Weekly Wonk: Expanded health care is helping Oklahoma’s children | Addressing oral health | Senate committee chairs announced

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

New report shows Oklahoma led nation in improving health insurance coverage, but more than 75,000 Oklahoma children remain uninsured: The rate of Oklahoma children without health care insurance decreased significantly – from 8.6 percent to 7.4 percent between 2019 and 2021, according to a new report from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families. This improvement is primarily due to Oklahoma’s implementation of Medicaid expansion and the federal continuous enrollment requirement that has been in place since January 2020. Though Oklahoma has seen a significant decline in its child uninsured rate, work remains to address the needs for 75,000 Oklahoma children who remain without health care insurance. [Emma Morris / OK Policy]

Dental therapy can improve Oklahoma’s oral health, help address dental workforce shortage (Guest Post): Oklahoma has a severe shortage of dental providers, and authorizing dental therapists to work in the state would expand access to necessary oral health care. Further, dental coverage and oral health are vitally important for overall health and well-being. This means that dental therapists can bring more than just dental care to communities; they can also provide a culturally responsible, trusted community member to support desperately needed mental health needs. [Michelle Dennison and Julie Seward]

Senate announces committee chairs for upcoming session (Capitol Update): Changes in committee chairs can occur because of openings created by retirements from the senate, requested changes by chairs who prefer a different committee, the politics of the recent pro tempore race, and the ripple effect of the other changes. Looking at the movement, it would be a good guess that all four reasons were at play. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Expanding health care is changing lives: In the 18 months since Oklahoma began enrolling residents in Medicaid expansion, the trajectory of hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma lives has improved thanks to the ready availability of health care coverage. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

OK Policy in the News

Oklahoma sees 13% drop in number of uninsured children: Oklahoma experienced the biggest improvement in child uninsured rates during the pandemic period of 2019-2021, a national analysis found. Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families and lead author of the report, said while the number of uninsured children dropped nationally, Oklahoma’s rate dropped the most. Overall the rate declined 1.2%, from 8.6% to 7.4%. [CNHI News]

  • Oklahoma’s improvement in child uninsured rate is best in the U.S., researchers say [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma led the U.S. in improvements to child insurance rates. Here’s why [The Oklahoman]

Upcoming Opportunities

Together Oklahoma to host Dec. 14 meeting for Jackson/ Tillman counties, will discuss housing and community advocacy: Together Oklahoma — OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy program — has announced it will hold a community meeting for Jackson and Tillman county (both in-person and online) on Wednesday, Dec. 14, in Altus at the Altus Chamber of Commerce. [Together Oklahoma]

Together Oklahoma to host Dec. 14 meeting for Carter County, chance to talk to newly elected Senator Jerry Alvord: Together Oklahoma — OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy program — has announced it will hold a community meeting for Carter county (both in-person and online) on Wednesday, Dec. 14 in Ardmore at the Legacy Event Center. [Together Oklahoma]

Together Oklahoma to host Dec. 15 meeting for Oklahoma county, will discuss defending democracy: Together Oklahoma — OK Policy’s grassroots advocacy program — has announced it will hold a community meeting for Oklahoma county (both in-person and online) on Thursday, Dec. 15 at Mayflower Congregational Church. [Together Oklahoma]

Weekly What’s That

House Bill 1017

House Bill 1017, the Education Reform Act of 1990, was landmark legislation that funded a broad range of education initiatives through increased taxes. The Legislature appropriated more than $560 million over five years to implement a wide range of reform policies, including reduced class sizes, minimum teacher salaries, alternative teacher certification, funding equity, early childhood programs, school consolidation, new statewide curriculum standards, and statewide testing.

HB 1017 was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Henry Bellmon in 1990. State Question 639, a referendum petition aimed at repealing HB 1017, was defeated in 1991 by a 46-54 percent vote.

The taxes raised by HB 1017 are allocated directly to the 1017 Fund and can be appropriated only to the Department of Education.

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

Quote of the Week

“While the increased rate of insured children was good news, we must temper that celebration by the report’s other findings: It noted that as many as 75,000 Oklahoma children still lack health insurance and the care insurance brings. We all have a moral obligation to ensure that all Oklahoma children can visit a doctor when they’re sick and get care to ensure their healthy futures.”

– OK Policy Executive Director Shiloh Kantz, writing about how Medicaid expansion and pandemic-realted health care measures have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans thanks to the ready availability of health care coverage. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Editorial of the Week

Enid News & Eagle: Lack of transparency on funds promised to counties is unacceptable

When it comes to state questions that passed in 2016 and enacted in 2017 in order to reduce the state prison population, Garfield County Detention Facility Administrator Ben Crooks is asking a question we speculate every jail administrator in Oklahoma is asking.

Where is the money that was specified in SQ 781? Savings from these criminal justice reforms was supposed to be distributed to counties for addressing substance abuse and mental health issues in county jails.

