Weekly Wonk: Private school vouchers and the art of political makeovers | Revisiting the minimum wage | OK Wellness Watch

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

OK Wellness Watch (Video): Together Oklahoma and OK Policy, along with regional community partners, hosted a two-hour, live-stream event to highlight the importance of updating eligibility information and walk viewers through the process so SoonerCare participants can continue to receive high-quality, affordable health care. [Watch Here]

Rebranding private school vouchers: The art of political makeovers (Capitol Update): Public polling in March 2022 showed 61 percent of Oklahomans were opposed to the use of taxpayer dollars going toward private school scholarships. Despite the polling, in the poll that counts, Gov. Stitt was re-elected, and elections have consequences. Still unable to overcome opposition to “vouchers,” in overall end-of-session budget negotiations, legislators put lipstick on the pig and passed a bill giving credits to taxpayers to reimburse tuition for private schools. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: It’s time to rethink minimum wage: Federal lawmakers last adjusted the minimum wage in 2009, making this the longest time we’ve gone without a rate adjustment. By comparison, inflation has risen 43% during the last 14 years. Right now, 30 states have minimum wages above the federal limit; it’s long past time for Oklahoma lawmakers to consider the same. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage is the lowest wage per hour that may be paid by law to most employees in most jobs. The U.S. federal government first adopted a national minimum wage in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and it has been raised by Congress over twenty times since then. 

The federal minimum wage was set as $7.25 per hour effective July 2009. As of 2023, the federal minimum wage has remained unchanged for over 14 years, the longest stretch ever without an increase. During this period, the minimum wage has lost over 27 percent of its value when adjusted for inflation, and some 40 percent of its value compared to its peak in 1968.

As of 2023, Oklahoma is one of 20 states that has a minimum wage set at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Meanwhile, 30 states and D.C., including four of Oklahoma’s neighbors (Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico and Colorado), have set a higher minimum wage, of which all but two are at or above $10 per hour. In addition, 48 cities have set a local minimum wage higher than their state minimum. However, the Oklahoma Legislature in 2014 passed a preemption law prohibiting municipalities from setting their own minimum wage.

Some employees may be paid less than the minimum wage, also known as the subminimum wage. For example, an employer in Oklahoma may pay a tipped employee as little as $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equal at least the federal minimum wage, the employee retains all tips, and the employee customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips. Employers may also gain authorization to pay subminimum wages to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed. Certain young workers and full-time student workers may also be paid less than the standard minimum wage.

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

Quote of the Week

“Superintendent Walters, your absence, and the refusal to meet with your staff sends a concerning message that we may not hold value in your eyes… If your physical presence is not required for leadership, then the question arises as to why the position exists with a salary attached to it.”

– Pamela Smith-Gordon, former grant manager for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, in a resignation letter sent to the department this week. [Tulsa World]

Editorial of the Week

Enid News & Eagle Editorial: Openness and transparency: Local public officials need to know the laws

Elected and appointed public officials at all levels of state and local government need to learn the legal requirements for access to public records and the conduct of public meetings.

A great opportunity to do that will happen in Enid on Monday, Oct. 30, when the Attorney General’s Office and the Oklahoma Press Association present a seminar on rights and responsibilities under the Open Meeting Act and Open Records Act. The Enid meeting, one of five such seminars statewide, will be 1-4 p.m. at Autry Technology Center. The seminars are open to the public, and no registration or payment is required to attend.

If you are a public official, whether a town clerk or a school board member or a sheriff’s office manager, that role is different from having such a position in a private business or organization. Quite simply, you are doing the public’s business with substantially public funds. The public is both the customer and, ultimately, the top decision-maker. That’s why such roles are considered “public service” positions.

Managing the public’s money or resources typically involves letting the public know what decisions are being contemplated and how the public money is about to be spent, or was spent.

That degree of openness is uncomfortable for some people who are used to keeping secrets or making solo decisions and enforcing their policies on other people. Stepping into a public role requires learning some new ground rules. That’s where the open meetings/records seminars can be especially helpful.

Government operations come with an underlying principle of openness. There are many requirements (advance meeting notices) and many and varied limitations (some personnel files, some investigative records, etc.).

