In The Know: Two biggest factors in local schools’ ability to sink or swim

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

Two biggest factors in local schools’ ability to sink or swim: News headlines about midyear state funding cuts for public schools have all been million-dollar totals and political debate over root causes and potential solutions. But the impact on local school districts is already beginning to trickle down in the form of employee layoffs, eliminated teacher positions, hiring freezes and canceled purchase orders. Districts that began the year the most cash-strapped and that rely the most on funding from the Oklahoma State Department of Education are having a much more difficult time keeping their budgets in the black amid midyear cuts expected to reach at least $67 million [Tulsa World].

School board leaders support penny sales tax hike proposal: When I was asked to join the committee supporting “Oklahoma’s Children — Our Future,” a penny sales tax proposal for public education, I didn’t hesitate to say YES! For the People is about solutions, and a long-term funding plan for education is one of the key recommendations. A funding plan is also one of OSSBA’s top legislative goals. I’m sure you’ve heard criticism of the proposal by now. No plan is perfect. OSSBA’s board of directors voted to endorse the proposal, but only after lively discussion. Still, the decision was unanimous [Mike Mullins / Tulsa World].

State revenues plunge in January: The oil bust drove down tax receipts by more than 13 percent last month, the largest drop in over five years, state Treasurer Ken Miller said Friday. January tax collections of $985.4 million were down by almost $150 million compared to a year ago. It is the first double-digit percentage reduction in monthly gross receipts since the treasurer’s office began tracking them in March 2010 [NewsOK].

One by One, a Closer Look at Fallin’s Proposals to Fix the Budget Hole: Gov. Mary Fallin to Oklahoma lawmakers: We need hundreds of millions of dollars, fast. Here are my ideas. What have you got? That’s not exactly how Fallin put it in her “State of the State” address to the Legislature on Feb. 1. But it’s the essence of what she said, according to several officials and analysts asked to assess the governor’s response to Oklahoma’s fiscal crisis. Here are summary descriptions of the entrees on Fallin’s money-raising menu, along with the assessments of their financial impact and political prospects [Oklahoma Watch].

Mental health cuts will leave many children without treatment: Dustin Palmer knows the stress of living with a chronic illness. He grew up struggling with primary immune deficiency disease, which limited his body’s ability to fight infection. It interfered with his social interactions, his ability to attend school regularly, and he still recalls the anxiety he faced every time he headed to the doctor’s office for treatments. He vowed, if he ever got better, to help improve the lives of other children with chronic illnesses [Claremore Daily Progress].

Chief Baker: Challenging legislative session ahead for Oklahoma: The new state legislative session is one we will all be watching closely. Our policymakers in Oklahoma City have a challenging task ahead as they try to create an operational budget for the state while being millions of dollars in the hole. Unfortunately, most state agencies remain funded at more than 20 percent below pre-recession funding levels because budgets have not kept up with inflation. It’s a tough situation, and state leaders must make difficult decisions to balance the budget. Consecutive years of making tax reductions, coupled with oil and gas, will hamper what can be achieved [Chief Bill John Baker / Native Times].

No less than 20 measures filed to change Oklahoma’s judicial system this year: One might assume that with a near $1 billion budget deficit for next year added to revenue failures in the current fiscal year demanding their attention, legislators would have little inclination to consider non-budget structural changes to state government. One would be wrong. There have been no less than 20 measures filed in the House and Senate to make changes in the way Oklahoma’s Judicial Branch works. A short summary of the bills demonstrates the direction some legislators want to take the state [OK Policy].

Oklahoma’s teen birth rate is declining, but it’s ranked 49th in U.S.: Efforts throughout the state to reduce birth rates among teenagers are showing positive results but not enough to move Oklahoma forward in state-by-state comparisons. In fact, it’s moving backward. Click Here! The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Oklahoma dropped one spot to 49th in the number of births to teens ages 15 to 19 with a rate of 38.5 per 1,000 teens. Only Arkansas has a higher rate at 39.5 [Tulsa World].

Oklahoma unemployment avg. below national but some counties above: The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.9 percent for January, the lowest it has been since February 2008, according to a report released Friday by U.S. Labor Department. Per county unemployment rates in northwest Oklahoma varied, but eastern Oklahoma continues to have the highest unemployment rates in the state. Northwest Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, according to the report, while eastern Oklahoma’s rate is 5.1 percent [Enid News].

How Texas broke out of prison, but Oklahoma remains No. 2 in per-capita incarceration: Nearly nine years ago, hell froze over in Texas when policymakers, throwing political caution to the wind, held up their hand, and slowed a runaway train. Cliches aside, in the years following that pivotal moment, Texas has accomplished the seemingly impossible — leading itself from a wasteland of uncontrolled prison spending and inmate growth to a more rational approach toward crime and punishment. This only occurred because its leaders, confronted with fiscal realities, finally said, “enough is enough,” and started fixing a system many of them had helped create [Julie Delcour / Tulsa World].

Wage equality law to receive first hearing Monday: Inside her 1950s-style diner, restaurateur Bonnie Amspacher practices 21st-century gender equality. She supports a bill that would give labor regulators more power to fine businesses that pay women a lower wage. House Bill 2929 is scheduled for its first hearing Monday at the state Capitol. The bill would double the maximum fine to $200 if the Oklahoma Department of Labor determines that a woman is being paid less than a man for doing the same job. It also would levy a fine for each pay period, instead of just once [Journal Record].

Quote of the Day

“In Oklahoma, we rank 49th in teacher pay, 44th in pupil funding and 41st in K-12 achievement rates. Success for Oklahoma public education means success for all our children, not just Cherokees, so proper funding is imperative. Our legislature is responsible to the will of the people, so while tax cuts sound fine to the average citizen, they are devastating to the programs that build a healthy state with an educated workforce. The sweeping tax breaks have not spurred growth and have hurt Oklahoma.”

-Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of health insurance plans selected by Oklahomans in this year’s open enrollment on

Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Rules to make school lunches healthier are working, study finds: Ever since new meal standards went into effect in schools across the United States in 2012, experts have worried that the changes would result in fewer students eating school lunches. A new study of a Washington state school district suggests this has not been the case. Researchers found increases in the levels of six nutrients — calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, fiber and protein — in the meals after the changes were introduced. They also found that nearly as many students in the school district participated in the meal program before the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act took effect as after, 47% compared with 46% [CNN].

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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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