In The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.
Today you should know that hearings for thousands of injured workers will be delayed this month while the state’s workers compensation system is split into two agencies— each with its own staff, offices and equipment. Due to a difficult job market, enrollment in CareerTech programs is increasing among workers who already have college degrees. The number of out-of-state students attending Oklahoma’s public universities and colleges has more than doubled since 2000 as schools increasingly rely on nonresident tuition to supplement their budgets. The University of Oklahoma is introducing new residential colleges to its campus holding student living facilities, internal dining facilities, study halls, seminar rooms, and professor’s offices all in one building.
The Number of the Day is the average number of minutes patients spend in the emergency room in Oklahoma before being seen by a doctor. In today’s Policy Note, Vox explains why the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision does not erase most of the reproductive health gains achieved by the Affordable Care Act.
In The News
Court changes cause delays in Worker Comp cases
Hearings for thousands of injured workers will be delayed this month while the state’s workers compensation system is split into two agencies— each with its own staff, offices and equipment. Hearings scheduled in the state’s workers compensation courts in Tulsa and Oklahoma City between July 21 and Aug. 1 have been postponed and will be rescheduled, according to letters from the court to attorneys. Court Administrator Michael Harkey told the Tulsa World that he did not know how many cases were affected. The move marks the changing of the state’s Workers’ Compensation Court system to an administrative system. The change is part of Governor Mary Fallin’s initiative to revamp the workers compensation program that was approved by the Legislature last year.
Career Tech enrollment increasing among workers with college educations
Six years after graduating from college, Emanuel Perry hasn’t finished paying for his bachelor’s degree. But he is finished using it. After going to Booker T. Washington High School, he went to Northeastern State University to study accounting. But while he was there, Perry discovered a talent for doing hair. “It was just a hobby,” Perry said. “I never thought about it as anything else.” Accounting seemed to be a more promising career, offering regular hours, vacation pay and a 401(k) for retirement. But his company downsized in November 2012, leaving Perry without a job. Now 28 years old, Perry is enrolled in a cosmetology program at Tulsa Tech, where he expects to graduate this fall without adding a dime to his student loans.
Out-of-State Students More Than Double at Oklahoma Colleges
In a little more than a decade, the number of out-of-state students attending Oklahoma’s public universities and colleges has more than doubled as schools increasingly rely on nonresident tuition to supplement their budgets. From 2000 to 2013, the number of nonresident undergraduate students enrolled in public colleges and universities jumped to 22,169 from 10,129, an increase of 119 percent. The nonresidents hail from all 50 states. Nearly half of them are Texans. In-state enrollment rose by 12 percent, to 135,842, according to data obtained from the State Regents for Higher Education and analyzed by Oklahoma Watch. That rate matched state population growth. The portion of what colleges call their “educational and general primary budgets” provided by out-of-state tuition also jumped significantly over the 13-year period.
University of Oklahoma to build residential colleges
The University of Oklahoma is introducing something completely new to campus: residential colleges. The residential college model has its roots at Oxford and Cambridge universities in England. Some might liken it to Hogwarts, the wizard academy of J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter series. Like Hogwarts, the colleges will hold student living facilities, as well as their own internal dining facility, study halls, and seminar rooms where residents will attend class. Ten OU faculty members, yet to be determined, will have their offices located in the colleges. A student will be able to go to class, go to a professor’s office for extra help, grab a snack, go to study hall, then turn in for the night — all without leaving the building.
Rep. Ann Coody: After Common Core repeal, state must choose a course and stick with it
While I disagree with the repeal of Common Core, I know that Gov. Mary Fallin and my colleagues in the Legislature remain committed to providing the best possible education for our children — and will work hard to ensure Oklahoma’s future standards will equip students with the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century. Now that the repeal bill has been signed into law, where do we go from here? How do we ensure that our students get the high-quality, rigorous standards that we so desperately need?
Oklahoma City’s summer learning program a hit with city, school district officials, who hope to expand offerings
A group of city and school district officials are backing a successful-but-expensive summer learning program in northeast Oklahoma City, hoping to expand the concept to other inner city schools. Mayor Mick Cornett and new Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Rob Neu were among those at Douglass Mid-High School on Thursday, the final day of a Summer STEAM Academy for about 70 students from F.D. Moon Elementary School, 1901 NE 13. Students displayed artwork and sang songs to celebrate the end of the monthlong program, which uses fun, hands-on experiences to teach science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). The program also focuses on reading.
