In The Know: Teacher Of The Year In Oklahoma Moves To Texas For The Money

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

Teacher Of The Year In Oklahoma Moves To Texas For The Money: About exactly a year ago we brought you the story of Shawn Sheehan, Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year. At the time, he and about 40 other educators were running for office in the state, wanting to make a change because, as Sheehan puts it, lawmakers weren’t prioritizing education. Funding for schools in the state has been cut tremendously over the past decade and teachers in Oklahoma are some of the lowest paid in the country. “And unfortunately, it didn’t go the way that we had wanted,” he says [NPR]. The teacher shortage isn’t just about salaries [OK Policy].

Analysis: Premiums will rise for many in OKC under Obamacare replacements: Health care bills in Congress would increase insurance premiums for low-income and middle-class Oklahoma City residents buying coverage on a health care exchange but leave rates for high earners largely unchanged, according to a nonpartisan analysis. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released its report on the Better Care Reconciliation Act, a Senate bill and partial repeal of the massive Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare [NewsOK]. The Senate Republican health plan would make Oklahomans pay more for worse coverage on the individual marketplace [OK Policy].

As New Budget Year Begins, Oklahoma Faces Tough Road Ahead: Oklahoma began its new budgetary year on Friday, and Gov. Mary Fallin published an editorial in the Stillwater News Press defending her state’s accomplishments. While she acknowledged that the past session was challenging, she asserted that Oklahoma lawmakers were able “to fund core mission services such as education, health and human services, and public safety.” Oklahoma has been struggling with a $900 million budget gap, which, while an improvement over last year’s $1.3 billion shortfall, has certainly made it difficult to improve state services – especially given a Legislature dominated by GOP budget hawks who are loath to raise taxes [High Plains Public Radio].

Lawmaker looking to reform Oklahoma’s tough taxation laws: As the lawsuits contending lawmakers played fast and loose with the state Constitution continue to mount, at least one lawmaker thinks it’s time for voters to consider overhauling a law they passed a quarter century ago. State Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, said it’s time for Oklahomans to vote on modernizing the 25-year-old law requiring the approval of three-quarters of lawmakers to raise new taxes. Legislators also must pass revenue bills before the final five days of session. Observers say the current law leaves Oklahoma with one of the toughest taxation laws in the country [CNHI].

What we learned when we asked legislators what they learned in the 2017 session: During the month of June, the Tulsa World published a series of Sunday op/ed columns by state lawmakers meditating on the lessons they learned during the 2017 legislative session. While the perspectives weren’t comprehensive, they did represent a pretty good spread of opinions: Republican and Democrat; House and Senate; male and female; senior leadership and backbenchers [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

Lawsuits against revenue-raising measures could trigger special session: Several groups are suing the Oklahoma Legislature’s plan to close the state’s $878 million budget hole, and the lawsuits could push lawmakers into a special session. Several bills passed by the Legislature, specifically ones including cigarettes, cars and income tax returns, will be challenged in August. The financial implications of the lawsuits is almost $382 million [KOCO]. Oklahoma lawmakers’ words come back to haunt them in revenue lawsuits [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman]. The budget is sitting on shaky constitutional foundations [OK Policy].

Tax hikes on tickets, cars among new Oklahoma laws: Oklahomans will spend more money on tickets to professional sporting events and the purchase of vehicles under two new laws that took effect Saturday. The laws hiking taxes on both of those purchases are among 61 pieces of legislation that went into effect at the start of the state’s new fiscal year. Here are some things to know about the new laws taking effect on Saturday [Associated Press].

Some legislators seek study of apportionments: Billions of Oklahoma’s tax dollars are locked up before the Legislature gets the chance to fight over them, and considering the state’s tough times, some members want to consider loosening those commitments. That money goes to what officials call off-the-top spending or apportionments. When the revenue comes in, it’s statutorily earmarked for specific programs, such as education funding and county infrastructure aid. The mechanism’s supporters said that it attempts to ensure the state’s most vital programs get the money they need [Journal Record].

Criminal justice reform legislation goes into effect: This weekend was marked on a lot of Oklahomans’ calendars, but not because it was Fourth of July weekend. On Saturday, State Questions 780 and 781 went into effect, which was part of criminal justice reform legislation Oklahomans passed in November. Some Norman citizens were eager to voice their opinions about the new laws including city council member Stephen Tyler Holman. Holman was acquitted by a Cleveland County jury in May for drug charges that stemmed from two December 2015 raids on the Friendly Market, a store he managed [Norman Transcript]. SQ 780 limits the power of District Attorneys to threaten low-level defendants with prison time [OK Policy].

