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.
On the OK Policy Blog, researchers from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services discussed how data can help Oklahoma reduce the number of young children left behind before they even reach kindergarten. Oklahoma City Public Schools will promote 514 third-graders who failed a state reading test but qualified for several good-cause exemptions, including 139 students recommended for promotion by a team of parents and educators. The district will retain 636 third-graders who failed the test and have not received an exemption. Citing billion-dollar losses in agriculture labor shortages, a group of current and past Oklahoma Republican leaders has asked the state’s congressional delegation to support approval of immigration reform.
The State Chamber of Oklahoma is creating a new foundation to bolster workforce education programs. A Norman city council member has received death threats and hate messages after he appeared in a PBS documentary speaking against a proposal for Gay and Lesbian History Month. The documentary examines the fallout after a gay teen committed suicide after attending the meeting and witnessing many anti-gay statements by members of the public. Tulsa’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development community development committee is hosting a public meeting July 8 for citizens to offer input on the city’s affordable housing and community development needs.
The Number of the Day is the number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 people in Oklahoma, the 5th highest rate in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, the New York Times discusses evidence that cash grants are a very effective way to help the poorest of the poor in the U.S. and internationally.
In The News
Medicaid providers see almost 8 percent rate cut
The motor in Aracely Baeza’s wheelchair recently went out, a repair that would have cost Baeza and her family hundreds of dollars they didn’t have. Thanks to help from the state’s Medicaid program, Baeza, who has congenital muscle dystrophy, was able to get a new motor and continue living an independent life. Baeza, 23, spoke before the Oklahoma Health Care Authority board at a special meeting Tuesday, explaining that the provider cuts the board planned to vote on would affect people like her.
Oklahoma is winning its Medicaid standoff with the feds — for now
Oklahoma is one of about two dozen states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid — and it’s tangled in a unique standoff of sorts with the Obama administration. Oklahoma and the federal agency overseeing Medicaid are still wrestling with the fate of a decade-old state program covering almost 20,000 low-income adults. For the second straight year, the feds and Oklahoma have worked out a deal to keep the program alive after it was supposed to close at the end of 2013. The program, known as Insure Oklahoma, is partially funded by federal dollars.
Oklahoma and other states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are denying health care and economic benefits to citizens because of short-term political considerations, a White House official said in a new report Wednesday. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said much of the debate over allowing more people on the Medicaid rolls “has gotten bound up in politics,” including the assertion by some governors that states would be on the hook for major spending increases in the future. The new report, by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, draws on estimates and experiences from states that have expanded their coverage for the poor.
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court ruled that a “closely held corporation” reflecting its owners “sincere religious beliefs” need not cover employees’ contraceptive health services under the Affordable Care Act. The decision matters a great deal for the 43 million women of childbearing age who want to control if and when they become pregnant. Although the giant arts-and-crafts chain has stated that it only objects to “items that risk killing an embryo,” such as the morning-after pill and IUDs (small contraceptive devices implanted in the uterus), other employers may object to covering condoms or the birth control pills used by 17.1 percent of adult women. Al Jazeera wondered how this ruling could affect retail workers seeking reproductive health care in Oklahoma City, Hobby Lobby’s headquarters.
Oklahoma ranks No. 5 in rate of painkillers prescribed
Oklahoma physicians write enough prescriptions for powerful painkillers to fill a bottle of pills for every man, woman and child in the state — and then some. A report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Oklahoma doctors wrote almost 128 opioid pain reliever prescriptions per 100 people in the state. Oklahoma ranked No. 5 in the nation for highest rates of prescribed hydrocodone, oxycodone and other powerful painkillers to residents, according to the report.
Supporters confident medical marijuana legalization will be on ballot
A push to legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma has reached the halfway mark. The deadline to collect more than 155,000 signatures in a 90-day petition drive is in mid-August in order for the issue to be included on the November ballot. Supporters are confident they will get all the necessary signatures. They told KOCO 5 that they already have half to two-thirds of the signatures need. One of the most passionate supporters of the petition drive is a mom from Choctaw. Amy Bourlon-Hilterbran is desperate to save her son and believes medical marijuana could be a miracle medicine.
Considerable research points to the dire consequences of starting school unprepared to learn. A combination of experiences and environments from the moment of birth shape a child’s likelihood of entering school developmentally ready and succeeding in the long term. Circumstances such as poverty, low maternal education, single-parent families, limited English skills, and abuse and neglect place children at extreme risk of starting kindergarten without the appropriate cognitive, social-emotional and behavioral skills necessary for learning. Too often the burden of bridging the developmental gap between where children should be and where they actually are is placed squarely on schools.
Oklahoma City school district to promote 514 third-graders who failed state reading test
Oklahoma City Public Schools will promote 514 third-graders who failed a state reading test but qualified for several good-cause exemptions, including 139 students recommended for promotion by a team of parents and educators. Conversely, the district will retain 636 third-graders who failed a state reading test and have yet to qualify for one of seven exemptions, district officials announced during Tuesday night’s school board meeting. Those students still can be promoted to the fourth grade if they pass an alternative assessment offered by the district July 25.
