The Weekly Wonk: Reopening Oklahoma: a time for courage, not expediency; outbreak could be devastating for jails; and more

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

  • County jails in Oklahoma face immense risk from COVID-19: Oklahoma’s county jails are poised to become another epicenter in the COVID-19 crisis. As the state grapples with this pandemic, overcrowded and under-resourced jails present enormous risk to rural hospitals and to the state’s most vulnerable communities who are typically jailed at disproportionate rates. County jails are uniquely dangerous places to manage an outbreak. [Damion Shade / OK Policy]
  • Policy Matters: A time for courage, not expediency: When considering our next steps toward safely reopening our communities, we must move forward with a data-driven approach. Now is the time for the moral and political courage that will allow us to safely reopen our society at a pace that protects public safety. Our nation’s leaders should avoid making such important decisions based on economic or political expediency. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record]
  • (Capitol Update) Finding an upside of recent budget battle: Writing the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2020, has only gotten more difficult with the continued difficulties in the oil patch and the economy in general. It wasn’t made any easier when the negotiations between the Governor and Legislature soured on SB 199, the appropriation bill to access the Rainy Day Fund and finish out the current fiscal year. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

OK Policy in the News

OK Policy was featured in several state and national publications during the past week, including:  

  • How Oklahoma popped its prison bubble, in charts: In 2016, Oklahoma had the highest incarceration rate in the United States. If it were a country, it would have led the world. That same year, lawmakers and activists in Oklahoma began working to reduce the number of people behind bars. [Politico]
  • Flood of evictions expected to hit Oklahoma: Oklahoma City could see thousands lose their homes in coming months due to record unemployment and economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Attorneys and academics told The Oklahoman a moratorium on eviction hearings, once ended, will be followed by a wave of evictions creating a homeless population not seen since the Great Depression. [The Oklahoman
  • Stimulus funds for tuition program may require more transparency: Oklahoma’s private school scholarship tax credit program lacks transparency about which schools receive the funding and how much. But if the governor decides to use emergency stimulus funds on the program, as he suggested last week, it might require more detailed reporting on where the scholarships go. [The Frontier
  • State advances Medicaid plan during pandemic: Opponents of a controversial Medicaid expansion proposal are frustrated, saying state leaders are quietly and aggressively pressing forward with their untested agenda as a deadly pandemic ravages the state. [CNHI]
  • OK Policy and nine other state organizations developed a series of policy recommendations and policy changes that can bring relief to Oklahoma child care providers. This week, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services announced via email that it would be waiving copayments for families in March and April, as well as lifting the place holding fees DHS was charging families to hold their subsidy spot in a child care facility, which were included among the recommendations.

Upcoming Opportunities

OK Policy has announced it will hold its Oklahoma Summer Policy Institute on August 2-5. SPI offers participants a unique opportunity to become better informed about the most important Oklahoma policy issues, network with fellow students and leaders, and prepare for their future studies and work in policy-related fields. The institute is open to any undergraduate or graduate student at an Oklahoma college or university, or graduate from an Oklahoma high school, who has completed a minimum of 24 hours of college credit or has graduated in December 2019 or later. For more information or to apply, visit

Weekly What’s That

Education Scholarship Tax Credits

In 2011, the Legislature passed The Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act, which authorized the creation of scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) and educational improvement grant organizations (EIGOs). SGOs issue scholarships for students who meet certain requirements to attend private schools, and EIGOs issue grants to public schools.

Under the Act, individuals and businesses can make a donation to either an SGO or EIGO and receive a tax credit of 50 percent for a one-time donation or 75 percent for a two-year donation, along with the standard charitable deduction. The maximum tax credit is $1,000 for an individual, $2,000 for a married couple, and $100,000 for a business.  The total amount of tax credits that can be issued each year is $5 million. Of that total, credits for private school SGOs are capped at $3.5 million and credits for public school EIGOs are capped at $1.5 million.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“I won’t be back then (May 1). I’m 67 with a stent and on blood pressure meds. I wouldn’t feel safe. Look how they gear up to swab a throat. I’ll listen to doctors, nurses and scientists, not politicians, evangelical preachers and CEOs.” 

-Danny Bean, barber at Casady Style Shop, speaking about Gov. Stitt’s plan to reopen Oklahoma businesses  [The Oklahoman]

Editorial of the Week

Oklahoma governor’s reopening plan has some risks

In advising whether to move from one phase to the next, the governor’s health team plans to monitor the trend in flu-like “incidents” and hospitalizations. If those trends move consistently in the wrong direction, the timeline could be altered.

“Let me be clear: We will do this safely, responsibly and based on the data in our state,” (Gov.) Stitt said.

A caveat: Most Oklahomans have abided by the rules, but walk into just about any store and you will see customers — and even employees — without facemasks, despite regular calls by public officials to wear them. This relaxed approach must change to keep Oklahoma’s COVID-19 situation from going from manageable to problematic, or worse.

[The Oklahoman Editorial Board]

Numbers of the Day

  • 168 – Oklahomans killed during the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City. 
  • 30 in 1,000 – Estimate of Oklahoma’s monthly ability to test for COVID-19, which ranks the state among the nation’s four lowest rates. Oklahoma, Oregon, Montana, and Maine are able to test fewer than 30 in 1,000 people per month, according to a recent White House communication. 
  • 7.3% – Percent of Oklahoma households that do not have a bank account, which is 13th highest in the nation. 
  • 25 million – The decline, measured in barrels a day, that daily global oil consumption has dropped to date in April. This will be seven times larger than the biggest quarterly decline after the 2008 economic crash. That represents one quarter of the world’s normal daily consumption, which is just under 100 million barrels.
  • 7.4% – New and continuing unemployment claims in Oklahoma as a percent of the workforce, ranking the state 39th most affected by COVID-19 layoffs as of April 11, 2020.
  • 33 – Weeks of unemployment benefits Oklahoma’s unemployment trust fund has funds to pay for. (As of April 4, 2020)
  • 47.3% – Percentage of Oklahomans who have completed their 2020 Census, which lags the national average of 52.4 percent. 

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • It’s too soon to reopen states. The coronavirus is not under control. [New York Times]
  • Millennials don’t stand a chance. They’re facing a second once-in-a-lifetime downturn at a crucial moment [The Atlantic]
  • Black Americans face alarming rates of coronavirus infection in some states [New York Times]
  • We put too many people behind bars. This pandemic shows why that’s not necessary [Mother Jones]
  • The other COVID risks: How race, income, ZIP code influence who lives or dies [Kaiser Health News]
  • ‘Never seen anything like it’: Cars line up for miles at food banks [New York Times]
  • New data shows more Americans are having trouble paying their rent [CNN]


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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