Weekly Wonk: Private school vouchers | Evidence-based immigration policy reform | State question process | Capitol Update

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

Progress made on evidence-based immigration policy reforms, but more work is needed: Sensible policy reforms related to immigration can benefit all Oklahomans by making us safer, healthier, and saving Oklahomans money. Two such measures were Senate Bill 669 and House Bill 2351. These two bills addressed different concerns around public safety and health care and enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Neither bill advanced this year, but they are both available for consideration in the 2024 legislative session. [Gabriela Ramirez-Perez / OK Policy]

Private school tax credits will give everyone’s taxes to people who don’t need our help: This school year marks the first one where Oklahomans can get government subsidies to leave their local public schools and enroll their children in private schools or teach them at home. While this program could make private and homeschooling more practical or affordable for a few families, taxpayers will mostly be paying for people to do what they were willing to pay for on their own. As a result, we’ll be handing millions of tax dollars to the most well-off among us while propping up private schools, whose enrollment has stagnated in recent years. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]

Governor issues executive order to change workforce development responsibilities (Capitol Update): Gov. Kevin Stitt filed an interesting executive order last week transferring the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development from the Department of Commerce to the Oklahoma Employment Security (OESC) Commission and giving OESC control over all money received by the state through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: State question process vital to democracy: The framers of Oklahoma’s Constitution recognized the state question process as central to our democracy, calling it “the first power reserved to the people.” By doing so, they affirmed that our state’s political power is held by its citizens, who have the right to directly shape laws. However, some lawmakers now are seeking to restrict these rights by making it harder to bring state questions to a vote of the people. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Upcoming Opportunities

Together Oklahoma will be hosting Listening Sessions to provide the opportunity for you to express your ideas and views on policy matters in a collaborative way and give our TOK staff members the chance to hear directly from you. OK Policy research and policy teams will present data from your region and the state and hear directly how it resonates with your personal experiences.

  • August 22: Norman
  • August 29: Altus

Each session will be held in person and is free to attend. Refreshments will be provided and pre-registration is required. For more information or to register, visit togetherok.org/events

  • In addition to the listening sessions, we are asking Oklahomans to complete an online survey about the important issues facing our state. Survey responses will help shape legislative priorities for OK Policy and Together Oklahoma during the coming legislative session and beyond. [Complete Online Survey]

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.

”Public body” means all boards, bureaus, commissions, agencies, trusteeships, authorities, councils, committees, public trusts, task forces or study groups supported in whole or in part by public funds or entrusted with the expending of public funds, or administering public property, and includes all committees or subcommittees of any public body.  Any gathering of a majority of members of a public body is subject to the Open Meetings Act. However, the Legislature is exempted from the provisions of the Open Meetings Act and may establish its own rules of conduct with regards to meetings. Several other bodies are also exempt from the Act, including the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, the judiciary and Council on Judicial Complaints and agency administrative staffs.

NOTE: Oklahoma AG Gentner Drummond announces Open Records, Open Meetings seminars to be held statewide this fall [More Info]

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

Quote of the Week

“What should be placed in schools is a list of the 13 original, courageous Black Oklahoma City students who said, ‘Enough.’ Those 13 kids believed in diversity, equity and inclusion. And thus, they helped change Oklahoma and American history for the better.”

-Michael Korenblit, President of the Respect Diversity Foundation, writing about the need to teach how Clara Luper and 13 Black children staged a lunch counter sit-in that started a national civil rights movement. [The Oklahoman]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Silence is no way to improve schools or defend representative democracy

For the past few weeks, Tulsa Public Schools staff, students and their families have been on edge about the threats of a state takeover of the district.

Their fears are real about what a district operated by state bureaucrats would mean for students and employees. Many parents, teachers and support staff choose TPS for a variety of reasons.

It’s unsettling to think of what could happen at Thursday’s State School Board meeting. No communication about the recommendation or possible takeover plans have been offered by State Superintendent Ryan Walters or State School Board members.

Bubbling up from these worries have been rallies, a Protect TPS grassroots movement, petition to keep TPS under local control and a TPS student forum slated for Saturday. The letters to the editors and submitted op-eds have been filled with people expressing their opinions.

Standing out has been the silence among many prominent community leaders and organizations. The political underpinnings of this created drama disappointingly left many opting to sit on the sidelines.