Give credit to Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who has made it clear that openness and transparency in government are among his priorities. His deputy general counsel Thomas Schneider will be the main presenter on Monday.

Appointed or elected city council, school board or college board members need to better understand what is expected of them in their public role. Information and knowledge help these volunteers to avoid mistakes and reinforce their underlying honesty and integrity.

These open meetings/records seminars are so chock full of information that continuing education credits are offered for attorneys, some law enforcement officials, and new school board or CareerTech board members.

Our constitutional democracy was founded on important principles of representative government and openness. Knowledge of public meetings/records laws helps safeguard democracy and preserve integrity in state and local government. People in public roles should consider attending and learning.

[Editorial / Enid News & Eagle

For more information on the statewide open records seminars, visit the attorney general’s website

Numbers of the Day

  • 33% – Oklahoma experienced a 33% decline in oil and gas jobs since August 2019. The state experienced a significantly larger decline in its mining industry — almost completely comprised of oil and gas — than any other state producing both oil and natural gas during that period. Oklahoma’s 33% job loss since 2019 far exceeds the national average of 11%. [Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City]
  • 30% – More than 51,800 Oklahomans in the service industry (restaurants, home health aides, etc.) receive food assistance through the SNAP program. This represents about 30% of the nearly 173,000 SNAP recipients in the state last year. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • 80% – Despite Black youth making up 14% of the overall population, they account for 80% of cases referred to juvenile court, 40% of cases detained, and 36% of cases adjudicated in the U.S. [Analysis of OJJDP Racial and Ethnic Disparities (R/ED) Databook, 2020
  • 7,542 – Number of youth referrals (cases not people or arrest charges) made to the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs in 2022 [OK Policy analysis of provided OJA data]
  • 700 – Number of referrals to the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs for youth under the age of 13, which is about 1  in 10 of total referrals. [OK Policy analysis of provided OJA data]

What We’re Reading

  • Could religious charter schools upend American education?: The prospect of religious charter schools threatens to upend American education, far beyond Oklahoma. If religious charter schools become a reality, they could rejuvenate religious education, particularly Catholic schools, which have been losing students for many decades. Such schools could continue the successful conservative campaign to allow more public funding to go to religious education. They could lead to fewer students, and thus less funding, for public schools. Charters of all types could be deemed private schools for legal purposes, reducing anti-discrimination protections for students and teachers. [Chalkbeat]
  • 4 Ways SNAP Provides Key Benefits to Workers and Their Families: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest anti-hunger program, helps more than 40 million people put food on the table each month. While two-thirds of participants aren’t expected to work because they are children, adults over age 60, or people with disabilities, SNAP plays an important role in supplementing workers’ low or fluctuating wages or helping them during periods of unemployment. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • Changing Course In Youth Detention: Reversing Widening Gaps by Race and Place: When it comes to the odds of being detained, young people in the United States live in different worlds, depending on their race and the region and jurisdiction where they reside. The disproportionate use of detention for Black youth — already distressingly high before the pandemic — has increased. Also, over that three-year period, where youth lived mattered to a greater extent to their odds of being detained than it did before. [Annie E. Casey Foundation]
  • Youth Justice by the Numbers: Youth arrests and incarceration increased in the closing decades of the 20th century but have fallen sharply since that time. Public opinion often lags behind these realities, wrongly assuming both that crime is perpetually increasing and that youth offending is routinely violent. In fact, youth offending is predominantly low-level, and the 21st century has seen significant declines in youth arrests and incarceration. [The Sentencing Project]
  • Racial Disparities in Tulsa’s Youth Legal System: Finding and Recommendations for Advancing EquityThis report examines racial disparities faced by youth of color in the youth legal system in Tulsa County, Oklahoma. The report summarizes available quantitative data pertaining to Tulsa’s youth legal system and analyzes qualitative content from surveys and interviews with Tulsa youth, community members, and system representatives. Finding that Black youth and other youth of color experience disparate legal system treatment compared to their White counterparts, the report offers the following strategic recommendations to advance and enhance race equity in Tulsa’s youth legal system. [Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University in Partnership with Youth Services of Tulsa]


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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