Weekly Wonk: Rule change threatens voter-approved reforms | Addressing deferred maintenance on Oklahoma’s higher ed campuses | Feeding hungry children in our communities

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

Addressing deferred maintenance on Oklahoma’s higher ed campuses (Capitol Update): Today’s deferred maintenance for higher education facilities exists largely because, with paltry legislative appropriations to higher education in recent years, only around 4 percent of the college and university budgets have been allocated for maintenance. As recently as 2016 to 2018, for example, higher education appropriations were cut by $250 million. With the limited appropriations, higher education administrators prioritized teaching and research over maintaining physical facilities. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Rule change threatens voter-approved reforms: For too many years, Oklahoma carried the shameful distinction of having more of its residents behind bars, per capita, than any other place in the world. Bipartisan justice reforms during the past decade helped reverse some of these trends. But a proposed rule change by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board indicates a swing back towards the failed punishment-first approach. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Weekly What’s That

Food Insecurity

Food security is defined as “access by all members of a household at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life” and includes, at a minimum “ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.” The measure was introduced by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1996 to assess households’ ability to consistently obtain three nutritionally adequate meals a day.

Households can be rated as being food securelow food secure, or very low food secure. A food insecure household (low food secure or very low food secure) is one that at times during the year was uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food. In very low food security households, normal eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced at times during the year because they had insufficient money or other resources for food. Very low food security corresponds to the common understanding of hunger.

Nationally, 10.2 percent of households were food insecure in 2021, including 3.8 percent that had very low food security, or hunger. Despite the pandemic, the national food insecurity rate was essentially unchanged in 2020 and 2021 compared to 2019, which reflects the effective action taken by Congress to strengthen food support programs. In Oklahoma, 13.8 percent of households experienced food insecurity on average from 2019-2021, which was the 5th highest rate in the nation. This included 4.4 percent of Oklahoma households that experienced very low food security, or hunger, which was the 18th highest rate in the nation.

Food insecurity and very low food security are more prevalent in households with children, especially young children, single-parent households, Black and Hispanic households, and low-income households.

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

Quote of the Week

“It’s regrettable and bewildering that the state of Oklahoma is abandoning federal funding and losing an opportunity to address child food insecurity.”

-Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement about the Cherokee Nation stepping up to provide summer food programs for all children — Native and non-Native alike — within their reservation. [Oklahoma Voice]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial, Tahlequah Daily Press: Ten Commandments rule won’t improve education

Got news for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters and Rep. Jim Olsen: Their scheme to force schools to display the Ten Commandments isn’t going to achieve the results they promise.

Even the few evangelical Christians who want their children taught religion must admit this attempt to ram it down the public throat isn’t going to work. Most journalists and pollsters have interviewed young people, and they’re ambivalent. At best, they’ll ignore the monuments or posters or whatever schools are required to mount. At worst, they’ll be turned off to the concept of religion – especially the Judeo-Christian faith. That’s happening already; numbers in the pews don’t lie.

Do Olson and Walters and others with this mindset really believe a copy of the Ten Commandments will make kids become more devout? Will it help them improve test scores? Will it prevent them from smoking pot, drinking booze, engaging in premarital sex, tagging school buildings, or bullying weaker kids for lunch money? No, it won’t. And for anyone who believes otherwise, there’s a parcel of swampland in Arizona we’d like to sell you. For those who don’t like Arizona’s purple politics, we can find similar property in redder states to foist upon them.

Walters stubbornly continues his mission to spread propaganda, with the ultimate goal of destroying public education, rather than providing improvements the resource-starved system desperately needs. Committed conservatives know he’s full of rubbish; they value the separation of church and state, just like Thomas Jefferson and other founders did. They understand the version of faith teachers might pass isn’t necessarily their own.

Walters made this comment in one of the disinformation-filled press releases he dispatches daily: “Rep. Olsen and I share the same belief that the Ten Commandments must and should be on display as a founding document of our country.” To add insult to injury, he utters this fallacy: “The breakdown in classroom discipline over the past 40 years is in no small measure due to the eliminate of the Ten Commandments as guideposts for student behavior. I will continue to fight against state-sponsored atheism that has caused society to go downhill.”

