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 another cut to Oklahoma’s top income tax rate (SB 1246) has narrowly passed the House and is heading to Governor Fallin. The bill would trigger automatic cuts to Oklahoma’s top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.85 percent over several years, reducing funding for services by more than $250 million when fully implemented. OK Policy released a statement that the tax cut vote ignores the wishes of Oklahomans and what’s best for the economy.
News9 reported on how growing corporate tax credits are contributing to Oklahoma’s budget shortfall this year. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how education advocated need to keep up the pressure on lawmakers who are not pursuing real options to fund education. Oklahoma Watch evaluated competing claims from Governor Fallin and Rep. Joe Dorman about who works for minimum wage in Oklahoma. Medicaid enrollment in Oklahoma has reached a new record. Many people who already qualified for the program but had not signed up have likely enrolled due to the Affordable Care Act’s increased outreach and coverage mandate.
The Senate voted down a bill that would have allowed early paroles of some prisoners who are 65 or older and pose minimal public safety risks. Averting a constitutional standoff, the state Supreme Court dissolved its own stay of execution for two inmates and reversed a lower court’s ruling that had found the state’s execution secrecy law unconstitutional. The Senate approved a measure that creates a statewide vote on allowing school districts a one-time increase on bonding capacity to pay for storm shelters and safe rooms. Two Moore schools received a $500,000 donation from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma for building storm shelters.
The OK Policy Blog discussed how lawmakers have waited until the 11th hour to reform a testing mandate for third graders and what the reforms could mean for students and parents. State Superintendent Janet Barresi granted an exemption to state testing for two students whose parents were killed in a recent car crash. The state Department had initially denied an exemption, but they reversed course after a Facebook post about it began to go viral. A Head Start early childhood education program in Tulsa is developing an innovative approach to help low-income parents build careers. NPR reported on how Tulsa has become a national leader in high-quality early childhood education.
Tulsa-area schools are developing new strategies for teaching English Language Learners (ELL) after significant growth in the percentage of Hispanic students. OK Policy previously wrote about what Oklahoma can do to improve educational outcomes for ELL students. Gov. Fallin signed a measure that restricts how physicians can prescribe abortion-inducing drugs, similar to a law that had already been thrown out by Oklahoma courts. The U.S. Geological Survey has recorded 10 earthquakes in Oklahoma since Sunday. During the past 30 days, Oklahoma experienced 135 earthquakes of at least 2.5 magnitude.
The Number of the Day is how many Oklahomans were enrolled in the state Medicaid program as of late March, the largest single-month total in the history of the program. In today’s Policy Note, the Washington Post shares information on where are the 1.6 million Americans who don’t have indoor plumbing.
In The News
Oklahoma House delivers Gov. Fallin’s much sought tax cut
Gov. Mary Fallin finally got the state personal income tax cut she’s long wanted on Wednesday, courtesy of a narrow victory in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. By a count of 54-40, with 51 votes needed for passage, the Republican-controlled House passed and sent to Fallin’s desk Senate Bill 1246, which will lower the top state income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 4.85 percent in two stages over several years, provided the state’s general revenue fund grows. When fully implemented, the cut is expected to amount to more than $200 million a year. SB 1246 was no easy sell, either. Twelve Republicans joined all 28 voting Democrats in opposition to the bill. One of six Republicans to miss the roll call, Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw, later asked that the House Journal reflect that he would have also voted no had he been present.
Corporate tax credits impacting Oklahoma’s bottom line
We’ve always heard Oklahoma’s economy is thriving and the unemployment rate is low. But lawmakers are still facing a major budget shortfall and that could mean cuts to education, public safety and health care. The promise of tax cuts to corporations is a major reason why. Jones’ office issued a report showing the impact of the tax credits on the state’s bottom line. In June of 2013, the estimated corporate tax revenue for the state was $481 million. In December of 2013, the number was $375 million. In February, the estimated corporate revenue fell to $307 million.