Even if frustrated by TPS, Tulsans are at risk of losing the right of self-governance of their public schools. The basic American principle of representative government is at stake, with state government usurping authority from local government. That is worth addressing.

For weeks, staff writer Kevin Canfield asked leaders in elected office, business and philanthropy to weigh in on their thoughts. Nearly all declined.

That quiet position gives the impression that TPS families and staff are on their own. Sometimes, no comment says much more than any words.

The first significant local influencer to go on the record was Michael DuPont, representing the Schusterman Family Philanthropies. He’s a parent of a TPS student and former member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. We appreciate his willingness to be forthcoming.

DuPont spoke about the consequences to business recruitment, student learning and retention to the workforce in schools. He stressed the need for local solutions and, importantly, the need for all TPS students to have resources for learning.

“The bottom line here is that districts across the state are preparing to start the school year. Rather than distractions, let’s try to be helpful and offer support.”

Since then, other leaders have come forth with their views, and Mayor G.T. Bynum positioned himself as a mediator and been engaged in fact-finding missions. Many leaders remain silent.

We oppose any loss of local governance over TPS. Decades of research shows state takeovers are ineffective. Walters has not demonstrated truthfulness in his reasoning, offered specific plans or attempted previous assistance to TPS.

As the city’s second-largest employer, TPS is not an island in this community. Its outcomes are affected by community challenges of poverty, housing, hunger and other societal factors. It provides the best intervention to generational poverty and workforce development.

TPS needs partners, champions and advocates to improve — not political firebombs and quiet bystanders.

[Editorial / Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 68% – The percentage of people making an interstate move who cited job- and family-related reasons as the primary driver of the decision. Only 9 percent cited one of the three other categories that might encompass a desire to pay lower state and local taxes. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • 20 – Number of states — and the District of Columbia — that have enacted laws to allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. [National Conference of State Legislatures]
  • 2012 – An apartment complex has not been built in the city of Edmond since April 2012. Referendum petitions have stopped proposed multifamily housing developments in 2017, 2021, and 2022. [NonDoc]
  • 3 – Oklahoma is one of three states with a non-refundable state child tax credit. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • 34.8% – Uninsured rate in 2021 for immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for more than five years. [KFF]

What We’re Reading

  • State Taxes Have a Minimal Impact on People’s Interstate Moves: State tax levels have little effect on whether and where people move — certainly not to a degree that should lead state policymakers to enact unaffordable tax cuts to attract people or avoid enacting productive increases focused on the wealthy. U.S. residents have been moving away from the Northeast, the industrial Midwest, and the Great Plains to the Sun Belt and West for decades, and this pattern is substantially independent of state tax levels or the presence of an income tax. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • Why Some Wisconsin Lawmakers and Local Officials Have Changed Their Minds About Letting Undocumented Immigrants Drive: For years, advocates for immigrants have tried to persuade lawmakers in Wisconsin to allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. Democrats have been mostly on board, but the challenge has been convincing Republicans, who control the state Legislature, to take an action that some of their constituents might fiercely oppose. “If we suddenly kicked out all of the people here, the undocumented, our dairy farms would collapse,” one lawmaker said. “We have to come up with a solution.” [ProPublica]
  • Key facts about housing affordability in the U.S.: A rising share of Americans say the availability of affordable housing is a major problem in their local community. A variety of factors have set the stage for the financial challenges American homeowners and renters have been facing in the housing market, including incomes that haven’t kept pace with housing cost increases and a housing construction slowdown. [Pew Research]
  • How to help America’s kids: Give their parents cash: Perhaps most importantly, this state trend to expand child tax credits is encouraging because in our byzantine, kludgy tax system — replete with exemptions, deductions, work requirements, and nonrefundable credits — refundable child tax credits have the potential to be one of the most inclusive and progressive social assistance programs for parents and kids. Unlike the other benefit options, refundable child tax credits offer cash that can be spent on a range of needs, and they can benefit even families with no earned income. [Vox]
  • Latino kids in states with more anti-immigrant laws are in poorer health, study finds: Latino children living in states with more anti-immigrant laws and policies — and the resulting inequities in access — were linked to higher odds of chronic physical or mental health conditions, according to a study published Tuesday in the medical journal Pediatrics. [NBC]


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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