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 Zebre.
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Today you should know that the Oklahoma Deparment of Education estimates a $2,000 raise for Oklahoma teachers would cost the state $100 million per year. A new infographic and video makes the case for ending a tax break for horizontal drilling that is costing Oklahoma more than $250 million. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discusses why Oklahoma is failing to pay its teachers in a way that would show that we respect and value the work they do. Results from the statewide reading tests that could lead to retention of thousands of Oklahoma third graders are expected to be released Friday.
The director of the Tulsa Health Department wrote an op-ed on why Oklahoma needs to change the conversation around expanding health coverage for the uninsured. State Senator Connie Johnson held a press conference to announce she is introducing a resolution to halt all executions in the state for one year. The Tulsa World spoke to Oklahoma’s first medical examiner, who has become known as “the father of lethal injection.” The state House of Representatives rejected an attempt to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a bill that would require hospitals to provide parents of newborns with information about whooping cough disease and the availability of a vaccine.
Former Governor David Walters said Oklahoma is lagging behind its potential in developing wind energy. Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart was found guilty of blackmailing a state senator. He was fined $1,000 but will serve no prison time. A service that trains female inmates to become dog groomers has completed a $100,000 expansion.
The Tulsa World reported that Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, who developed a Bible curriculum set to be used in Mustang Public Schools, has said he intends for the curriculum to teach that the Bible is true. A new public education campaign has been launched by Freedom Oklahoma, a coalition of 34 religious leaders who support marriage equality. NewsOn6 reported that Oklahoma’s three-year drought is threatening farmers and consumers alike. Two Oklahoma tribes have offered to take a group of about 135 bison from Yellowstone National Park that went through an experimental program to establish new herds of the animals.
The Number of the Day is the total square miles burned by three currently-burning Oklahoma wildfires. In today’s policy note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains how state higher education cuts and subsequent tuition hikes have made it harder for students from low-income families to get a college degree.
In The News
Teacher Pay Raise Could Cost Oklahoma $100 Million Per Year
How much would a $2,000 a year raise for Oklahoma public school teachers cost? The state Department of Education estimates the price tag is close to $100 million a year. A rough estimate giving each of the state’s 43,915 teachers a $2,000 raise would cost about $87.8 million a year, but that number does not include a corresponding increase in benefits.State Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said a boost in benefits brings the state’s estimate to about $100 million a year.
Infographic illustrates why Oklahoma should end drilling tax break
A new infographic from Together Oklahoma, a coalition which includes Oklahoma Policy Institute, shows why Oklahoma needs to reign in a tax break for horizontal drilling. The cost of Oklahoma’s tax break for horizontal drilling has skyrocketed, and it is draining funding from Oklahoma schools. By allowing the tax break to expire, more than $250 million could be made available to Oklahoma schools, enough to restore funding that was cut during the recession.
As the one-year anniversary of the devastating Moore tornado approaches, some of the most powerful, unforgettable stories are of the heroism of the teachers at Briarwood and Plaza Tower elementary schools. One survivor from Plaza Towers recounted how a teacher spread herself over three of her students to protect them from flying debris. Another teacher used her body to cover six children until the storm passed. They all survived. Although most teachers will mercifully never have to throw themselves physically in harm’s way to protect children, stories of teachers going the extra mile for their students can be told every day in Oklahoma’s public schools.
Oklahoma School Districts Prepare For State Test Results
Results from the statewide reading test scores for Oklahoma third graders are expected to be released Friday. If the children do not pass there is a chance they will be held back from moving onto fourth grade. So, what are districts doing to prepare for the chance that a number of students could need summer schooling, depending on the results of these tests? Parents are asking how they will be notified and whether teachers are in place for the summer school programs. With Friday fast approaching, a number of districts filled me in on their plans. “Our plan is to make a personal phone call and have a parent conference with every single one of them,” said Sand Springs Superintendent, Sherry Durkee.
It’s time to change the conversation around expanded coverage for eligible Oklahomans
According to the American Community Survey’s 5-Year Estimates for 2008-2012, an estimated 18.7 percent of Tulsa County residents are without health insurance. While there are many arguments about the Affordable Care Act — philosophical, political, or otherwise — the cost of doing nothing regarding health care reform is too great. More so, the cost of repeatedly rehashing the political battles of the past does no good for both insured and uninsured community residents.
Oklahoma Senator Connie Johnson introduces resolution calling for halt of executions
After the recent botched Oklahoma execution of Clayton Lockett, State Senator Connie Johnson (D-Forest Park) held a press conference to introduce a Concurrent Resolution to halt all executions in the state for one year. Lockett was found guilty of the 1999 shooting death of 19-year-old, Stephanie Nieman. Senate Concurrent Resolution 43 calls for an independent investigation into the sources of drugs used in lethal injections and issues related to the cost effectiveness and constitutionality of capital punishment. Johnson said. “When the public, the people who are being executed and the families are not aware of what’s contained in the cocktail, that is a violation of the Constitution. We’re planning to introduce a resolution that will call for a moratorium on the death penalty in Oklahoma, until an independent thorough investigation can be conducted by an outside source.”
‘Father of lethal injection’ talks about history, his legacy to Oklahoma
Jay Chapman never wanted to be known for creating the lethal-drug cocktail first approved in Oklahoma and copied nationwide. Chapman is proud of his role in creating Oklahoma’s first medical examiner system, and he’d rather talk about that. During 11 years as the state’s first chief medical examiner, he moved from performing autopsies in the bedroom of an old Oklahoma City house to opening two modern facilities equipped with morgues. But he knows that’s not what people really want to hear about, at least not right now, after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary on April 29 made international headlines and sparked a national debate.