Fundraising falls short in Panola, but fight remains to keep school district
Though its upcoming school year remains uncertain, Panola Public Schools hasn’t given up. A deadline given by the state Education Department to raise $256,000 has passed, and the small rural school district in southeastern Oklahoma had fallen $150,000 short as of Tuesday, the school’s superintendent said. But the community keeps raising money, and the department said it will work with the school district to get its finances on track. “We are continuing to fight the fight to make Panola School viable while maintaining our commitment to excellence in education,” said Superintendent Brad Corcoran. “Panola School is not shutting down its efforts because June 30 has come and gone.”
Number living in poor areas increased since 2000, Census says
Poverty has become more concentrated in Oklahoma and across the U.S., with nearly one-third of the state’s population living in communities with concentrated poverty, according to a recent census report. The report found that the percentage of the state population that lives in poverty areas grew from 24.2 percent to 31.4 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau describes any census tract with a poverty rate of 20 percent or more as a “poverty area.” The percentage of Oklahomans in poverty who lived in poverty areas also increased — from 44 percent to 55 percent — during the same time period, according to the Census Bureau report.
Programs Target Poverty In Obama’s Five ‘Promise Zones’
Five areas across the country have been designated as “Promise Zones” by the federal government. These zones, announced by President Obama in January, are intended to tackle poverty by focusing on individual urban neighborhoods and rural areas. In the five Promise Zones — located in Philadelphia, San Antonio, southeastern Kentucky, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and Los Angeles — the idea is to basically carpet-bomb the neighborhoods with programs like after-school classes, GED courses and job training to turn those areas around.
Tulsa police address public concerns regarding beggars, mentally ill downtown
During a downtown public-safety seminar Wednesday, Tulsa police tackled concerns often expressed to officers — from what can be done about beggars on sidewalks to how scary it may be to come across a mentally ill person hallucinating or muttering odd things. Demita Kinard, community education officer, cast aside the notion that beggars in downtown often are aggressive toward people. Most beggars aren’t aggressive, she said, but for those who are, the police can help take care of that. Asking for money isn’t a crime, Kinard said. For example, Girl Scouts nationwide ask for money by selling cookies. Any person can be in a public place or stand in front of a building, Kinard said.
Volunteers sought to help advise undocumented Fort Sill youth on immigration system
Volunteers, preferably with Spanish-speaking skills, are needed to help with the intake and explanation of rights to the children and teens being housed at an Oklahoma military base while they wait for deportation hearings. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City has been approved by the federal government to start conducting Know Your Rights legal presentations and holding individual consultations with the nearly 1,200 undocumented children and teens. Interviews and presentations will begin Monday morning.
Oklahoma treasurer: More common sense needed in fiscal policymaking
Two years ago I penned a column titled “Stop the Madness.” I called on the Legislature to inject common sense into the budget process by replacing short-term tactics with long-term strategies. By that measure, this year’s budget is still a bit mad. Sure, there were sound financial accomplishments, such as creating a defined contribution plan for new state employees, funding needed repairs to the state Capitol and better prioritization. But it’s not sound to revert to an overdependence on one-time funds, adopt a budget larger than last year’s with $188 million less in certified revenues, pass a tax cut without corresponding spending cuts and not address the teachers retirement system, whose $8 billion unfunded liability is the largest debt on the state’s balance sheet.
Oklahoma budget writers say an initiative petition to install storm shelters and safe rooms in every public school in Oklahoma could overstress the state’s biggest and most critical revenue fund and slow the flow of state tax dollars for vital public services. A group known as Take Shelter Oklahoma is collecting the signatures of voters to put the issue on a statewide ballot. Supporters say State Question 774 is a moral obligation to protect students following a massive, deadly tornado that struck Moore on May 20, 2013, and killed seven elementary school students. But concerns have been raised about the plan’s $500 million bond issue to pay for the shelters, which would be repaid over 25 years from the state’s General Revenue Fund.
Oklahoma County jail inmates went almost two weeks without a hot meal, officials say
Inmates at the Oklahoma County jail went without a hot meal for nearly two weeks in June, violating state jail standards. The facility’s kitchen has been inoperable since June 19 because of a collapsed sewer line under the jail, and inmates received three cold meals a day for 13 consecutive days, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said. Oklahoma administrative code requires inmates in state custody receive at least two hot meals per day. Instead, inmates received turkey, bologna, ham and salami sandwiches, a jail spokesman said. “When they built this facility, they built it on a river bed,” Whetsel said. “And they buried the sewer pipe in moist dirt, and over the years, this cast-iron sewer pipe has begun to disintegrate.”
