Tuesday, June 08, 2021

OSDE uncovers $1.6 million in fraud at child-feeding sites during pandemic

OSDE uncovers $1.6 million in fraud at child-feeding sites during pandemic 

OKLAHOMA CITY (June 7, 2021) – In the wake of schools, community organizations and nonprofits having raced to provide free meals to children during the pandemic, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) uncovered a record amount of fraud at child-feeding sites across the state. Over $1.6 million in federal funds were improperly claimed for reimbursement since April 2020, OSDE officials found. The majority of improper claims were reported at child-care sites. 

The agency’s Office of Child Nutrition Services uncovered the fraudulent activity through a number of accountability measures, including an unannounced review process implemented in 2016 under State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.

“We are incredibly grateful for our schools and community partners that stepped up to ensure the nutritional needs of children were met over the last year, as hundreds of schools provided summer meals for the first time. Oklahoma families rely on these services, and we are committed to ensuring integrity for these programs that fuel young learners,” Hofmeister said. “Oklahoma will continue to leverage federal dollars to help our children gain supports to be healthy and successful, and it is our charge to safeguard that valuable investment by taxpayers.” 

Friday, May 28, 2021

Congressional Redistricting town halls set for July and August

Congressional Redistricting Meetings Scheduled

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 25th) – The Oklahoma House of Representatives and the State Senate redistricting offices today announced the schedule for town hall meetings on the congressional redistricting process. Legislators and redistricting office staff will answer questions and take comments from the public during the meetings.

Five in-person town halls are scheduled – one in each congressional district. Two virtual town halls also will be held for those who can’t attend one of the in-person meetings.

The town hall meetings are scheduled for:

Thursday, May 27, 2021

OK Congressional members introduce resolution to highlight the Tulsa Race Massacre centennial

Oklahoma Congressional Delegation introduces resolution to highlight the important history of the Centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre

Tulsa, OK – Members of the Oklahoma Congressional Delegation released the following statements in support of a resolution introduced to Congress today honoring the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Representative Kevin Hern (OK-01) introduced in the House, and Senator James Lankford introduced in the Senate.

The resolution recognizes the history of Black Wall Street in Tulsa’s Greenwood district. It gives an accurate account of the violence that occurred on May 31 and June 1, 1921 and acknowledges it as the worst race massacre in the history of the United States. Furthermore, the resolution urges the Tulsa Race Massacre be taught in American schools and recognizes the important work of organizations like the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation.

Representative Hern (OK-01) said, “The Tulsa Race Massacre is an important piece of our history, and it’s important to own that. The destruction of Black Wall Street devastated economic opportunities for generations of Tulsa’s Black families. Our resolution honors the loss of those who were killed 100 years ago and acknowledges this painful memory in our city’s history as the horrific and race-motivated attack it was. 100 years later, we still have a long way to go. The centennial is an opportunity to remember, and this resolution helps us tell the world the accurate story of what happened on our streets in 1921 and how it shaped our city in the years after. As we move forward past this week’s centennial, we continue to strive for reconciliation. I’m proud of the recent investments in Greenwood to bring back Black Wall Street, and I hope to see it continue to grow and thrive at the heart of Tulsa.”

Governor Stitt signs FY2022 state budget package into law

Budget cuts taxes for all Oklahomans, invests record $3.2 billion in public education, replenishes state savings account to record high levels

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 24, 2021) – Governor Kevin Stitt signed additional legislation into law today as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 state budget package, including House Bill 2900, the general appropriations bill. The FY 2022 budget cuts taxes for all Oklahomans, invests a record $3.2 billion in education, and replenishes over $800 million in state reserve funds that were significantly reduced to offset pandemic-related revenue reductions last year for a record $1.3 billion in savings for the state of Oklahoma.

“This budget delivers the People’s Agenda and is a major win for Oklahomans in all corners of our state,” said Governor Stitt. “Because we kept Oklahoma open for business in 2020, we are able to make historic investments in education and other core services while cutting taxes and replenishing our state savings account. I commend Speaker Charles McCall, President Pro Tempore Greg Treat and the legislative leadership for their hard work to find common ground and create such a comprehensive budget package.”

House Bill 2900 authorizes $9.06 billion in spending for Fiscal Year 2022, which begins July 1, 2021.

Highlights include:

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

State House passes bill to limit school COVID-19 vaccine, mask requirements

House Passes Bill to Limit School COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 26th) – The House today passed a bill that would prohibit public schools, colleges, universities or CareerTech centers from implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition for admittance and from requiring only non-vaccinated populations to wear masks.

