Weekly Wonk: A job isn’t enough to afford housing for most Oklahomans | MODERN task force released | What to expect when expecting chaos | Civil rights movement helped create Head Start

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

A job isn’t enough to afford housing for most Oklahomans: State leaders often say the answer to housing instability is a job – but jobs don’t help if they don’t pay enough. Wages have risen at less than half the rate of rent for the last two decades, putting working Oklahomans at risk of housing instability and homelessness. In Oklahoma, 2 out of 5 wage earners do not make enough to afford a two-bedroom rental working a single, full-time job. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]
An early look at recommendations from the governor’s MODERN criminal justice task force (Capitol Update): Gov. Stitt’s MODERN (Modernizing Operations through Data and Evidence-based Restoration Now) Task Force, which was created by executive order on July 11, 2023, released its report on Friday. The recommendations presumably serve as a guide for criminal justice reforms the governor and the 11-member task force would propose or support in the upcoming legislative session and beyond. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update] | [Read the Report]
Opinion: What to expect when you’re expecting chaos — the Oklahoma Legislature edition: Monday marks the beginning of Oklahoma’s regular legislative session, which is shaping up to be another rollercoaster ride. Ignoring power plays among elected officials and mind-meltingly bad bills intended to grab headlines, here are some things informed Oklahomans should watch for this session. [Shiloh Kantz / Tulsa World]

Policy Matters: Civil rights movement a model for early childhood education: To honor the start of Black History Month today, I’d like to take a look back at a program that started life during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but still delivers opportunity for young people today. Called to action by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his “Poor People’s Campaign,” President Lyndon B. Johnson kicked off his “War on Poverty” in 1965 with Head Start, an early childhood education initiative designed to help break the cycle of poverty starting with pre-school children of low-income families. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Revenue Estimates/ Revenue Certification

Oklahoma makes official revenue estimates that determine how much the Legislature is allowed to appropriate in its annual budget. The Legislature is limited to appropriating no more than 95 percent of certified collections. Revenue estimates are certified three times each year:

  • In late December, the State Board of Equalization certifies a preliminary estimate. This estimate becomes the basis of the Governor’s executive budget proposal.
  • In mid-February, the Board of Equalization certifies a revised estimate considering changes in revenue collections and economic conditions. The February certification is binding on the Legislature and establishes the maximum amount it can budget under existing laws for the coming year.
  • In late June, the Board may revise the official revenue estimate up or down only if the Legislature has made changes to the law that affect state revenue.

Revenue estimates for Oklahoma’s major taxes are prepared by the Oklahoma Tax Commission based on a model developed by an economist at Oklahoma State University. Other taxes and fees are estimated by other means.

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

Quote of the Week

“You know, we talk about the Oklahoma Standard … We are doing the opposite. We gave out $7,500 tax credits for private school attendance. If we had that much zeal and excitement about helping the people who cannot afford to have a place to live or eat, imagine what kind of state we would be.”

-Shiloh Kantz, Executive Director of OK Policy, speaking about the disinvestment in shared public services as the result of  decades of state revenue cuts. [KOSU]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial, Enid News & Eagle: Some things we’d like to hear from Oklahoma’s CEO

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt may face a challenging audience when he delivers his State of the State address to both houses of the state Legislature on Feb. 5. But, this also is a great opportunity, in front of elected Republicans, Democrats and voters statewide, to make some bold substantial statements about his vision for Oklahoma in a format where his message is direct and unfiltered.

Given this captive audience, Stitt should capitalize on the opportunity. Here are a few topics we hope he’ll address:

