Weekly Wonk: State budget is a moral document | A look at private school tax credit proposals | Summer Policy Institute

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

A closer look at House, Senate proposals to spend public dollars for private schools (Capitol Update): With just under $1 billion in new recurring revenue potentially on the table for appropriation this session, the leaders of the House and Senate have directed their attention to increased education funding. But the conversation has taken unexpected twists and turns with both leaders having dueling proposals. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: The state budget is a moral document: Far more than just a collection of agency appropriations, Oklahoma’s state budget represents a moral document that should reflect who we are and what we value. Too often, however, state budget choices are misaligned with Oklahoma values. We want all children to receive a high-quality education, but Oklahoma has the region’s lowest per pupil spending and is among the lowest nationwide. (Now lawmakers are seeking to siphon tax dollars from public schools to provide tax cuts that essentially underwrite private school tuition for the wealthy.) [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Upcoming Opportunities

2023 Oklahoma Summer Policy Institute Applications are Now Open: OK Policy’s Oklahoma Summer Policy Institute (SPI) brings together highly-qualified college students for an exciting and stimulating four-day learning experience that will help inform about Oklahoma’s policy landscape and provide tools and resources to create change in our state. [Learn More & Apply]

Together Oklahoma Events This Week

  • Wednesday, April 12, 6:00 p.m.: Oklahoma County Community Meeting, Belle Isle Public Library, 5501 N Villa Ave, Oklahoma City. Join us for a community discussion about the issues you see in your region and throughout the state. [IN PERSON & ONLINE] Join the Meeting Online
  • Thursday, April 13, 6:30 p.m., Safe Communities/Justice Reform Affinity Group Meeting. Focusing on issues that can help make our communities safer, including criminal justice reforms. [ONLINE ONLY]  Join the Meeting Online

Weekly What’s That

Balanced Budget

Oklahoma’s Constitution requires that the state’s annual budget be balanced.

The balanced budget requirement is accomplished by limiting appropriations for seven funds, of which the General Revenue Fund is by far the largest, to no more than 95 percent of certified revenue estimates for the upcoming year. This allows for a 5 percent cushion in case of a revenue shortfall. If General Revenue collections fall below 95 percent of the certified estimate, the Director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services declares a revenue failure and reduces funds going to agencies by however much is necessary to bring spending into balance with revenue collections. If General Revenue Fund revenue exceeds the 95 percent level, the 5 percent cushion flows into the Cash Flow Reserve Fund and can be appropriated in the future.  If General Revenue collections exceed 100 percent of the certified amount, the surplus flows into the Constitutional Reserve Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund.

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

Quote of the Week

“It’s sort of insult to injury for the many victims and survivors’ families that the multi-county grand jury didn’t go as far as making any indictments. They instead identified and deferred to agencies that should pursue possible charges. I can’t think of another case of corruption that has been as deadly in Oklahoma as this one.”

–  Sara Bana, a member of The People’s Council for Justice Reform, speaking on the fact that no one was indicted in connection with the 37 deaths at the Oklahoma County jail. [NonDoc]

Editorial of the Week

Stillwater News Press Editorial: Don’t get distracted

The best illusionists and con artists are successful by keeping you focused on the wrong thing.

The pickpocket works by distraction.

While some might have you looking for make-believe library “porn”, you really need to be paying attention to where taxpayer money is heading.

Earlier in the session, the state House of Representatives pre-empted an attempt at school choice vouchers by creating a tax credit plan – $5,000 for private school parents and $2,500 for home school parents. McCall called it a “compromise” but we wondered why they were even negotiating with taxpayer money. Last year McCall just said they wouldn’t entertain a voucher bill and that seemed to work great. Public schools kept public money. This year, they came up with their own bills and told the Senate not to mess with them.

The Senate messed with them.

They changed the credits to $7,500 for private schoolers and $1,000 for homeschoolers. They also tweaked the teacher pay packages. That plan goes back to the House. This might be a kind of haggling tactic, make a really high offer so the counteroffer comes somewhere close to what you’re actually willing to accept.

Smoke and mirrors.

If lawmakers would put the focus back on teacher recruitment and retention, a lot of the other things might fall in line.

And, none of these bills calls for the same accountability for private schools that exist with public schools. Private schools could still choose to accept or reject whomever they wish, control enrollment, deny disabled kids, etc.

Think about it for a few seconds. What would a low or average income household in rural Oklahoma be able to do with even $7,500 in tax credits if tuition is over $10,000? Unless your kid is really good at basketball or some kind of prodigy, you’re probably staying at your public school.

And if this kind of stuff keeps becoming the norm, the public school that’s really your child’s only option just lost funding.

It turns out “school choice,” for most, especially in rural Oklahoma, is not tangible and barely an illusion of choice.

Keep an eye on the money and a hand on your billfolds.

[Editorial / Stillwater News Press]

Numbers of the Day

  • 16.9 – Percentage of Oklahoma women who live in poverty, compared to 14.3 percent for Oklahoma men. [U.S. Census via OK Policy]
  • 21,718 – Number of people who are incarcerated by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, as of April 3, 2023 [ODOC]
  • 2% – An estimated 4.6 million Americans — or about 2 % of the voting-age population — are excluded from voting due to laws that ban people with felony convictions from voting. [The Sentencing Project
  • 39% – Racial data captured in the 2020 census show 39% of American Indians and Alaska Natives are classified as one race alone, compared with more than 80% of Black, white and Asian Americans who are classified as one race alone. This disparity is a legacy of the complex effects that hundreds of years of colonization have had on the identities of Native Americans, as well as the modern-day technical processes that the Census Bureau uses to code individual survey responses. [Brookings]
  • 9,635 – Number of people released from Oklahoma prisons annually. [Prison Policy Initiative, 2019]

What We’re Reading

  • Expanding Work Requirements Would Make It Harder for People to Meet Basic Needs: Taking benefits away from people who don’t meet a work requirement does little to improve long-term employment outcomes. Instead, it substantially increases hardship. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2023: The U.S. doesn’t have one “criminal justice system;” instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems. Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 98 federal prisons, 3,116 local jails, 1,323 juvenile correctional facilities, 181 immigration detention facilities, and 80 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. This report offers some much-needed clarity by piecing together the data about this country’s disparate systems of confinement. It provides a detailed look at where and why people are locked up in the U.S., and dispels some modern myths to focus attention on the real drivers of mass incarceration and overlooked issues that call for reform. [Prison Policy Initiative]
  • More States Allow Residents With Felony Convictions to Vote: New Mexico, along with Minnesota, are the most recent states to follow 21 others in allowing people previously convicted of felonies to vote upon leaving prison. Most of those states have done so in the past two decades. By denying the vote to people with felony convictions and adding waiting periods or requiring that all fines be paid, states are denying people their rights as citizens, advocates say. [Stateline]
  • Why the federal government needs to change how it collects data on Native Americans: This January, the White House released proposals for reclassifying racial data collection in the 2030 census. Most notably, the proposals include combining race and ethnicity into a single question, as well as creating a new racial category for Middle Eastern and North African people. [Brookings]
  • Building Connections to Housing During ReentrySecuring stable, affordable housing is fundamental to successful reentry. To help policymakers build sustainable pathways to housing, The Council of State Governments Justice Center, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance, conducted the first national survey of state Departments of Corrections reentry coordinators, receiving responses from 37 out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia. This national report outlines current practices, highlighting areas where policymakers can direct efforts to increase connections to housing. [CSG Justice Center]


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.