Senate Bill 658 is authored by Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, and Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman. The measure also requires the State Department of Education and school districts to provide in any notice or publication provided to parents regarding immunization requests the immunization requirements of the school, including the requirement to either provide current, up-to-date immunization records or a signed and completed exemption form.

“Should the force of government be used to force citizens to do something they don’t want to do, or should it be used to empower the rights of citizens,” West asked. “This protects a student’s and a parent’s right to choose for themselves whether a vaccination is appropriate for them for their own personal health reasons or their religious or personal beliefs. This disallows discrimination against students and parents that choose to be exempt from such vaccinations.”

West said the measure is necessary as there has been a push for public schools and higher education institutions to require a vaccination against COVID-19 as a requirement for admittance or to require documentation that such a vaccine has been received in the form of a “vaccine passport.”

“For the sake of children throughout the state, I’m glad this bill is one step closer to becoming law,” Standridge said.  “With this legislation, vaccine passports for Oklahoma students will not exist.”

Additionally, the measure provides that a board of education for a school district or technology school district may only implement a mandate to wear a mask or any other medical device after consultation with the local county health department or city-county health department. Such a mandate must explicitly list the reasons for the mandate and shall reference the specific masks or medical devices that would meet the requirements of the mandate. Any mandate to implement wearing a mask or any other medical device shall be reconsidered at each regularly scheduled board meeting.

SB 658 in its final form passed the House with a vote of 76-18. It now moves to the governor for his consideration.

Friday, May 21, 2021

OCPA: DeVos never forgot to put children first

DeVos never forgot to put children first
By Jonathan Small

In a late 2020 interview with Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, conducted as Betsy DeVos was nearing the end of her tenure as federal Secretary of Education for President Trump, Hess asked Devos for an anecdote that captured the experience.

DeVos responded, “I remember talking with a group of young African American students in a school where they were benefiting from the Milwaukee voucher program and looking outside at a sea of middle-aged white protestors who apparently thought those students didn’t deserve that opportunity. I think that’s a pretty good microcosm of what my experience in office was like.”

Unlike her detractors, DeVos never forgot to place students first in policy debates. That’s why the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs chose DeVos as this year’s recipient of our organization’s Citizenship Award.

That award is provided to those who make great contributions to our state and nation. It’s hard to imagine anyone more deserving than DeVos. Thanks to her leadership and hard work—which long preceded her time in Washington—the lives of countless children have been changed for the better through school choice and the conversation on education today is increasingly child focused.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Williamson: Whose job is it anyway? Parents vs bureaucrats in educating kids

Whose Job is it Anyway? Parents Versus Bureaucrats in Educating Kids
By Tyler Williamson

A major principle of the school choice movement is that parents should be empowered to choose where and how their children are educated. This is a simple idea: parents are responsible for their children and should direct their education. Many opposed to school choice can’t seem to grasp this. They seem to think it’s the government’s role to educate children and view anything that breaks the status quo as a threat.

In an opinion piece for The Oklahoman, one writer invoked scripture in his rebuttal of school choice. But what does the Bible actually say? Psalm 127, says children are a blessing from the Lord. Later it says that children are like “arrows in the hand of a warrior” and the man who has “a quiver-full” of them is blessed. Proverbs 22:6 says to train up a child in the way he should go.

These verses (and others) indicate that children are a blessing to their parents, not just some vague blessing on society, and parents are commanded to train them. If parents aren’t given control and are forced to send their children to a school based on a home address, their ability to direct their child’s education is severely limited.

Rep. Sean Roberts challenges Dems on grocery sales tax talking point, offered ballot referendum

Creating a Ballot Referendum to End the Taxation on Groceries, by Rep. Sean Roberts

OKLAHOMA CITY – This week consisted of the House accepting or rejecting amendments, and we also came to an agreement on the budget with the Senate and the Governor. In a response to the budget, the Democrat Caucus said:

"While an extra $500 million in savings sounds nice, our citizens are literally paying the price. With this money, we could end the state sales tax on groceries, which would save Oklahomans more than $250 million per year.”

If my Democrats colleagues truly believe in reducing the tax burden on Oklahomans, why did they vote for the largest tax increase in state history, but fail to file a bill to remove the sales tax on groceries this session?

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Governor Signs “No Patient Left Alone Act”

Governor Signs “No Patient Left Alone Act”

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 12th) – Legislation allowing patients to designate a visitor to have unrestricted visitation has been signed by the Governor.