Oklahoma DOC director hoping for a mild summer: WILL this be the summer when too many inmates in tight quarters combine with too few correctional officers and too many 100-degree days to spark a serious uprising in an Oklahoma prison? Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh hopes not, of course, but … Without meaningful criminal justice reform, or new prisons, “we will have a serious event,” Allbaugh told his board last week. “It’s going to happen one way or the other. You can’t keep packing people into facilities that are decrepit and expect everybody to behave.” [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman] Next year, legislators will have a second try at passing a package of bills that could curb prison growth [OK Policy].

Hard work needed to craft criminal justice solutions: “Public buy-in crucial to county reform” (Our Views, July 2) was a personal reminder of the complexity concerning the criminal justice system being played out in Oklahoma County but also throughout the state. I served 28 years in the Legislature and authored or co-authored many proposals related to crimes and punishments, ranging from drug courts, cap laws that limited the number of inmates housed in our prisons, community sentencing initiatives as well as imposing increased sentences on violent offenders [Cal Hobson / NewsOK].

Watch This: A True Medicaid Story: Through Medicaid, Joshua gets daily in-home care from attendants who help with everything from dressing and brushing Joshua’s teeth to taking him to college and taking notes for him. In this video by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Joshua, his parents, and a caregiver describe how Medicaid has made Joshua’s accomplishments possible — and how deep cuts to Medicaid in the Congressional GOP health care bill would jeopardize Joshua’s life and his dreams [OK Policy].

Regent: State leaders don’t care about higher ed: One by one, presidents from colleges and universities across Oklahoma filed up to the podium Wednesday to make their case to increase the tuition rates at their schools. Each echoed a similar refrain. They’ve cut faculty, staff and student jobs. They’ve eliminated courses, closed buildings and deferred maintenance. But still, it’s not enough to make up for the millions state legislators recently cut from higher education programs statewide [CNHI].

Nonprofit sues over Oklahoma law that it claims unlawfully squeezes its students out of state grant funding: The Tulsa nonprofit organization that runs Community Care College, Clary Sage College and Oklahoma Technical College has filed a federal lawsuit challenging a new state law that it claims unlawfully squeezes its students out of state grant funding. Community HigherEd Institute and two of its students filed the lawsuit Friday against the state of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education in U.S. District Court in Tulsa [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma chiefs meet Trump to talk energy and environment: When Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton met President Donald Trump on Wednesday, he came bearing a message: we can take care of the environment ourselves. “The main item I wanted to get across is that no one is wanting to give up our federal responsibilities, but we do want to take those responsibilities and put them on ourselves,” Batton said [NewsOK].

Labor commissioner disputes Oklahoma’s ‘F’ workplace safety grade: Oklahoma’s labor commissioner has criticized an “F” workplace safety grade issued to the state by a national advocacy group, saying the report inaccurately and unfairly depicts Oklahoma’s safety programs. The National Safety Council said Oklahoma deserves a failing grade because of several factors, including the lack of a drug-free workplace law, the lack of a workplace ban on smoking and poorly rated workers’ compensation laws for injured workers [NewsOK].

Oklahoma’s Markwayne Mullin to seek 4th term in US House: Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin says he will seek re-election next year, breaking a pledge he’d made to only serve three terms in the House. Mullin announced his decision to run again in a video posted Tuesday. The Republican congressman said he knew he’d draw criticism by breaking his word but felt he could still make a difference for Oklahomans by remaining in the U.S. House [Associated Press].

Quote of the Day

“It is the job of state government, in my opinion, to roll out the welcome mat. And I’m concerned that today we’ve put (out) a going-out-of-business sign.”

-Steve Turner, president of Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, on the effects of repeated cuts to higher education funding (Source)

Number of the Day


Tax collections as a share of personal income in Oklahoma in 2014, tied with eight other states as the lowest share in the US

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How much do the poor actually pay in taxes? Probably more than you think: Quick, think of a taxpayer. If you are like most Americans, you probably did not think of a mother putting gas in the tank of the family car or a retail worker having wages withheld for Social Security and Medicare. Because people in the United States associate taxpaying with the income tax, they underestimate the costs of the many other taxes they pay — especially the payroll taxes, sales taxes and gas taxes that fall heavily on lower-income people. In reality, low-income Americans pay a lot in taxes, and their role in paying for schools, roads and other public services largely go unrecognized [PBS NewsHour].

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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.

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