Oklahoma – I am taking a week off from discussing the Oklahoma Legislature and politics to share some important news: May 6 is Free Comic Book Day in the United States! As a collector of comics, I am excited about this day for obvious reasons. But as the CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, I am excited about the way in which it can be used to jump-start our children’s interest in reading, their imaginations, and ultimately their literacy levels. If you were not aware before, you are now: I collect comic books. When I was running for governor in 2014, my staff was actually afraid it might cost me votes. Continue Reading →
Oklahoma – We are approaching a critical deadline in Oklahoma as we near the end of the legislative session. No comprehensive budget solution has moved forward to address the roughly $1 billion shortfall facing our state. Both Governor Fallin and the House Democratic caucus have released plans to balance the budget by raising new revenues, but the House of Representatives as a whole has not unveiled their solutions at this point. Legislative leaders in the majority are working to find consensus within the body to provide the necessary 76 votes needed to pass any revenue raising measures, but time is running short. This state budget deficit is not a new problem. Continue Reading →
With a $900 million budget shortfall dominating this year’s legislative session, many lawmakers are looking to balance the budget by cutting government spending. As advocates for children, our job at OICA is to shield Oklahoma’s youngest and most vulnerable residents from any “cost-cutting” measures that would adversely impact them and, in some cases, negatively change the trajectory of their entire lives. One of those measures is Senate Bill 81, which seeks to lower the grade level at which a student can be suspended from school. Currently, out-of-school suspension is only allowable at the 6th grade level and above. SB 81 would allow children as early as third grade (only 8 or 9 years old) to be suspended. In addition, the bill would reduce the requirements for counseling programs available to these children, who are the ones who need it the most. Continue Reading →
April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, and I believe child advocates must use this as an opportunity to advance two important goals: first; to help our friends and neighbors fully grasp how widespread and terrible the problems of child abuse and neglect are; second, to encourage them to be part of the solution. When it comes to evaluating the prevalence and impact of child abuse and neglect, the numbers tell a frightening tale. The KIDS COUNT Data Center, a joint research product of OICA and the national Annie E. Casey Foundation, reports that of the more than 200,000 children in Oklahoma County under the age of 19, 41 percent have had an adverse childhood experience
On a statewide level, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ statistics paint an equally grim picture. Since 2014, over 363,000 cases of alleged abuse and neglect have been reported to the agency. More than 44,000 were eventually confirmed. Continue Reading →
OKLAHOMA CITY — With less than two months left in the Legislative session, lawmakers in the Oklahoma House of Representatives will soon be voting on a flurry of bills that would further update the state’s alcohol laws. Modernize Oklahoma, a group supporting consumer choice and local businesses, is encouraging legislators to vote “yes” on these proposals and continue the push to end prohibition era rules and regulations. Modernize Oklahoma Executive Director Alex Weintz said his organization was originally formed to promote State Question 792, the successful initiative petition to allow the sale of cold, regular strength beer and wine in grocery stores, liquor stores and convenience stores beginning in October 2018. After the law’s passage, however, it became clear that several smaller reforms would be needed to ensure a level playing field for alcohol vendors, support consumer choice, and ensure the implementation of SQ 792 went smoothly. “When State Question 792 passed by a margin of two to one, the people of Oklahoma spoke very clearly,” said Weintz. Continue Reading →
Oklahoma – Last Friday marked the end of what political insiders call “deadline week” at the Oklahoma State Capitol. It is the last opportunity this year for legislation to pass in the chamber (House or Senate) where it was originally introduced. Legislation that fails to advance is “dead” in 2017. It is a major turning point in the session, as it gives us an opportunity to evaluate what ideas and reforms are gaining traction and which have fallen by the wayside. The House of Representatives, for instance, began with 1370 bills and resolutions, but only 316 made it past deadline week and remain active. Continue Reading →
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) and the head of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) today thanked the state Senate for their unanimous support of a bill proposing several improvements within the state’s foster care system. Senate Bill 727, by Sen. AJ Griffin (R-Guthrie) would:
Ensure a more collaborative process between parents and DHS and more actively engage parents around decisions involving child placement. Strengthen long-term accountability at DHS by requiring yearly public reports be submitted regarding the foster care system, child welfare staff workloads and other key metrics. Increase support and resources for foster parents and strengthen the Foster Parents Bill of Rights. Reduce liability for foster parents to allow children in DHS custody to participate in appropriate activities, such as permitting foster children to participate in football or basketball. Continue Reading →
OKLAHOMA CITY – A national partner of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) is now accepting applications for the Youth Justice Leadership Institute. The Institute is organized by the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJNN), and offers fellowships to advocates or organizers who focus on juvenile justice system practices and policies. The fellowships are geared towards individuals of color working as professionals in the juvenile justice field, who may also be young adults who are system survivors themselves, or family members of someone in the system. Each year, 10 fellows from across the country are selected to develop their leadership and advocacy skills in the context of a robust curriculum around youth justice reform. The fellowship is completed concurrently with fellows’ current employment, so fellows do not have to leave their jobs to participate in the Institute. Continue Reading →
Legislators Expected to Vote on Key School Choice Legislation This Week
OKLAHOMA CITY — In last night’s address to the United States Congress, President Donald Trump spoke strongly in favor of school choice, advocating for policies that allow families to choose the public, private, or charter school of their choice.
The Oklahoma group ChoiceMatters for Kids, a parent-led organization advocating for greater educational options for parents and children, is encouraging Oklahoma legislators to follow the president’s lead on school choice legislation. “Donald Trump won a super majority of votes in Oklahoma by advocating for policies that empower individuals and families,” said ChoiceMatters for Kids President Robert Ruiz. “The most important choice a family can make on behalf of their child is how and where to educate their child. On education, President Trump is getting it right. Continue Reading →
In the last several weeks, a lot of eyes have been focused on Oklahoma’s $900 million budget shortfall and the effect it may have on our state. We have heard a lot of talk about revolving funds, off-the-top spending, structural imbalances and dozens of other terms capitol insiders use to describe the current budget crunch. All of that sounds complicated, but if you break down its major components, the state budget is not unlike the personal budgets that families manage. Simply put, you need your income to be greater than your expenses. If it isn’t, you are in trouble.
I like to think of the state’s total revenue as the income that someone might receive from two jobs. Continue Reading →