House won’t override veto of vaccine bill
The state House of Representatives on Wednesday rejected an attempt to override Gov. Mary Fallin’s veto of a bill that would require hospitals to provide parents of newborns with information about whooping cough disease and the availability of a vaccine. The override attempt on House Bill 2976 was initiated by state Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, who described the bill as providing “life-saving help to … keep from losing so many babies to whooping cough.” The number of whooping cough, or pertussis, cases has been “doubling in this state every year,” Hamilton said.
Former Gov. David Walters says Oklahoma must embrace wind power
One day after the Obama administration released the National Climate Assessment in an effort to build public support for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, former Oklahoma Gov. David Walters said Wednesday night that Oklahoma has been slow to take up the cause. “We’re missing the boat in terms of renewable energy,” Walters said, speaking at the fourth and final forum on climate change at All Souls Unitarian Church. Walters, who was governor from 1991 until 1995 and has been in the energy business since then, said Oklahoma is one of the best states in the nation for potential wind generation, with excellent levels of wind through much of the western half of the state, yet lags behind many less windy states in actual wind generation.
Sooner Tea Party leader found guilty of blackmailing Oklahoma state senator
Sooner Tea Party leader Al Gerhart was found guilty Wednesday night of blackmailing a state senator. Gerhart, an Oklahoma City carpenter, did not get any prison time. Jurors decided a $1,000 fine should be the only punishment for the felony offense. The jury held him accountable,” prosecutor Scott Rowland said afterward. “They obviously worked very hard to make the punishment fit the crime. I think they got it right. … I suspect the jury believes this will be an appropriate deterrent to him and others.” Gerhart was convicted of blackmail for sending Sen. Cliff Branan an email last year demanding passage of a bill in a Senate committee.
Muddy Paws completes expansion of facility that helps train female inmates
For the second time in less than five years, a dog-grooming service known for offering clean starts has expanded. Muddy Paws Dog Grooming, which partners with the nonprofit group Pets Helping People to train female inmates as groomers, recently underwent $100,000 in improvements. Muddy Paws owner Christy VanCleave says the upgrade testifies to the success of the program, which has come a long way in a short time. The program is designed to give women released from prison a better chance at not going back. “To date, we’ve had 68 women graduate,” VanCleave said, adding that Muddy Paws places all of its graduates in jobs. She said 66 of the 68 graduates have remained out of prison.
Bible curriculum part of Hobby Lobby president Steve Green’s evangelization push
The president of a crafts store chain who says the federal government has no business ordering him which health care options to offer his employees has no problem telling local governments what they should be teaching in their schools. Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, has persuaded the Mustang School District in suburban Oklahoma City to incorporate the Bible into its curriculum as an elective, beginning this fall. His purpose, sometimes more clearly stated than others, is for students to learn the text and put America on a righteous course. “This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught,” Green said last year to the National Bible Association, announcing his plan for the high school course.
Freedom Oklahoma launches coalition of 34 religious leaders who support marriage equality
Last month a new public education campaign was launched to showcase and expand support for marriage equality in Oklahoma. The coalition called Freedom Oklahoma spans multiple religions and includes state and national organizations, faith and civil rights leaders and individuals. Freedom Oklahoma is a project of The Equality Network (TEN), a 501(c)4 organization that lobbies for pro-equality legislation and public policies. It came about after U.S. District Court Senior Judge Terence Kern’s January decision, overturning Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban.
Three-Year Drought Taking Toll On Oklahoma Farmers
Oklahoma’s three-year drought is threatening farmers and consumers alike. Oklahoma farmers are fighting Mother Nature to keep food on our tables. “I’m doing the best I can right now to put enough water on them,” said Don Drury. Drury owns Bootstrap Farm in Yale, a certified organic farm that produces onions, sweet corn, all sorts of green veggies and carrots, just to name a few. “I just like growing good food for good people,” Drury said. “It’s the way that I felt I could make a positive difference in the world.” Making that difference gets harder every day that passes without rain.
Two Oklahoma Tribes Ask For Bison From Yellowstone National Park
Two Oklahoma tribes have offered to take a group of about 135 bison from Yellowstone National Park that went through an experimental program to establish new herds of the animals, Montana state officials said. Applications came in from Quapaw Tribe and the Cherokee Nation as well as private groups in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and New York. Backers hoped they would serve as seed stock for new herds of bison and promote the conservation of the species driven to near-extinction in the late 1800s.
Quote of the Day
“The bottom line on expanded coverage: Does the cost to the state of expanding outweigh the cost of unpaid hospital bills shifted to those who pay for insurance? Is it worth the cost to expand coverage so that thousands of poor working families will not go without proper health care? Do we want to create a healthy Oklahoma, where the investment in prevention on the front end will likely reduce health care cost later in life? We have many policy decision makers, from the governor to our legislators, who care about their constituents and vulnerable Oklahomans. Can we come together for a discussion about how to close the gap and fund coverage for all Oklahomans?”
-Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department (Source: http://bit.ly/1spM2Vk)
Number of the Day
Total square miles burned by three currently-burning Oklahoma wildfires
Source: Oklahoma Forestry Service
Higher ed cuts, tuition hikes worsen low-income students’ struggles
State cuts to higher education have led colleges and universities to make deep cuts to educational or other services, hike tuition sharply, or both, as we explain in our recently released paper. These tuition increases are hitting low-income students particularly hard, lessening their choices of schools, adding to their debt burdens — and likely deterring some from enrolling in school altogether. Annual published tuition — the “sticker price” — at four-year public colleges has risen by $1,936, or 28 percent, since the 2007-08 school year, after adjusting for inflation. This has accelerated longer-term trends of reducing college affordability and shifting costs from states to students.
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