Oklahoma

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Oklahoma Legislative Committees Advance Equal Opportunity Scholarship Expansions

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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 →

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Three Key Issues for Children in 2019

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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 →

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A Successful Year, and New Opportunities Ahead

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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 →

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‘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 →

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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 →

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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 →

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Shining a Light on Children’s Issues Ahead of Election Day

Just one week to go before Election Day!  I am sure most Oklahomans are ready for this campaign cycle to end and see what the future holds for Oklahoma. As a 501c3 non-profit organization, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is prohibited from endorsing any candidate or party. Although I am from a political background myself, I have come to greatly appreciate our non-partisan role, as I believe it makes our organization a more effective force for improving the lives of children. No matter which party is in power, or who is running for office, OICA is able to shine a light on the issues that matter most to children. One way we have impacted the 2018 elections is through our candidate surveys, which you can find at OICA.org. Continue Reading →

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Three Key Interim Studies Focus on Children’s Issues

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) has had the opportunity over the past few months to work with state lawmakers on various issues covered in legislative interim studies.  If you are not familiar with these, state senators and representatives can request from the presiding officer of their respective chambers the opportunity to delve into a topic about an issue of importance.  Prior to the deadline for the filing period, we reached out to several lawmakers to request topics which would focus on important issues for Oklahoma children and families. The first study in which we played a part was the Oklahoma Senate study reviewing the topic of Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma-Informed Care.  This was a follow-up study to the one held last year in the House of Representatives by Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore.  Senator AJ Griffin filed this study prior to her departure from the Legislature, and we were pleased to continue that work with Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City and Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada.  The study assembled some of the best and brightest minds in Oklahoma regarding this topic and the seven lawmakers who were present asked very relevant questions.  I am certain this effort will lead to great work by the Trauma-Informed Care Task Force authored by Sen. Griffin and Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa in Senate Bill 1517 this past session.  In fact, there will be follow-up legislation to expand the membership and scope of the study to include greater regional representation for a statewide presence. The next study in which OICA participated was one requested by Senator Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa, which reviewed school suspension policy in Oklahoma.  The assembled presenters discussed the issues impacting students who face either in-school or out-of-school suspension in our state.  There has been legislation the past two years to modify how suspensions are treated for students who commit assault on a teacher or another student. Violence in the classroom is an extremely serious issue and something that absolutely must be dealt with. However, OICA continues to encourage policymakers not to simply back new laws that increase punishments for children who act out. Continue Reading →

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Grandparents Play a Key Role in Raising Children

For many youngsters, grandparents play a significant role in raising us and molding us into the people we become.  I often think about my extended family and how lucky I was to have so many people in my life who cared about me and helped me grow and develop.  Many Oklahoma children, unfortunately, are not as fortunate as I was; they do not have an older generation of family members in their lives who can teach and assist them in their formative years. While it is a well-documented fact that many children are lacking positive adult role models, the state is inadvertently exacerbating that situation, especially when it comes to grandparents. In the U.S. Supreme Court case of Troxel v. Granville, the Supreme Court discussed parents’ fundamental rights to raise and rear their own children. It should be noted though, the Troxel case refused to strike down a Washington state law granting substantial grandparent visitation. Due to this, the Troxel case left states with varying degrees of grandparent visitation throughout the nation. Continue Reading →

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Journalists Fight for Those Without Money or Power

It is important to have people in your life who will motivate you at a young age to achieve beyond what others might feel is possible.  Having someone who believes in you can make a world of difference on in life. I am fortunate that I have had many like that who have encouraged me to go above and beyond what even I felt was my greatest potential. One of those individuals, unfortunately, passed away recently.  Jim Killackey was a longtime Oklahoman reporter who covered education and health-related issues for many years, some of those during the time I was a student at Oklahoma State University.  He, indirectly, was one of those who helped encourage me without ever knowing it. I had the opportunity and the pleasure to serve as a student senator and as the Chairman of the Student Government Association Senate during my undergraduate years.  In that role, I was a watchdog for my fellow students to ensure they were treated fairly as constituents in the student body. I often disagreed with members of the university administration and was vocal about my feelings. Continue Reading →

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