Last month, 25,000 teachers, parents and other advocates for public education gathered on the steps of the state Capitol to express their frustration with Oklahoma’s repeated failure to provide enough funding for schools. Over the past six years, state support for common education has fallen by more than $200 million, while enrollment has continued to rise and schools face increasing pressure to meet higher standards. The day of the rally, legislators offered fine statements of support for protestors’ concerns and promised to make increased education funding their very highest priority. The next day, legislators returned to business as usual, with a Senate committee passing the latest version of a plan to further cut Oklahoma’s income tax.
Fallin, Dorman Claims on Minimum Wage Workers: Who Is Right?
The minimum wage has become a campaign issue in Oklahoma and nationally as Republicans and Democrats debate whether the wage should be raised and what effects that would have. In Oklahoma City, a labor union and a lawyer launched a petition effort in February to increase the city’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, which is the state and federal minimum, to $10.10 an hour. That prompted a GOP-supported bill in the Legislature to ban municipalities from setting their own minimum wage and vacation and sick days for private businesses. Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed the bill on April 14.
The number of Oklahomans enrolled at one time in the state’s Medicaid program reached an all-time high in March, and officials are examining whether many people who signed up were spurred to do so by the Affordable Care Act. By the end of March, there were 830,850 Oklahomans enrolled in SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program; that was the highest single-month total of enrollees since the program began, according to data from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. The number increased by 3.8 percent, or 30,320, during the six months from Oct. 1 to March 31, the same period as the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment. During the six months from April 1 to Sept. 30, 2013, the number of enrollees increased by 2 percent, or 18,321. Nearly two-thirds of SoonerCare enrollees are children.
Oklahoma Senate Kills Bill For Aging Prisoner Release
A bill to allow some aging prisoners to be released from prison early has been shot down in the Oklahoma Senate. The Senate voted 29-14 on Wednesday against the Parole of Aging Prisoners Act. The bill would have allowed the state Pardon and Parole Board to parole prisoners who are 65-years-old or older if they have served 10 years in prison or at least one-third of their sentence. Sex offenders or those convicted of one of about two dozen crimes that require inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentences would not have been eligible for the program. The bill specifically targeted inmates who pose what was called “minimal public safety risks.”
Averting a constitutional standoff, the state Supreme Court on Wednesday dissolved its own stay of execution for two inmates and reversed a lower court’s ruling that had found the state’s execution secrecy law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s action apparently clears the way for the state to execute both Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner on Tuesday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. The court had differed with the state Court of Criminal Appeals over whether it had jurisdiction to stay the executions. Both executions were ordered stayed indefinitely by a divided state Supreme Court on Monday. The court argued that it needed time to consider appeals of a lower court’s ruling that the state’s execution-secrecy law is unconstitutional.
A proposal supported by Gov. Mary Fallin to help more school districts pay for safety upgrades like storm shelters and safe rooms has cleared the Oklahoma Senate. The Senate voted 33-12 Wednesday for the measure that calls for a statewide vote that would allow school districts a one-time increase on bonding capacity to pay for the upgrades. The bill is expected to undergo changes in a conference committee before it returns to the House and Senate for final passage.
Moore Public Schools receives $500,000 donation for storm shelter
Principals Tammy Baker and Becky Jackson breathed a collective sigh of relief Wednesday after learning their schools will get a new storm shelter, thanks to a $500,000 donation from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “It’s a blessing for us because the May 20 tornado came too close and then the May 31 tornado clipped our gym,” said Jackson, head of Central Elementary School, 123 NW 2. “This new addition’s going to be fabulous.” Baker oversees about 600 students at Central Junior High School, 400 N Broadway. She said the shelter will bring a peace of mind to the school and a community affected by the deadly May 20 tornado. “It was definitely a situation that we were unsure of what was going on,” Baker said. “Now we’ll know exactly where to go and the safest place for us, and we’re thankful for what they have done.”
Earlier this month, some 50,000 Oklahoma third-graders came head-to-head with high-stakes testing. These 8- and 9-year old children took the state standardized reading test known as the OCCT. Under revisions to the Reading Sufficiency Act passed in 2011, beginning this year, children who score ‘unsatisfactory’ on the OCCT and do not qualify for one of the law’s ‘good cause exemptions’ must be retained in third grade next fall. The high-stakes test has been causing high levels of stress for third-graders and their families all year.
