In The Know: Winners and losers in the new state budget

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

Winners and losers in the new state budget: After months of worries that lawmakers wouldn’t be able to close an $878 million budget hole, the Legislature narrowly passed a series of revenue-raising bills that provide enough money to avoid drastic cuts to state agencies. Few lawmakers – even among Republicans – said it was a perfect budget. It didn’t include any money for teacher raises. It slashed higher education funding by $30 million. It will require many state agencies to make cuts of around 4 percent. And Democrats have raised constitutional concerns about the approval process. [Oklahoma Watch] This problematic budget was forced through with little time for Oklahomans to see what was in it or voice their concerns. [OK Policy]

State dollars for Oklahoma colleges, universities cut 6 percent: State funding for Oklahoma’s 25 public colleges and universities was cut 6 percent Friday minutes after lawmakers passed the $6.8 billion fiscal year 2018 budget. The state budget includes $773,597,659 for higher education, a decrease of more than $36 million from the current fiscal year. After the vote, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education allocated the funds to the colleges and universities. Each institution took a 6.1 percent cut [NewsOK]. A budget that slashes Oklahoma’s investment in higher education is one of the worst choices we can make if want a growing economy and a strong middle class. [OK Policy]

With state budget in crisis, many Oklahoma schools hold classes four days a week: A deepening budget crisis here has forced schools across the Sooner State to make painful decisions. Class sizes have ballooned, art and foreign-language programs have shrunk or disappeared, and with no money for new textbooks, children go without. Perhaps the most significant consequence: Students in scores of districts are now going to school just four days a week. The shift not only upends what has long been a fundamental rhythm of life for families and communities. It also runs contrary to the push in many parts of the country to provide more time for learning — and daily reinforcement — as a key way to improve achievement, especially among poor children [Washington Post].

Nathan Hale baseball is a catalyst for keeping kids on track to graduate. So why was it at risk of disappearing?: Cuts to public education in Oklahoma have reached a breaking point. Opportunities that keep kids in school and out of trouble are vanishing. And locally, hands are tied. “We’re bare-bones,” said Sheila Riley, Hale’s first-year principal. The budget process for Tulsa Public Schools’ 2017-18 school year moved forward last week, and with it came the unfathomable task of coping with a projected $12 million reduction in state funding for the district. As a preemptive measure, three elementary schools will consolidate into one on Tulsa’s west side. The average class size in TPS high schools will grow by one to 33, meaning some classrooms could hold as many as 40 students. High school sports are bleeding, too. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma education bills include targeting school waste, teacher recruitment: Bills seeking a pay raise for public school teachers failed to materialize this year in the Oklahoma Legislature. But over 140 education-related bills were able to advance addressing a variety of issues, including teacher recruitment and finding cost savings in school districts. A handful of bills that passed created multiple commissions and boards charged with reviewing district administrative costs and the school funding formula. Reports and recommendations from the newly created bodies will start being submitted next year. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs takes another haircut: Beyond a long weekend featuring lake parties and a Monday off work for many, Memorial Day serves as a time for Americans to remember those who have died in the U.S. military. Memorial Day is often confused with Veterans Day, which the nation observes on Nov. 11 to honor living veterans of the U.S. military. Functionally, Americans remember veterans on both days — that is, if they remember them at all. Thus, as this Memorial Day falls only three days after the end of the confounding first session of Oklahoma’s 56th Legislature, let’s look at what the state’s lawmakers accomplished for military families this year. [NonDoc]

Legal threats to state budget linger: Lawmakers admit they may be back for a costly special session this summer — even if Gov. Mary Fallin ultimately signs their proposed budget. Even as they adjourned Friday, lawmakers were already facing threats of litigation over the constitutionality of series of votes they took in the final days of session. The votes were used to generate hundreds of millions in new revenue for the state’s budget by increasing “fees” or levies on a plethora of items, including cigarettes, car sales and the oil and gas industry’s gross production rates. [Norman Transcript]

Oklahoma House speaker should share blame for treatment of reform bills: The Legislature approved a criminal justice reform bill last week. When all was said and done, the bill was a shell of its original self, certain to be far less effective — and make much less of a dent in reducing Oklahoma’s swollen prison population — than hoped for. This should surprise no one who has paid attention during this session, or even in recent sessions. Efforts to enact reform have consistently run into roadblocks. [NewsOK]

