Weekly Wonk: Oklahoma lags in child well-being | Still waiting for SQ 781 promised investments | Celebrating Medicaid expansion

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’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Communications Intern Lilly Strom.

This Week from OK Policy

KIDSCOUNT 2021: Smart policy decisions can help improve Oklahoma’s dismal child well-being outcomes: Oklahoma children need housing, food, health care, educational opportunities, and stable, nurturing environments to succeed. These essentials, however, are out of reach for many Oklahomans as the result of poverty, structural racism, and other barriers. Oklahoma’s disparities for child well-being were evidenced by Oklahoma’s low overall rank (42nd) in the 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released on Monday. [Gabrielle Jacobi / OK Policy] | [News Release]  

Five years later: Voters still waiting for SQ 781’s investments in mental health, substance use disorders: SQ 780 and its companion measure, SQ 781, were designed in the justice reinvestment mold: reduce spending on prisons, and invest those savings into treatment services for things like substance abuse and mental illness. SQ 780 helped to accomplish the first goal, but the 2021 legislative session marked the third budget without a corresponding investment that voters demanded. Though the Legislature has again failed to fund the treatments that SQ 781 statutorily required, we know that justice reform has measurably reduced the prison population and that mental health remains severely underfunded. There’s no getting around the fact that sustainable progress in public safety will require a much greater investment in substance abuse and mental health services than lawmakers have shown an appetite for so far. [Ryan Gentzler / OK Policy]

Reducing Oklahoma’s excessive reliance on incarceration (Capitol Update): Underfunding its corrections system brought prison riots and landed Oklahoma in federal court in the 1970s. The same could happen again. In a press release last Friday, Rep. Humphrey said an officer shortage leaves prison staff and the inmates themselves unsafe. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

OK Policy to host June 30 event to celebrate Medicaid expansion, provide resources for Oklahomans: Thanks to voter-approved Medicaid expansion, more than 100,000 Oklahomans will finally have health care coverage starting on July 1. To celebrate this historic milestone, Oklahoma Policy Institute is hosting a June 30 event to reflect on the journey to this point and how it will positively impact our state moving forward. [Miguel Rios / OK Policy]

OK Policy expands policy, data work through new hires, realignment: The Oklahoma Policy Institute has hired four new staff members to expand its work in child well-being, health care and revenue, and data analysis, as well as elevated two staff members to take new organizational roles, including helping manage policy initiatives for a new criminal justice collaborative. [OK Policy]

Weekly What’s That

Quick Action Closing Fund

The Quick Action Closing Fund was created by HB 1953 in 2011. It is intended as a source of funds available to the Governor to attract high-impact businesses when incentive payments are expected to be the deciding factor in a business’s location decision.

The Governor may recommend payments from the Quick Action Fund based on an economic benefits analysis conducted by the Department of Commerce. Under 2019 legislation, any new jobs created by a qualified establishment must have an annualized average wage greater than the average county wage where the new jobs are being created

As of 2019, the Fund has been approved to provide a total of $14 million in payments to seven companies, in amounts ranging from $200,000 to $3 million. The biggest recipients have been General Electric, Commercial Metals Company, Boeing, and Macy’s. The Fund received appropriations of $4 million for FY 2019 and $19 million for FY 2020. Governor Stitt called for an additional $20 million appropriation to the Fund in his FY 2022 budget.

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

Quote of the Week

“I think if the taxpayers are giving tax incentives, the taxpayer has the right to know what those incentives are, and how long they’re going to last.”

-State Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, the Senate’s budget chair, speaking about a reported $300 million incentive package offered to a company to open an electric vehicle manufacturing plant in Pryor. Thompson, other lawmakers, and open records advocates have raised concerns that the Governor’s office and the Department of Commerce are withholding a list of the incentives. [CNHI via Stillwater News Press]

Editorial of the Week

Transparency requires more than lip service

The public has a right to know how much taxpayer money is being used to lure electric vehicle startup Canoo to Oklahoma.

We have a right to know what clawbacks and contingencies are in place if Canoo cannot deliver on the job placement and production it pledged in order to get the incentives.

According to reporting from Reuters, Canoo’s incentives value somewhere in the $300 million range, though it has been unconfirmed by the state. CNHI reporter Janelle Stecklein filed an open records request, which was quickly denied.

That isn’t transparency, which is odd because Gov. Kevin Stitt has, at least rhetorically, made financial accountability a tenet of his administration.

Stitt once said that Oklahomans want three things: “Accountability, transparency and they want results.”

At that point, he was talking about legislation in 2019 to give him more power in hiring and firing agency heads, and placing people on state agency boards.

Stitt also launched the Oklahoma Checkbook site in 2019 to offer an online snapshot of state finances.

A few years prior, Stitt promoted a line item budget during his campaign because, “it is hard for the Legislature or the public to see how the money will be used.”

Promises of open government, to excuses to why information belongs to a privileged few.

In denying the open records request, the Dept. of Commerce cited the kind of confidentiality allowances cities often use when trying to recruit businesses. The big difference, those are often just proposals.

Stitt then went from saying legislature should change the law to make the disclosure public to saying publicity would hurt Oklahoma’s competitive advantage.

There may be some benefits to keeping bargaining under wraps until we’re ready to start ponying up but if checks are about to be signed, the taxpayers have a right to know what’s going on.

That’s taxpayer money. Those records are taxpayer records.

[Stillwater News Press]

Numbers of the Day

  • 42nd – Oklahoma’s overall rank for child well-being. [Source: Oklahoma Data Sheet, KIDS COUNT 2021]
  • 38% – Percentage of Black children in Oklahoma who live in poverty, more than 2.5 times the rate for white children (14%). The poverty rate for Latinx children (27%) and American Indian children (23%) also exceed the state average of 20%. [Source: 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book]
  • 71% – The state average for Oklahoma 4th-graders who are not proficient in reading. The rate is higher for Black children (87%), Latinx (81%), and American Indian (73%). [Source: 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book
  • 26% – Percentage of Oklahoma Black children living in high-poverty areas, more than 2.5 times the state average (10%). For Latinx children, 20% live in high-poverty areas, while the rate for white children is 5%. [Source: 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book]
  • 18% – Percentage of Oklahoma American Indian children who are uninsured, double the rate of the state average (9%). [Source: 2021 KIDS COUNT Data Book]

What We’re Reading

  • KIDS COUNT Data Book 2021: State Trends in Child Well-Being [KIDS COUNT Data Book 2021]
  • New child tax credit could slash poverty now and boost social mobility later [Brookings]
  • As Pandemic Eases, Youth Detention Population Creeps Up [Annie E. Casey Foundation]
  • Child Poverty Increased Nationally During COVID, Especially Among Latino and Black Children [Child Trends]
  • Mental Health and Substance Use Considerations Among Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic [Kaiser Family Foundation]


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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