adopted late last year, the ordinance forbids panhandling near intersections in most street medians, a preferred location for soliciting from drivers waiting to turn left at traffic lights [NewsOK].

Oklahoma Supreme Court invalidates workers compensation rule: The Oklahoma Supreme Court has overturned part of the state’s guidelines for compensating injured workers. The state’s highest court ruled Tuesday the permanent partial disability deferral provisions of the law are an unconstitutional violation of injured workers’ due process rights and struck it down. The court also ruled that other parts of the law are an unconstitutional special law. The 7-2 decision involved several cases filed with the state’s Workers Compensation Commission by workers who were injured on the job [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“This devastating budget situation will cause this generation of students to suffer lost opportunities. School leaders are making life-changing decisions for employees, students and their families, and they’re being forced to do so based on estimates.”

-Ryan Owens, co-executive director of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, on the results of a survey of 263 districts about plans to cut school budgets (Source)

Number of the Day


Average annual cost of infant care in Oklahoma

Source: Economic Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

I’ve been homeless 3 times. The problem isn’t drugs or mental illness — it’s poverty: At a late January Bernie Sanders rally in Iowa, 46-year-old Carrie Aldrich described through tears what it was like struggling to survive on less than $12,000 a year. I watched and shook my head knowingly, having survived on $8,000 each of the past two years. Such low income, combined with a perfect storm of unaffordable rent, incompatible roommates, non-living wages, and an inability to find full-time work, resulted in three bouts of homelessness that forced me to live in my car. And in a few days, it will happen a fourth time for the same reasons [Vox].

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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.

One thought on “In The Know: ‘The Teacher Caucus’: Pro-public education candidates to file Wednesday for state legislative races

  1. Really don’t know whether to be amazed or scared at the credibility apparently given OK’s current DOC director over his “distaste” for the privatization of state prisons. His major qualification for the job, notwithstanding his not having really any of those stated in policy for it, is his high-level “spin” position for a White House that gave us everything from “weapons of mass destruction” and the Saddam-Al Qaeda partnership to “Heck of a job, Brownie.” And privatization of public services has been a giant part of the catechism of the political party and leadership he served for decades. Let’s do some math.

    You can almost hear the conversation in the governor’s office when she offered the job:

    Gov: I’ve been told by folks in the party that you’re the person I should get to be the new DOC director.

    Him: The only thing I know about prisons is how lucky some of the guys I worked with were to stay out of them. Why not get someone with a background in corrections?

    Gov: We tried that. Nobody with good recommendations would take the job so we brought in that guy who had had trouble with doing executions in AZ.

    Him: Didn’t he . . . ?

    Gov: Well, . . . he had to . . . spend more time with family.

    Him (laughing): Oh, yeah. Good one. But why come to me?

    Gov: I, uh, that is, we can’t afford any more high-profile mistakes. We need someone with your . . . expertise in dealing with, you know, public opinion. What do you think?

    Him: Well, let me see if the Googling I did about the last couple of years here is straight. Stop me when I get to anything wrong. You took tens of thousands of campaign contributions from private prison companies for elections you won by 20%, 30%. Hell, they even paid for an inauguration. Key legislative leaders here did the same thing basically. The one legit newspaper in the state hung you out on it, especially when you got the Board of Corrections to dump the DOC director with the national reputation for effectiveness. . . . You’re not stopping me.

    Gov: We can all have different interpretations of . . . .

    Him: Yeah, yeah, whatever. Anyway, turns out the guy you dumped on had resisted the private prison folks and their legislative minions, sorry, representatives for years. By using county jails, earned credit administration, and some other stuff to keep the facility numbers down rather than getting the state to the level of a New Mexico in percentage of inmates in private prisons. Actually pretty dadgum effective at it . . . .

    Gov: But we need private prisons! We need private prisons!!

    Him (pause): Oooookay. So if I come in for this job that I don’t really meet any of the actual qualifications for, I’m supposed to switch the state to however much the private prisons want to do . . . .

    Gov: The good news is that the last guy, uh, before his family stuff, managed to dump everything that no-good nitwit standing in our way had done, and now state prisons are busting over.

    Him: What about this prison population reform stuff the papers have said you support?

    Gov: Oh, we’ve had to pretend to support some bills that won’t have much overall impact on anything, just to show we’re (finger quotes) “doing something.” And Kris Steele, our former Speaker, bless his heart, has an initiative going that only affects the short-termers in the system, really, even if it passes, which it probably won’t once our DAs use their tried-and-true scare tactics that have worked for years. Population growth should still be everything the companies need. Your job will just be to use your, uh, expertise to get the public to accept why the private prisons will be good.

    Him: Oh, no. No, no, no. What are you drinking? If I do this, I can’t go around selling the wonders of private prisons. Were you not paying attention to that whole “you took campaign contributions you didn’t need and fired their highly respected obstacle” thing? No, no, I’ll have to make it look like I really don’t want private prisons but that there’s no other choice. First, you and your legislative buddies apparently did a bang-up job running the prisons into the ground by underfunding facilities and programs and personnel, even that Apple 2C information system . . . .

    Gov: Well, we can’t take all the credit. It’s been years of collaborative effort.

    Him: Such modesty. Anyway, what I’ll do is come in and do one of those “learning tour” things. You know, like when Keating brought in his best man from his wedding, the guy running CCA back in the mid-90s, to do that “free” evaluation of what the state system needed. (Laughs hysterically) Turned out the state needed medium security prisons which he just happened to be able to provide. (Slaps knee and coughs violently, then breathing deeply to stop laughing) God, that was a great one.

    Gov: Yes, well, we follow the Eleventh Commandment around here.

    Him: Thank God for Louisiana?

    Gov: Don’t speak poorly of fellow Republicans.

    Him (shrugs): Well, okay. Make sure you get that on that next monument you put in front of the Capitol. Anyway, after I do this tour, I’ll come out real solemn, like, and real sincere, shaking my head forlornly. “Dadgum it, these poor buildings and systems just can’t cut it, might even have to shut some down. Where, oh where will I find the room? Speaker Steele, you’re a nice man, and I really, really support alternatives to prison, I really, really do, but we have to deal with the world we have, not the world we want, right?”

    Gov (smiling expectantly): So we will have to . . . .

    Him: Contract with private prison companies. Lease, buy, whatever, do contracts that give them guaranteed occupancy at guaranteed rates even if populations do go down after all the initiatives and legislation and stuff. Close down existing public facilities, tear them down, burn them up, and salt the ashes . . . sorry, got carried away just remembering what we did to Gore and Kerry. You get the heat taken off you for being on CCA’s speed dial, I get recognition as a tough but fair protector of public safety and finance just in time for the next national job to open up, and everyone walks away happy. Well, except for taxpayers paying attention, maybe, and people who think no one should profit from crime and victims, especially businesses that only prosper by having more and more of both.

    Gov (scoffs): Well, you can count all those folks on two hands and have plenty of room left for Chinese handcuffs. If Oklahomans cared about that, neither one of us would be sitting here right now. So you’ll take the job?

    Him: Sure. Why not? Sounds like fun, at least until Jeb gets elected. If they’ll buy that a prominent political consultant like me should be running a corrections department, they’ll buy anything. Just like FEMA. I’ll just practice my sounding sincere and committed to solutions while you go and find me those reporters who bought all the salacious nonsense you fed them about the DOC director you got rid of.

    Gov: Deal!! Welcome aboard!! You really are a professional. Just wait. You won’t believe the bennies you’ll get when you pull this off.

    Him: Oh, I think I will. I think I will.

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