  • Common-sense budgeting. Oklahomans would love to have a tax cut — whether that’s a slight reduction in the income tax, or eliminating the state grocery tax — but Oklahomans also want safe communities, good roads, well-educated youth, reasonable health care access and more. Figure out both the income and expense sides of the equation at the same time without edicts, please.
  • A willingness to work with other elected officials. As the state’s CEO, Stitt is in a position to lead. He should offer respect for others involved in the decision-making process, and that respect must be reciprocated. No ultimatums. No refusals to talk. Republicans have a clear majority in both legislative chambers plus a conservative Republican in the governor’s chair. Use that majority constructively. Compromise is not an evil word or concept. Make headway, not headlines.
  • Genuine support for public education. That is the state’s mandate. Parents clearly have school choice. The problems are in schools that unusual obstacles such as high poverty, high numbers of non-English-speaking households. Breakdown of the family is hurting students and schools. Address the real problems, please, not the political dog whistles that some politicians love to tout.
  • Work with the state’s tribal leaders. Again, not all tribes will agree, but make the effort — on both sides. Both sides.
  • A plan for economic growth. It doesn’t have to be just the grand slam, thousands of workers economic successes. Help rural Oklahoma communities and regions grow and succeed, too.
  • A genuine safety net. We as a state owe those suffering from mental health issues, poverty, disability, and medical woes a safety net.
  • Reasonable tactics for moving Oklahoma out of the bottom quadrant of states on rankings that truly make a difference in our lives and livelihoods. Avoid the temptation to find obscure dragons to slay — bits of wrongdoing lurking in isolated classrooms or libraries or teams.

Stitt has the opportunity, unfiltered, to show positive leadership. We look forward to a strong and positive State of the State address.

[Editorial / Enid News & Eagle]

Numbers of the Day

  • 27% – Percentage of low-income families with children in Oklahoma. This is defined as families with children under age 18 with household incomes less than 200% of the federal poverty level and at least one parent worked 50 or more weeks during the previous year. [KIDS COUNT]
  • 1 in 4 – About 232,000 Oklahoma children (nearly 1 in 4 of all children) would benefit from the proposed bipartisan expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • 7 – When the Oklahoma private school tax credit/voucher program is fully implemented in 2026, its $255 million price tag will exceed the current budget of all by seven state agencies. [OK Policy]
  • 79 – Number of hours per week that a minimum wage earner in Oklahoma has to work in order to afford a modest one-bedroom rental at fair market rent. [National Low Income Housing Coalition
  • 186,000 – Number of Oklahomans aged 65 and older who are lifted out of poverty by Social Security, or nearly 3 in 10 Oklahoma seniors. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

What We’re Reading

  • In the Absence of the Expanded Child Tax Credit, Many Families with Children Faced Material Hardship in 2022: Working-age adults with children were more likely than adults without children to face difficulty meeting basic needs in 2022, despite having higher family employment rates. Adults living with children tend to be younger and at an earlier stage of their careers, while also facing child care costs and additional child-related expenses. This fact sheet explores how expanding the child tax credit could provide a much-needed economic boost for families with children struggling to pay for food and housing. [Tax Policy Center]
  • Bipartisan Child Tax Credit Expansion Would Help Roughly Half a Million Children in Veteran and Active-Duty Families in First Year:  Among the roughly 16 million children in families with low incomes who would benefit from the proposed bipartisan expansion of the federal Child Tax Credit during the first year, about half a million are in the families of U.S. veterans and active-duty service members. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • School Choice: A Full Menu: What exactly do we mean when we say “school choice”? Although the term often generates bitter conflicts and debate, even the most vocal supporters and opponents of ‘school choice’ may be unaware of all the educational options available to K-12 students in Oklahoma. A new issue brief from aims to help parents, policymakers, and advocates gain a clearer understanding of the school choice landscape in Oklahoma. The brief is a primer on the public and private school options for Oklahoma families. [Advance Oklahoma Kids]
  • Measurable income inequality has skyrocketed in recent decades: In recent years, researchers have debated the simple question of whether inequality has risen a lot or a little in the United States over the past half-century. Lots of arguments in this debate surround highly technical issues like, “Should the income of owners of ‘pass-through businesses’ be reported as wages or business profits?” or “Is income that is not reported on tax returns mostly earned by rich or middle-class households, and how do you know?” But we’ve identified available data that sidesteps nearly all these complexities and demonstrates that inequality has indeed risen enormously: what individual Americans earn in the labor market. [Economic Policy Institute via CNN]
  • Social Security Lifts More People Above the Poverty Line Than Any Other Program: Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty in every state, and they lift more people above the poverty line than any other program in the United States. Without Social Security, 22.7 million more adults and children would be below the poverty line, according to our analysis using the March 2023 Current Population Survey. Depending on their design, reductions in Social Security benefits could significantly increase poverty, particularly among older adults. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]


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.