Oklahoma

Recent Articles

A Tax Policy Lifting Oklahoma Families Out of Poverty

OKChildren

As I write this column on Tax Day, or April 15, we mostly likely will have about one month left before lawmakers adjourn the 2019 legislative session. I want to take the time to reflect on one of the major tax policy discussions being held at the Capitol: The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) defines it, the EITC is defined as “a federal tax credit for low- and moderate-income working people. It encourages and rewards work as well as offsets federal payroll and income taxes. Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, have established their own EITCs to supplement the federal credit.”  Up until 2016, Oklahoma not only issued its own EITC, it was “refundable,” meaning a taxpayer could claim a tax credit even if it exceeded his or her tax liability. Around 348,000 Oklahoma households received the EITC. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

A Short Spring Break Week, and Movie Night in Tulsa

OKChildren

Last week was Spring Break for many Oklahomans, including our elected officials. As a result, the Legislature enjoyed an abbreviated schedule, although they did begin consideration of bills that advanced in opposite chambers. This means that all the surviving House Bills will now be heard in the Senate, and Senate Bills in the House over the next five weeks. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) is tracking all the ideas pertaining to children and families. Of the original 2,800 bills filed and able to be considered in February, less than 1,000 now remain for consideration. 

Of those which made it to the full body for a vote, about 70 were voted down. Most of the bills that failed to advance were, however, held in committee (rather than voted down), which means they can be considered next year. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

The More Things Change, the Less They Stay the Same

OKChildren

Jaded observers of Oklahoma politics often express their cynicism with the phrase, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” In other words, while we may think we are making a difference, in reality, we are all just spinning our wheels. As someone who believes in the power of people to affect transformative change, I don’t like the phrase or its implications. So, at the risk of sounding like an Oklahoma version of Yogi Berra, I am coining a new one: “the more things change, the less they stay the same.” Engaged citizens are changing and improving Oklahoma every day, even if it sometimes feels like we are having the same conversations about the same problems. In fact, sometimes change happens because we insist on having those same old conversations until we break through. For instance, consider a bill filed this year by House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. House Bill 2502 would provide a $1,000 tax credit for teachers to claim for classroom expenditures and fees associated with the teacher certification process.  As the Speaker pointed out, this bill would “get money directly into the classroom and also help those teachers recoup those costs so they don’t have to choose between their families and their students.”

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 96-0 on March 11 and will now be up for consideration in the State Senate. Back in 2008, one of my colleagues and I authored House Bill 2919, which would have at the time given a similar $500 break for teachers.  The legislation filed by Former Rep. John Trebilcock, R-Broken Arrow, was not given a committee hearing.  Politics, as well as budget issues of the time, hurt his proposed new law. But now this same idea has been resurrected and even strengthened, with a proposed tax break that is twice as large as the original proposal. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Lawmakers Work With Foster Care Alumnus to Make Policy

OKChildren

The legislative session is moving quickly, and lawmakers are now busy working in their assigned committees to sort through relevant bills and resolutions. I am pleased to say that our legislators have filed many bills that seek to directly impact and improve child well-being. In fact, two of those bills have been the result of a collaboration between elected officials and one of our OICA advocates, a young man who is an alumnus of the foster care system in Oklahoma.The first of those is House Bill 2331, which proposes the creation of the Families Actively Made for Independent-Living-Aged Youth (FAMILY) Act.  The FAMILY Act would help keep siblings in foster care together by assisting with the additional pay for those with therapeutic needs and providing the same payment for those without the need for additional support.  The bill would also create the Children Belong with Families Act, which creates a division under the Department of Human Services (DHS) to aid in decreasing the amount of homeless youth in the state.  This has become a growing problem in recent years and the hope is that early intervention will help reduce the percentages with homelessness.The second bill, House Bill 2332, creates the Model Successful Future Alumni Act, which provides the opportunity for current foster children to work as advocates within the child welfare system under the guidance of DHS.  In addition, DHS would coordinate with the Commissioner of Labor to provide opportunities for gainful employment of program participants, giving preference to program participants with disabilities.Both bills were authored by Rep. Chelsey Branham, D-Oklahoma City. We appreciate her willingness to listen to the ideas and experiences of our advocates and to use those to help guide her policy-making.We would also like to highlight the work of Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa with House Bill 1022, which improves upon the Trauma-informed Care Task Force created last year.  HB 1022 codifies the effort in making recommendations on the development of a statewide approach to preventing adverse childhood experiences and to identify interventions and supports for children who have, or are at risk of, experiencing trauma. Continue Reading →

Filed under: ,

Oklahoma Legislative Committees Advance Equal Opportunity Scholarship Expansions

Oklahoma Flag

OKLAHOMA CITY – Committees in the Oklahoma House and Senate have passed two bills expanding the Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program. The program currently offers tax credits to donors who give to non-profit organizations funding innovative learning opportunities in rural public schools, or that fund scholarships for students attending private school.Opportunity Scholarship donations support STEM and arts programs in rural public schools, such as Chickasha High School’s robotics team. In the private sector, schools like Cristo Rey Oklahoma City Catholic High School and Crossover Preparatory Academy in Tulsa rely on Opportunity Scholarships to offer free or vastly discounted college-prep educations to underserved, inner-city communities.Although proven to be successful, the Opportunity Scholarship program’s growth has been hindered by a tax-credit cap. Currently, the state can only pay out $5 million in tax credits for donors. That limit has been reached for two years in a row, which has discouraged additional contributions.House Bill 2621, by Rep. Jon Echols, increases the tax credit cap to $60 million, and also allows larger school districts to benefit from programs supporting public schools. Continue Reading →