High-Rate Disposal Wells Could Have Triggered Oklahoma Earthquakes, New Study Suggests
This year, Oklahoma has had more earthquakes than California. There is a growing body of scientific research that suggests oil and gas production is fueling this increase in seismic activity. A new paper published today in the journal Science, suggests a small number of wastewater wells used in drilling operations could be responsible for many of the quakes. When the energy industry drills for oil and natural gas it often strikes water — a lot of water. It’s usually briny and oily, and laced with metals and other chemicals. Oil companies inject that toxic wastewater back underground.
Energy companies say disposal wells are central to Oklahoma’s oil, gas operations
Oklahoma has shook, rattled and rolled through nearly 800 earthquakes in the past year, according to U.S. Geological Society data. That is more than enough for Cynde Collin-Clark, who is poised to leave her Edmond home for someplace without as much seismic activity. “That’s all I can think to do anymore,” she said. Questions remain about the source of Oklahoma’s earthquake swarm, but some studies have linked the temblors to wastewater disposal wells used by the oil and natural gas industry. A number of area residents at a recent town hall meeting in Edmond called for a moratorium on disposal wells, although regulators said they do not have the authority to halt such activity.
Opportunity Missed: the Prescription Monitoring Program in Oklahoma
Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in Oklahoma. In 2012, Oklahoma ranked first nationwide for painkiller addiction, fifth for deaths due to drug overdoses, and fifth for number of painkiller prescriptions written. Preliminary data from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs indicates that 2013 saw 788 overdose deaths, 593 of which were from prescription drugs. These numbers are expected to rise as medical examiners review more data. This session, lawmakers had the opportunity to enact effective legislation to combat prescription drug addiction in the state – and they fumbled it. Here’s the background.
Prescription drug abuse a major problem among Oklahoma nurses
Nurses stealing prescription drugs is among the most serious issues facing today’s Oklahoma Nursing Board, which disciplines hundreds of licensees each year for violating the nursing code. According to the most recent annual report released by the board, 13 percent of all cases opened by its investigators in 2013 were drug-related. Only cases involving “nursing practice,” a far broader category, were more numerous. Last year, a record 1,552 cases were reported to the board. Lauri Jones, a registered nurse and president of the Oklahoma Nursing Board, said diversion of addictive drugs among nurses is one of the most common issues the board deals with. Jones, of Chickasha, said drugs, practice-related issues and the neglect and abuse of patients are the “top three” problems facing Oklahoma nurses. But it’s drugs — the abuse and theft of them — that looms the largest.
The number of licensed nurses in Oklahoma is at an all-time high. The Oklahoman reports that its recent open records request to the Oklahoma Board of Nursing found there are 74,656 licensed nurses in the state. That number is an increase of more than 22,000 during the past decade. Nursing board executive director Kim Glazier says the increase can be traced to 2004 or 2005 when reports began that there was a looming nursing shortage and efforts were made to attract more people to nursing. Glazer says the economic recession that began in 2008 also led to nurses who had left the profession to return to the work.
“The sad truth is that the state budget has become dependent on using one-time funds in good times and bad. Oklahoma’s economy has been expanding for more than three years, yet legislators tapped nearly $1 billion in nonrecurring revenues over that period — some appropriately so, but most not — to spend more than the amount certified.”
- Oklahoma state treasurer Ken Miller, speaking out against the overuse of one-time funds and cuts to recurring revenues in the state budget (Source: http://bit.ly/1jXUlT1)
Number of the Day
Average wait for emergency room patients in Oklahoma before they are seen by a doctor.
Hobby Lobby doesn’t destroy Obamacare’s reproductive health gains
Monday’s Hobby Lobby decision was a blow to Obamacare’s effort to expand women’s access to reproductive care — but, in truth, a minor one. Relatively few employers are likely to stop covering birth control, and even for those that do, the Obama administration might develop a workaround. More importantly, the Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t touch most of Obamacare’s reproductive health gains. “Obamacare is the biggest increase in access to reproductive care in decades,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told me the day after the Supreme Court ruling. Here’s why that’s true, even after the Hobby Lobby decision.