Prominent Oklahoma Republicans push for immigration reform
Citing billion-dollar losses in agriculture labor shortages, a group of current and past Oklahoma Republican leaders has asked the state’s congressional delegation to support approval of immigration reform. A letter sent Tuesday includes 13 signatures including former Gov. Frank Keating, former Tulsa state Rep. Ron Peters and former Oklahoma Speaker of the House Kris Steele. Keating said he comes at the issue from an enforcement perspective. Before becoming governor, he served as the third highest-ranking official in the U.S. Department of Justice overseeing the immigration service, U.S. Marshals, U.S. attorneys, the Secret Service and the nation’s role in Interpol.
State chamber launches new workforce-focused education foundation
The State Chamber of Oklahoma is spearheading the formation of a new education foundation to educate and activate the business community on workforce development. The Oklahoma Educated Workforce Initiative is a response to the business community’s continuing struggle with workforce needs, said a news release from the state chamber. “There is no larger consumer of education services than the business community. Right now in Oklahoma we are not giving our students the educational tools they need to be successful and able to compete for jobs in the global economy,” said Fred Morgan, president and chief executive officer of the state chamber. “It is critical that the business community get engaged on this issue, or they will continue to lack the skilled workers needed to grow their company,” he said.
Norman city council member receives death threats over documentary
Norman City Council member Chad Williams expected backlash when he agreed to participate in a documentary about a gay teen’s suicide and the impact on the community. What he didn’t expect was the level of hate in those responses. Threats — including those he perceives as potential death threats — has made Williams think twice about participating in future dialogue on gay issues. Williams took the threats seriously enough to report them to the police.
Tulsa’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development community development committee is scheduled to host a public hearing next week. The July 8 meeting at City Hall allows citizens to offer input on the city’s affordable housing and community development needs, among other areas. Officials say feedback received from the hearing will help the city to make decisions on future block grant programs, including Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships, Emergency Solutions Grants and Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS. Members of the public can attend to offer comments.
Earthquake Insurance Sees Rise In Oklahoma, Gets More Attention
The recent increase in earthquakes has been alarming citizens and legislators who are questioning the causes and also preparing for more, making earthquake insurance all the more prevalent. Only a single bill pertaining particularly to earthquakes was filed during the 2014 session. House Bill 3420, by State Rep. Mike Shelton (D-Oklahoma City) would have created the Earthquake Insurance Act of 2014. Shelton says is concerned that people are “acting like ostriches and sticking their heads in the sand and pretending that this isn’t going on. It is gross negligence on the side of the Legislature to ignore these earthquakes,” Shelton said. “All I wanted to do with my bill was making sure people understood that basic homeowner’s policy did not cover earthquakes.”
Two Sites In Oklahoma Considered For Federal Bison Expansion Program
Federal officials have identified 20 parcels of public lands in Oklahoma and nine other states they say could be suitable for bison relocated from Yellowstone National Park. The Oklahoma locations include the Chickasaw National Recreation Area near Sulphur and Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge near Lawton. Both locations currently have bison. The US Department of Interior says the Chickasaw National Recreation Area has 10 bison and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge has a herd of 640 bison. Yellowstone National Park had roughly 4,600 bison at last count.
Rain Not Only Lessens Drought, It Brings Back The Lesser Prairie Chicken Population
An aerial survey shows good rains in parts of the five-state range of the federally threatened lesser prairie chicken have brought a 20 percent increase in the grouse’s population from last year. A release Tuesday from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies says there were 22,415 lesser prairie chickens in this year’s survey, up from 18,747 last year. The increase came in the northeast Texas Panhandle, northwestern Oklahoma and south central Kansas — areas where more rain produced better prairie habitat. The bird is also in New Mexico and Colorado. In March, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the grouse as threatened. The service said the grouse had lost more than 80 percent of its traditional habitat, mostly from human activity and the ongoing drought.
“Not only is it cutting money — it’s also cutting independence for people like myself.”
-Aracely Baeza, a recent University of Oklahoma graduate who has congenital muscular dystrophy and depends on Medicaid to maintain her motorized wheelchair, speaking about Oklahoma’s cuts to the program even as the state is turning down billions in federal funds (Source: http://bit.ly/1rhTuUu)
Number of the Day
Number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 people in Oklahoma, the 5th highest rate in the nation.
A Chinese millionaire tried to give $300 (and lunch) to homeless men and women in New York last week. This didn’t sit well with the nonprofit New York City Rescue Mission. The Rescue Mission offered to help with lunch, but wouldn’t cooperate in handing out cash. So midway through a meal of sesame-crusted tuna and filet of beef, some 200 homeless people discovered that they would not be getting money. Instead, the Rescue Mission would accept $90,000 on their behalf. You can imagine the anger and humiliation. The executive director of Rescue Mission said he was worried that people might spend the handout on drugs or alcohol. This pessimism (and paternalism) is common and understandable. But evidence from other countries suggests we should be more optimistic.