End of #okleg session: Lessons learned on Twitter, race: On the last day of the 2017 Oklahoma legislative session, when the fate of remaining bills was barely in doubt, a minor disruption in the House chamber quite possibly resulted in an important and unexpected lesson. At least for me. Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) questioned House Appropriations and Budget chairwoman Leslie Osborn (R-Tuttle) on the state’s appropriation bill. As had occurred several times throughout session, at least one unidentified Republican lawmaker taunted the body’s only black woman for asking questions that occasionally didn’t find a question mark as quickly as some members would like. [NonDoc]

Immigrant students in Oklahoma City celebrate high school graduation: Laura Ramirez was nervous on her first day at U.S. Grant High School, which wasn’t an uncommon feeling for a freshman student starting at a new school. But unlike most of her classmates, Ramirez was also a new resident of the United States, unable to speak English, unfamiliar with the American school system and had no idea what to expect. “I was really scared,” said Ramirez, who remembered not being able to understand other students, teachers or the morning announcements on the loud speakers. Four years later Ramirez is a high school graduate, headed for college and ready to launch the life her parents had in mind when they immigrated to the United States. [NewsOK]

University of Oklahoma students to be assigned personal MoneyCoach: Students who drop out of college before completing a degree do so for a variety of reasons. Officials at the University of Oklahoma don’t want poor money management to be one of them. OU has announced a new personalized financial education program called MoneyCoach to help incoming students better understand their personal financial actions and needs. The program — launched in collaboration with MidFirst Bank — is designed to help students build lifelong money management skills. [NewsOK]

Oklahoma Legislature showed thirst for liquor law reform this session: The Oklahoma Legislature served up several changes to the state’s alcohol laws this session, including a bill allowing counties to vote on Sunday liquor sales and another that lets breweries have the same hours of operation as bars and restaurants. Oklahoma voters approved State Question 792 in 2016, which included sweeping reforms to the state’s alcohol laws. SQ 792 will allow wine to be sold in Oklahoma grocery stores for the first time when most of the measure takes effect in October 2018. [NewsOK]

Quote of the Day

“I don’t think it’s right. I think our kids are losing out on education. They’re trying to cram a five-day week into a four-day week.”

-Sandy Robertson, a grandmother of four in Newcastle,  speaking about Oklahoma the numerous Oklahoma school districts going to 4-day weeks or shortening the school year to cope with state budget cuts (Source).

Number of the Day


Percentage of mortgages past due in Oklahoma in Q4 2016 – higher than the national average of 5.1%.

Source: U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

What happens when you give a district the freedom to innovate?: When the Corinth School District in north Mississippi was given the distinction of “District of Innovation” by the state last year, officials realized it was their chance to roll out unique initiatives they believed would truly impact student achievement. As Districts of Innovation, Corinth and two other districts in Mississippi can request exemptions from state regulations and more easily try out new systems and programs. Corinth’s educators zeroed in on a few areas they thought would make a difference: a new curriculum and assessment system, a modified calendar and additional diploma options. [Hechinger Report]

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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.

One thought on “In The Know: Winners and losers in the new state budget

  1. Until OK criminal justice reformers are willing to run commercials in prosecutor and legislator campaigns like the one below, commercials emphasizing the demonstrably poorer public safety that comes from relying on one of the worst ways to provide it–overincarceration, the history of efforts in OK will just keep being deja vu all over again if they insist on going through the legislature instead of clearly more effective initiatives.

    (All shot in stark grays, blacks, whites)
    SCENE: Empty playground, empty swing set, camera pans in on one swing swinging slightly)

    (Solemn voiceover) “Little Megan would have been here playing today. Laughing and running and having all the fun a typical six-year old can have in a park. But Joe Schmoe, our prosecutor/state legislator, voted to send a man who possessed drugs to prison instead of probation with a rehabilitative program. That man went into prison with an education in drug possession and came out hardened with a Master’s degree in violence and victimization. “Do the crime, do the time, do even worse crimes.” And one day at that park he saw Little Megan.

    Stop sending people who don’t need prison to Crime College. Other states have figured it out, cutting crime while cutting prison populations. Why don’t we? Tell Joe Schmoe his time wasting the taxpayers’ dimes on the worst way to stop crime there is. We don’t want any more Little Megans.”

    (Shot on the seat of the swing, still swinging slightly, then stops.)

    Paid for by Oklahomans with at Least One Lick of Sense Left.

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