Oklahomans should be upset by Walters’ attempt to use public schools as his personal soapbox of prevarication, but they should be outraged by his implication that educators are pushing atheism. The vast majority of Oklahoma teachers are people of faith, but they are rational enough to understand those teachings belong in places of worship, not in the school classroom. How dare Walters presume to force children to accept his own personal brand of Judeo-Christian dogma, which is a far cry from reality.

No, Mr. Walters – the breakdown in discipline has nothing to do with the “removal” of the Ten Commandments. Rational Oklahomans – both Democrat and Republican – can see through his tripe, and they’re appalled. Ironically, he makes no mention of the Constitution – the real “founding document” of this country – nor does he know or care about the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” No citation is necessary; everyone, regardless of faith or lack thereof, knows who made that statement.

It’s a shame Oklahomans have to put up with the assault on our teachers and our children for a couple more years, and it’s too much to hope for that voters in Roland’s district will show him the door. We must hope, however, that there will be something left of our public schools by the time we get a chance to kick Walters to the curb.

He’ll want voters to forget what he’s done, when he seeks reelection to this office, or perhaps ascension to the Governor’s Mansion. Regardless of party, we must all remember – if we care about our kids.

[Editorial / Tahlequah Daily Press]

Numbers of the Day

  • 19.1% – Rate of Oklahoma children who were experiencing food insecurity. [KIDS COUNT]
  • 44% – Oklahoma City lacks adequate housing for the 44 percent of residents earning below the area median income of $74,400 for an average household, according to a 2021 report. [City of Oklahoma City]
  • 98% – Percentage of residential land in Norman, the state’s third largest city, that is zoned only for detached single-family homes by right. [OK Policy analysis]

What We’re Reading

  • Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: While summer meals and summer learning have always gone hand in hand, this combination is especially important looking ahead. Summer programs will be necessary to counter the educational inequities that the pandemic has exacerbated. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 included $30 billion in funding to support summer and afterschool programs. By making this historic increased investment in federal afterschool and summer program funding, more families with low incomes will have access to the enrichment and educational programs that provide an important foundation for summer meals. States have until 2024 to distribute this funding, and many still have dollars on the table. Moving forward, Congress should permanently increase federal funding for summer (and afterschool) programs to help ensure that all children have access to the nutritious meals and high quality programming they need during the summer. [Food Research and Action Center]
  • 8 Things Your Town Can Do to Add More Housing — Without Spending a Dime (2019): Housing affordability is often treated as a “big city” problem. The reality is that housing affordability is a nationwide issue, affecting big cities, suburbs, and small towns alike. As with transportation, some like to write off housing affordability as a problem of insufficient funding. “If only we spent more money,” the thinking goes, “we could tackle housing affordability.” Indeed, more funding is needed for homeless shelters and housing vouchers for low-income families. But this argument belies two key points: First, we realistically need far more new housing than subsidies could ever possibly provide. Second, policymakers already have a buffet of policies they could adopt that would increase housing affordability and accessibility without spending a dime of taxpayer dollars. If your town is serious about tackling the housing affordability crisis, consider adopting one or more policies. [Strong Towns]
  • Small Multifamily Homes Were Disappearing. Now States Are Scrambling to Revive Them: More small multifamily homes are needed to help solve America’s housing crisis, but they make up an ever-shrinking share of new housing construction. Housing construction in the US has long focused on single-family homes and large apartment buildings, leaving a deficit of everything in between—sometimes referred to as “middle housing” by housing experts and advocates. While the number of new apartment building units recently reached the highest point in nearly half a century, the construction of denser alternatives to single-family homes made up just 1% of new housing units built in 2022. Legislators and advocates are pushing for that to change, arguing that middle housing could lower costs and alleviate a national housing shortage. [Bloomberg]


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.