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 Zebre.
Today you should know Oklahoma General Revenue Fund collections for April were down 1.5 percent from the previous year and were barely enough to avoid mandatory budget cuts to state agencies. Mid-year cuts may still happen if revenue remains down through May and June. Oklahoma is one of just seven states looking at budget shortfalls this year, with most state meeting or exceeding forecasts as the national economy grows. OK Policy previously examined several reasons behind Oklahoma’s budget shortfall.
The Legislature approved an extra $13 million to get the Department of Corrections through the last six weeks of the current budget year. Most will go to pay the state’s tab with private prisons. A revised education funding bill has been presented in conference committee. The bill would make gradually increasing off-the-top diversions of revenue to education in years when general revenue increases. Schools would be required to add an extra classroom day to the school year for every extra $60 million in the fund. The bill no longer diverts funds from state roads and bridges to help pay for the education funding increase.
The Number of the Day is the employment rate for 25- to 54-year-olds in Oklahoma, 12th lowest in the nation. In today’s Policy Note, Wonkblog discusses why America’s low-income welfare system no longer provides significant help for single parents, childless adults and anyone who’s out of work
In The News
Oklahoma barely avoids mid-year budget cuts in April
The state’s General Revenue Fund collections for April were enough to avoid mandatory cuts to state agencies. “It was a make-or-break month, and we just barely made it,” Oklahoma Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger said on Tuesday. “April collections needed to be within 95 percent of the estimate, or agencies would have had mandatory, across-the-board budget reductions. April General Revenue Fund collections were down but came in at 98.4 percent of the estimate and are sufficient to avoid forced budget reductions this month.” General Revenue Fund collections in April brought in $690.5 million, 1.5 percent less than last year’s April collections and $11.2 million, or 1.6 percent, below the official estimate.
Oklahoma is one of only seven states in the nation where revenues available for appropriation are falling below expectations despite growth in the broader economy, according to a newly released survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures. The conference, in its spring 2014 state budget update, attributed Oklahoma’s revenue shortfall primarily to an unanticipated decline in corporate tax collections. It said the same problem is creating budget difficulties in Delaware and Tennessee. Elsewhere, state revenue collections are either on target or exceeding expectations as the national economy continues to rebound from the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
The cash-strapped Oklahoma Legislature found $13 million for the Department of Corrections on Tuesday, with the House of Representatives passing and sending to the governor the supplemental appropriation the DOC says it needs to get through the the last six weeks of the current budget year. The appropriation, most of which will go to pay the state’s tab with private prisons, will come from $132 million left over from the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013. How the remainder of the carryover might — or might not — be used to offset a $188 million shortfall in the budget currently being worked out has not been determined.
Revised education funding bill presented in Oklahoma Legislature
Legislative conferees are being asked to sign off on a revised measure that would gradually make off-the-top diversions to education funding until schools receive $600 million a year. Under revisions to House Bill 2642 contained in a conference committee report, funding for Oklahoma’s public schools would increase by $30 million in years when there is a 1 percent increase in General Fund revenues and $60 million in years with a 2 percent increase. Schools would be required to add an extra classroom day to the school year for every extra $60 million that schools receive until the maximum $600 million level of extra funding is received. Unlike previous versions of the bill, funds designated for state roads and bridges would not be diverted to pay for increased education funding.
Tulsa World: Don’t rush to judgement on severance tax issue
Executives from three big oil companies — in the name of the state’s petroleum industry — seem determined to push through a major change in the way Oklahoma taxes oil and natural gas production. With the legislative session ebbing away, Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy and Continental Resources leaders rolled out a plan to set the severance tax on oil and natural gas wells at 2 percent for the first four years. Meanwhile, three other petroleum industry tycoons — George Kaiser, Stacy Schusterman and Tom Ward — have lined up in opposition, arguing the state should be getting more oil field revenue for key state services such as education
Eugene Field missing third-grade reading test results
Parents of third-graders at one Tulsa elementary school will not be receiving notice this week about whether their child is at risk of being held back for unsatisfactory reading test results. Results of the annual third-grade reading test were expedited this year and released Friday because of a change in state law that upped the stakes of the test. Tulsa Public Schools officials still have not received the results for Eugene Field Elementary School’s 44 third-graders and began notifying parents of the delay. TPS officials and state education officials say they have received conflicting explanations from Oklahoma’s testing vendor, CTB McGraw-Hill.