Testing exemption granted for two Moyers students after superintendent’s Facebook post
After an initial request was denied, State Superintendent Janet Barresi granted an exemption Wednesday to state testing for two Moyers students whose parents were killed in a recent car crash. Moyers Public Schools Superintendent Donna Dudley posted a message on the school’s Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, saying that a request from the district’s test administrator to have the students exempted from the testing was denied by the state Department of Education.
In Tulsa, Combining Preschool With Help For Parents
President Obama has called repeatedly on Congress to help states pay for “high-quality preschool” for all. In fact, those two words — “high quality” — appear time and again in the president’s prepared remarks. They are also a refrain among early childhood education advocates and researchers. But what do they mean? And what separates the best of the nation’s preschool programs from the rest? NPR found one answer to those questions in Tulsa, Okla.
Who’s Getting Preschool Right? Researchers Point To Tulsa
Many educators say quality early childhood education programs give young children a strong foundation for kindergarten and beyond. But what does a high-quality preschool program look like? Early childhood education researchers point to Tulsa, Okla., as a school system that gets it right. NPR’s education team went to Tulsa to find out what help sets the city’s preschool program apart.
Tulsa Area Schools See Increase in Student Diversity
Union Public Schools has seen dramatic growth in the percentage of Hispanic student enrollment since 2002, outpacing the percentage growth at Tulsa Public Schools during that period, according to state data compiled by the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa. The rising number of Hispanic students at Union is likely due to the district’s location in east Tulsa, an area of the city with a burgeoning Hispanic population.
Gov. Fallin signs bill restricting use of abortion drugs
Gov. Mary Fallin on Tuesday signed a measure that puts restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs. House Bill 2684 by Rep. Randy Grau, R-Edmond, and Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, prohibits the off-label use of the drug RU486. A similar measure was recently tossed out by the courts. “I am excited the governor signed it,” Treat said. “She signed it in 2011. I think we listened to the concerns of the courts and have addressed those concerns. I am glad the governor agrees.” The measure is needed to protect the health of women, he said, adding that off-label use has resulted in some deaths. The measure is set to take effect Nov. 1.
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded 10 earthquakes in Oklahoma since Sunday, including a 4.0 magnitude quake. At 10:35 a.m. today, a 3.1 magnitude quake recorded about 7 miles southeast of Alva in Woods County. On Tuesday, Oklahoma had four earthquakes ranging from 2.5 for 3.3 in magnitude. On Monday, Oklahoma had three earthquakes, ranging from 2.4 to 3.2 in magnitude. On Sunday, Oklahoma had two earthquakes, of 3.7 and 4.0 magnitudes. During the past 30 days, Oklahoma recorded 135 earthquakes of at least 2.5 magnitude, according to USGS.
“We don’t know how much they are, who has them, or when they are going to cash them in.”
Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, speaking about Oklahoma’s lack of oversight over corporate tax credits. Increases in credits claimed by corporations have contributed to Oklahoma’s budget shortfall this year (Source: http://bit.ly/1ropyUn)
Number of the Day
The number of Oklahomans enrolled in the state Medicaid program as of late March, the largest single-month total in the history of the program.
1.6 million Americans don’t have indoor plumbing. Here’s where they live
The Pew Research Center’s excellent FactTank blog reported Tuesday that the Census Bureau is considering dropping a number of questions from its American Community Survey. The ACS has been a perennial target of Republican lawmakers, who say that its questions on everything from household income to commute times constitute an invasion of privacy. Perhaps hoping to stave off some of these concerns, the bureau is reviewing a number of questions, including the one that has been subject to the most ridicule from the right: Housing questions 8a-8c, which cover the plumbing facilities in a household, including the presence (or lack thereof) of a “flush toilet.” Setting aside privacy issues for the moment, can such a question possibly have relevancy in the year 2014? Or to put it more bluntly: Who doesn’t have a flushing toilet? As it turns out, a lot of people.