Weekly Wonk: Effective democracy requires more transparency in state government | History repeating in education turmoil? | Student loan crisis

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

Effective democracy requires more transparency in Oklahoma state government: Oklahoma’s government is one of the least transparent in the nation. In contrast to other states, the general public is largely left out of the budget process and deprived of basic expectations of government such as public debate. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]

Column: Is history repeating with state’s current education turmoil? (Capitol Update): With the first post-pandemic school year about to start, a devastating teacher shortage, and many students who have fallen behind because of the interruptions in their education, you’d think the state board of education would be laser focused on policies to help overcome those challenges. Instead, they are busy monitoring the implementation of House Bill 1775, a convoluted bill passed in 2021 that prohibits teachers, administrators, or other school employees from requiring or making part of a course certain concepts regarding race and sex. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: The real issue behind the student loan crisis: Last week’s announcement about a federal student loan forgiveness for certain borrowers brought about much clutching of pearls and claims that it benefited Ivy Leaguers rather than everyday folks. The reality is far different. A closer look shows that the people who will benefit most from loan forgiveness are most likely to be students who are low-income, Black, and/or older. [Shiloh Kantz / OK Policy]

OK Policy in the News

Washington County experiencing shortage of child care options, advocates say: The county has a shortage of child care options, Gabrielle Jacobi, an Oklahoma child well-being policy analyst, told community leaders during a Kiwanis Club of Bartlesville meeting Wednesday. [Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise]

Upcoming Opportunities

Save Our Democracy: VOTE! | Sept. 20 Online Event To Highlight Oklahoma’s Voter Registration Activities: Together Oklahoma, the grassroots advocacy program for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, will host a virtual event on Sept. 20 to highlight voter registration activities across the state as part of National Voter Registration Day. “Save Our Democracy: Vote!” will be livestreamed on Tuesday, Sept. 20. Any groups planning voter registration events are encouraged to contact the event organizers. [Together Oklahoma]

Weekly What’s That

Open Meetings Act 

Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act (25 O.S. Sections 301-314) requires all public bodies to file advance notice of regularly scheduled and special meetings with the Secretary of State, as well as advance notice of changes in date, time, or location of regularly scheduled meetings.

Under the Act, agendas for regular and special meetings must be posted in a publicly-accessible location for at least 24 hours prior to its meeting, and agendas must identify all items of business of the meeting.

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

Quote of the Week

“I can’t think of a single example in history where the folks who have been banning the books turn out to be the quote-unquote good guys.”

-Former Norman High School teacher Summer Boismier, who resigned four days after a parent complained about a bookcase in her classroom covered in paper with the message “books the state doesn’t want you to read” due to HB 1775. [The Oklahoman

Editorial of the Week

Enid News & Eagle: Flaws in new law should be looked at by lawmakers

As Oklahoma State Board of Education last week refused to reconsider sanctions it handed down to two districts last month under a state law prohibiting certain conversations on race, one lawmaker seems to be having a little “buyer’s remorse.”

His remorse comes because it impacts a school district he represents. Rep. Brian Hill, R-Mustang — who voted for the law — released a statement in defense of the Mustang Public Schools district, whose accreditation was downgraded by the state board.

“Regardless of the implications of this ruling, I know that our Mustang Public School teachers, administrators, coaches and support staff are among the best in the state,” Hill said.

He added that legislation is needed to ensure “due process” for school districts faced with a similar situation.

“I’m looking into filing legislation to ensure Oklahoma’s schools and citizens have protections of their rights to due process, even from unelected boards,” Hill said.

Well, duh.

What happened with both the Tulsa and Mustang school districts is exactly what school districts had feared when House Bill 1785 was passed. District leaders complained they had very little guidance and that the verbiage of the legislation was vague and too easily up for individual interpretation.

Enter the state board members hand-picked by Gov. Kevin Stitt, who led the sanctioning and warning of the two school districts, and who doubled down last week.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has rules that call for notifying a district of the department’s recommendation prior to the annual accreditation meeting. With Mustang Public Schools, they did not get a chance for explanation before the board’s decision to downgrade their accreditation.

While we think this law was a bad idea in the first place, the least that can be done is for a school district’s due process rights to be clarified and strengthened.

Other state representatives and senators should take notice, because the school districts they represent may be the next targeted by the state board under this law.

[Editorial / Enid News & Eagle]

Numbers of the Day

  • 30% – Women in the United States earned 30% less than men and that pay gap increased with age, according to Quarterly Workforce Indicators reports for the 3rd Quarter of 2020, the most recent national data available [U.S. Census]

  • 3 – During the 2021 legislative session, Oklahoma’s state budget was available for public deliberation for three days, which was the nation’s third shortest such timeframe that year. The average state deliberated about their budget for 82 days. [OK Policy]

  • 65% – Percentage of counties in Oklahoma (50 out of 77) that are designated as mental health professional shortage areas, meaning these counties lack mental health care providers. [U.S. House Committee on Ways & Means, Oklahoma Health Equity Fact Sheet

  • 355% – The percentage change of the nation’s total student loan balance between 2004 and 2021. Americans owed nearly $1.57 trillion in outstanding student loans at the end of 2021. [New York Federal Reserve, 2022 Student Loan Data] | [Excel]

  • $817 million – Estimated federal education funds that Oklahoma will receive in 2023 for U.S. Department of Education agency programs that allocate funds to states or local educational agencies using statutory formulas. This does not reflect all Department of Education funds that a state receives from department funds awarded on a competitive basis.
    [U.S. Department of Education]

What We’re Reading

  • Women’s Equality Day: Celebrating Those Advancing Gender Equity: Many of the women who organized the movement for suffrage, including women of color, whose stories are too often ignored, faced violence, abuse, jail time, racism, and even torture. Women’s Equality Day is therefore a day of commemoration and celebration, recognizing the extraordinary work of those who advocated for change despite the grave risks to themselves and their families. [U.S. Department of Labor]
  • A Better Path Forward: Focus on Transparency: A January 2022 report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute shows that Oklahoma is among the nation’s least transparent states when engaging its residents during the development of the annual state budget. The report outlines several ways Oklahoma is not delivering transparency in the budget development process, and it suggests several solutions that lawmakers can consider to make the process more transparent. [Emma Morris & Paul Shinn / OK Policy
  • How the Minimum Wage Affects the Health Insurance Coverage, Safety Net Program Participation, and Health of Low-Wage Workers and Their Families: This brief examines the characteristics of minimum-wage workers, discusses the potential pathways through which the minimum wage may affect the health of workers and their families, and reviews recent empirical studies in this area. Some empirical evidence demonstrates that increases in the minimum wage are associated with reduced racial and ethnic disparities in income. Given the well-documented inequities in health by race and ethnicity, future research on the efficacy of the minimum wage as a policy lever to reduce health inequities is warranted. [Urban Institute
  • Looking Back to Move Forward: A History of Student Aid: To understand the current state of federal student aid, it’s important to understand its origins. In six short chapters, Looking Back to Move Forward explores the 60-year history of federal student aid programs and the historical perspectives of those involved in their creation and evolution. Each chapter features a short film, an expanded history and timeline of events, and a comprehensive viewing guide. [Lumina Foundation]
  • States Can Choose Better Path for Higher Education Funding in COVID-19 Recession: Accessible, well-funded higher education is crucial for residents’ quality of life, a strong state economy, and thriving communities, but after the Great Recession hit over a decade ago, states weakened their futures by sharply cutting higher education funding and raising tuition, making college less accessible — especially for students with low incomes and students of color. In the school year before the pandemic struck, state support was still way down, adding to long-standing racial and income disparities in higher education. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]


Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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