Jenks Worried Students Who Can’t Speak English, Have Disabilities May Be Held Back
New information about the results of the state’s third grade reading test say that several school districts believe the results will show most kids who failed are in special education classes. Jenks parents got letters Tuesday with the test results for their third graders. 69 families will find out their children didn’t pass, and all but a handful of those are special education, or kids who don’t speak English. In Bridget Hailey’s third grade classroom, the children are done with testing, but really just getting started on their reading skills.
A better way to understand and improve school performance
Oklahoma, like most states, has been redesigning education policies to match requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver and to improve school performance. Policies like Common Core, the Reading Sufficiency Act, and additional end-of-instruction exams are intended to ensure students are on grade level and prepared for college, careers, and citizenship. The A-F Report Card Grading System is intended to make school performance clear and provide the necessary information to improve schools. Despite these good intentions, these policies have proven divisive and unpopular, so much so that the state legislature has passed, or plans to pass, measures that scale back or revoke these reforms.
Oklahoma City high school graduates offered free college degree
High school graduates can save about $10,000 while earning an associate’s degree through a revamped program at Oklahoma City Community College. The OKC-GO program, instituted a dozen years ago, allowed eligible high school graduates to attend OCCC tuition-free. The updated version of the program — called OKC-GO 2.0 — has all of the same benefits of the initial program, but also waives the fees and removes the time limit to graduation. Why the change? “We’re focusing on degree completion,” said Jon Horinek, OCCC director of recruitment and admissions.
Watchdog group defending nursing home residents calls out Gov. Mary Fallin
An Oklahoma group concerned for the safety of some of our most vulnerable citizens took their fight to a new level. Nursing home residents and those who feel they’re not being protected are wanting the federal government to step in and add more oversight to the system. The stories and pictures are heartbreaking, but this group says not enough is being done in our state to protect nursing home residents. Wes Bledsoe, with A Perfect Cause, said, “These are human rights violations. Look at these pictures. Listen to these stories.”
OU Medical Center launches extra fee for nonemergency care in ER
An Oklahoma City hospital has created an additional fee for patients who seek treatment in the emergency room for non-life-threatening ailments and injuries. OU Medical Center officials announced Tuesday that, starting this week, adult patients assessed in the hospital’s ER who don’t have emergency medical needs will be charged — either their copay or $200 if they are uninsured — if they choose to still receive care through the ER after that assessment. “If they choose to continue to get care in our emergency department with a nonurgent situation, then they do indeed have that option,” said Kris Wallace, chief operating officer for OU Medical Center.
OK Dept. of Labor Investigates State Capitol Workers’ Safety
State officials are describing Oklahoma’s State Capitol Building as a dangerous place to work, while lawmakers continue debating over how best to pay for a fix. On Tuesday, Oklahoma’s Department of Labor opened an investigation concerning employees’ safety. John Estus with Management and Enterprise Services tells News 9 something falls apart on the building about every week. On the outside, large gaps and cracks can be seen. On the inside, the smell of raw sewage fills the halls of the basement. “We have things falling from the ceiling and things coming up from beneath the floor,” said Estus.
“We have things falling from the ceiling and things coming up from beneath the floor.”
-John Estus, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department Management and Enterprise Services, speaking about the Oklahoma state Capitol where a chunk of concrete fell through the ceiling into a staffer’s office and raw sewage has been found soaking carpets (Source: http://bit.ly/1qCCxEJ)
Number of the Day
Employment rate for prime-age workers (for 25- to 54-year-olds) in Oklahoma, 12th lowest in the nation
‘If you’re trying and not succeeding, the welfare system today gives you basically nothing’
Politics in America broadly divide the poor into two groups: those who struggle for reasons beyond their control and those who remain poor because they haven’t tried. The distinction separates the earnest from the lazy, the working class from the welfare queens, the “deserving poor” from those who’d use public assistance as an excuse to avoid getting a job. The distinction is an old one, but exactly who we’re talking about as deserving of help in America has changed with time. And, as a result, our welfare system now no longer primarily serves the poor who are most in need of aid, research suggests.