Filed under: ,

Three Key Issues for Children in 2019

OKChildren

he 2019 Oklahoma Legislative Session is now less than one month from convening and conducting official business.  We at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) are anxious to see the long list of fresh ideas submitted by lawmakers.  We have been monitoring much of the progress and feel there are great opportunities ahead with these new legislators and a new governor. Three subjects of interest that we are working on are:

Trauma Informed Care and the Reduction of Adverse Childhood Experiences:  In 2018, we worked with lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin to create the Trauma Informed Care Task Force, which looks at ways to help reduce the impact of traumatic experiences suffered by children. In the coming year, this task force will be fully operational and be comprised of six additional lawmakers and two appointees from Gov. Kevin Stitt.   The inclusion of lawmakers is especially important, as we hope the taskforce provides these members with policy suggestions that can directly influence legislation. The task force will begin work in February and will hold regular gatherings to explore why Oklahoma has such a large number of children suffering toxic long-term trauma and what can be done to reduce that harmful phenomenon. School Suspensions: As there was in 2018, we expect another healthy discussion regarding school suspensions as an appropriate disciplinary measure. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

A Successful Year, and New Opportunities Ahead

OKChildren

Last year was a busy and deeply rewarding year for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA). The primary mission of OICA is to advocate for children in the State of Oklahoma and to ensure that laws passed and policies implemented by governmental agencies are beneficial for all our children. I am proud to report we were successful on that front; we worked with lawmakers to see multiple child-friendly laws implemented, and we managed to prevent a few detrimental bills from passing. Thanks to our many supporters, we also grew several programs and services this past year, including: the Heroes Ball, our annual banquet to recognize the true heroes for children in our State;  OK-LEAD, our three-day leadership symposium for young Oklahomans; the Melvin & Jasmine Moran Kidizenship Award, which recognizes young Oklahomans doing great work for their peers; the Laura Choate Resilience Award, which honors an Oklahoman who has overcome adversity to give back to others; the OICA Fall Forum, our annual conference which helps shape an aggressive legislative agenda for better policy; our Child Advocacy Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol, which raises awareness and encourages Oklahomans to contact lawmakers; and our OK Foster Wishes program, which ensures that all of our children in the Foster Care system have gifts for the holiday season.I am pleased to report, as we conclude 2018, the projects we finalized exceeded our expectations.  The OICA calendar is at the printer and will be ready for viewing later in January (the months for the OICA calendar run from February 1, the first month of the legislative session, to January 31.  We also wanted to be just a little different.). You can purchase one from our website at oica.org starting mid-January.OK Foster Wishes, our other program which we finalized at the end of December, was a huge success thanks to the many partners we had.  First, we greatly appreciate the hundreds of Oklahomans who fill wish lists, ranging from one to 500 lists taken by individuals and organizations.  Thank you to Hobby Lobby for providing the warehouse space for OICA and DHS to use to distribute gifts to the various counties.  We also want to thank those at DHS who helped do significant work to ensure this program could be successful. We also greatly appreciate the many donors who contributed to keep our Santa Store filled for those children who came into care after the list deadline.  We appreciate you all!As we begin a New Year, we look forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead of us in 2019. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

‘Tis the Season to Give to Foster Children

With Thanksgiving behind us, ‘tis the season for holiday decorations, non-stop Christmas music on the radio, and a lot of hard work for the public employees, OICA staff and volunteers working to get holiday presents for the roughly 8,000 Oklahoma children in foster care. That effort begins with caseworkers at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS), who collect holiday wish lists from each foster child. Next, those wish lists are matched with partner organizations like OK Foster Wishes, the gift drive run by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) that works to fulfill these wish-lists with the help of generous donors. We are proud to say that OK Foster Wishes is the largest gift-drive for foster children in the state, fulfilling more than half of the Oklahoma foster children’s wish lists. OICA and DHS operate the OK Foster Wishes warehouse (a space being generously lent to us, free of charge, by Hobby Lobby) where gifts are stored, sorted and eventually sent out to children. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , ,

Children of Military Families Need Additional Support

Veterans Day is a wonderful and necessary holiday and a great time to give thanks to those that serve our nation. However, as we move on from this day, it is important to keep the needs of our veterans and active military personnel – as well as their families and children – on our minds all year. According to the US Census, there are 21,369,602 veterans in the United States, with 312,492 veterans currently living in Oklahoma.  That does not include the 1.3 million military personnel and more than 800,000 reserve forces serving nationwide, or the roughly 20,000 service members now living in Oklahoma. In the modern military, families experience increased stress from multiple deployments and longer tours of duty. Since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, the United States has seen the largest sustained deployment of military servicemen and servicewomen in the history of the all-volunteer force. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , ,

Friday (11/2): OK Foster Wishes Kickoff Party

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) will be kicking off its annual holiday gift drive for children in foster care tomorrow (Friday, November 2) from 5-7 PM at the Oklahoma’s Credit Union building at 3001 N. Lincoln Blvd in Oklahoma City. OK Foster Wishes is a collaboration between OICA, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, and several other non-profits that provide transportation, storage and monetary support. Each year, OK Foster Wishes matches gift “wish lists” from children in foster care with adult donors who purchase the gifts for specific children. Attendees at tomorrow’s party will receive a wish list or, alternatively, can make a cash donation or bring a gift (gifts not paired with wish lists will be distributed to children and families who did not submit a list). OK Foster Wishes Kickoff Party Details

Friday, November 2
5 – 7 PM
Oklahoma Credit Union: 3001 N. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City, OK 73105
Continue Reading →

Filed under: ,