Anticipating fewer prison sentences for drug possession, State Question 781 directed cost savings to a fund that would be distributed to counties to provide mental health and substance abuse services. Seven years later, that hasn’t happened, and no money has been allocated.

Meanwhile, the local jail administrator is trying to find the right formula to convince voters to approve some sort of measure that would allow for much-needed expansion and enhancements, including mental health provisions. Yet, local taxpayers should not be completely on the hook for these expenses.

According to calculations, the savings from reducing these state drug convictions should have resulted in about $50 million allocated back to counties. This has not happened. Many have been asking where this money has gone and why it has not been allocated out to county operations, and the answer they’re getting is “It’s complicated.”

To us, that answer means either two things. They don’t know what happened to the money or absorbed those savings within the Department of Corrections, or they redistributed the money to something else completely. Whatever the reason, promises to the voters and the counties have not been kept.

Garfield County Detention Facility has become a mental health facility, a homeless shelter and a nursing home along with being a detention center, Crooks said. It is estimated up to 65% of prison inmates suffer from some type of mental disability or illness. So, it’s imperative that Garfield and other counties receive the savings promised from reducing the state prison population.

When the News & Eagle reached out to local legislators, we didn’t hear back. The Department of Corrections also had nothing to say. This lack of transparency on this issue needs to be addressed by state legislators in the upcoming legislative session.

[Enid News & Eagle / Editorial]

Numbers of the Day

  • 23% – Black males represented 23% of referrals to Oklahoma’s youth justice system in 2019, while only 8.5% of the state’s male child population are Black. Native males represented 17.8% of youth referrals, while 10.4% of the state’s male child population are American Indian/Alaska Natives. [Better Tomorrows: A Landscape Analysis of Oklahoma’s Youth Justice System, OK Policy] | [Data Snapshot
  • 11th – Oklahoma has the nation’s 11th lowest ratio of dentists serving resident needs at 48.5 per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 61 per 100,000. [American Dental Association]
  • 300,000 – The number of students entitled to essential rights reserved for homeless students that have slipped through the cracks, unidentified by the school districts mandated to help them. [Center for Public Integrity]
  • 75,000 – The number of Oklahoma children who continue to lack access to health care. [Georgetown Center for Children and Families]
  • 49% – In Oklahoma, approximately 49% of children under the age of 8 (230,000) live in households earning below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. Additionally, 70% of Black children and 66% of Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native children ages 0-8 in Oklahoma live in households below 200% FPL. [Oklahoma Early Childhood Policy Landscape]

What We’re Reading

  • Racial Disparities in Tulsa’s Youth Legal SystemDespite significant reductions in youth crime over the last two decades, research has repeatedly found that in nearly every jurisdiction in the United States, Black youth and other youth of color experience the youth legal system differently than their White counterparts. Although strides have been made to create a more equitable youth legal system across the country, data indicate that racial disparities continue to exist at every stage of the system, including arrest, detention, adjudication, and disposition. [Center for Juvenile Justice Reform]
  • Policy Brief: Oral Health Policy and Improvement Strategies in Oklahoma: Despite being a large contributor to overall health and wellness, oral health care is an overlooked and underprovided service in Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s oral health statistics reflect a population with high rates of childhood tooth decay, adult tooth loss and avoidance of regular oral health appointments due to cost. [Native Oral Health Network]
  • Hidden toll: Thousands of schools fail to count homeless students: The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, first enacted in 1987 and expanded in 2001, requires that districts take specific actions to help unstably housed students complete school. Districts must waive enrollment requirements, such as immunization forms, that could keep kids out of the classroom. They must refer families to health care and housing services. And they must provide transportation so children can remain in the school they attended before they became homeless, even if they’re now outside the attendance boundaries. Some 2,400 districts — from regions synonymous with economic hardship to big cities and prosperous suburbs — did not report having even one homeless student despite levels of financial need that make those figures improbable. [Center for Public Integrity]
  • Number of Uninsured Children Stabilized and Improved Slightly During the Pandemic: The number of uninsured children declined during the COVID-19 pandemic largely due to federal law which has protected access to health care for Medicaid beneficiaries by requiring states to keep them enrolled during the federally declared COVID-19 public health emergency in exchange for enhanced federal funding. Twelve states saw significant declines in their rate and/or number of uninsured children with Oklahoma, Connecticut, Indiana, Colorado and Texas seeing the largest improvements. [Georgetown Center for Children and Families]
  • 50-State Progress and Landscape Report: As we look back on 2022—a year the world did its best to get back to “normal” and put the pandemic’s devastation behind us—some of us aren’t rushing to put the past two-and-a-half years in the rearview mirror. There were numerous COVID-era “silver linings.” The pandemic put a spotlight on some key truths about early childhood policy and advocacy—principles advocates are now working to advance further. [Alliance for Early Success]


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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