House Bill 2687, titled the “No Patient Left Alone Act,” is authored by Rep. Toni Hasenbeck, R-Elgin. She filed the legislation after hearing from constituents whose loved ones were not allowed to have a single visitor during the height of the pandemic.

“Many Oklahomans have been unable to see loved ones during the pandemic because the hospital or care facility has not allowed visitors since last March,” Hasenbeck said. “Adding isolation on top of health struggles drastically affects the patient’s mental health, and many people died without getting to see their family or friends one last time. I am very glad to see this bill signed into law so all Oklahomans can have at least one visitor while they’re hospitalized.”

The bill prohibits termination, suspension or waiver of visitation rights by the hospital, State Department of Health, or any governmental entity regardless of declarations of emergency by the Governor or Legislature.

Stitt to end extended unemployment benefits in June, announces $1200 to first 20k who get jobs

First 20,000 Oklahomans on unemployment to get back into the workforce will receive $1,200 incentive
All federal benefits to end June 26, 2021 

OKLAHOMA CITY (May 17, 2021)— Today Governor Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt announced a new Return to Work Incentive for Oklahomans who are on unemployment. The first 20,000 Oklahomans currently receiving unemployment benefits who return to the workforce will receive a $1,200 incentive using funds from the American Rescue Plan. All federal benefits will end June 26, 2021, giving Oklahomans six weeks’ notice of termination.

The Return to Work Incentive will be enacted via Executive Order 2021-15.

“This is the right move for Oklahoma,” said Governor Stitt. “Since our state has been open for business since last June, the biggest challenge facing Oklahoma businesses today is not reopening, it’s finding employees. For Oklahoma to become a Top Ten state, workforce participation must be at a top level and I am committed to doing what I can to help Oklahomans get off the sidelines and into the workforce.”

"As we emerge from the pandemic, it is important we continue to focus on rebuilding our economy, which means we need more Oklahomans to participate in our state's workforce," said Shelley Zumwalt, OESC Executive Director. "With today's announcement, which includes a strong return-to-work incentive program, OESC is placing top priority on helping claimants find stable employment or retraining opportunities. We have 28 offices across the state ready to help all of the state's citizens who are eligible to work but currently are not working and the hundreds of employers who are struggling to find employees."

Oklahoma employers applauded the decision.

“Every employer I speak with, inside or outside of the state, is struggling to recruit workers,” said Chad Warmington, president and CEO of The State Chamber. “While federal programs provided needed benefits at the height of the pandemic when businesses were forced to shutter, these benefits have now incentivized workers to remain on unemployment after we have safely reopened our economy. Employers are offering competitive wages with generous benefits packages and workers are still refusing to return to work. It was time to stop disincentivizing hope and opportunity for Oklahomans. Gov. Stitt recognizes there is no government program that can provide the same potential for individual economic freedom as a fully functioning private business can.”

“Georg Fischer Central Plastics stayed open and kept our employees safe during the pandemic. As businesses began to open back up, demand for our products skyrocketed, but our ability to add to our workforce was disappointing at best, with many stating they could make more on unemployment. These are not minimum wage jobs and offer career growth, excellent benefits and a safe and stable workplace. Today’s action by Gov. Kevin Stitt is a step in removing one of the barriers for Oklahoma to thrive,” said Dani Shields, Director of Human Resources for Georg Fischer Central Plastics, LLC.

“Over the last three months, Michelin North America has had difficulty in meeting customer demand due to labor shortages with both subcontractors and our core hiring populations in many of our manufacturing locations. We employ approximately 1,500 individuals in our Ardmore facility and are hopeful this change will help us fill our open subcontractor positions as soon as possible,” said Will Whitley, Director of State, Local Government Affairs and Community Relations for Michelin North America.

Governor Stitt’s executive order will direct OESC to end all federal benefits including Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) and Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) on June 26th.

Starting June 27, 2021 any claims filed after June 26, 2021 must be for benefits weeks prior to June 27, 2021. Any claims that are currently in the adjudication, appeals or in the Board of Review process that are filed for weeks prior to June 27, 2021 will still receive benefits for those weeks if their claim is approved. Claimants who are currently receiving Traditional Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits will continue to receive weekly benefits paid out of the UI Trust Fund, but like other programs will not receive FPUC or the additional $300 weekly federal benefit.

The $1,200 Return to Work Incentive is for claimants currently receiving PUA, PEUC or UI between May 2-15, 2021, and who have completed 6 consecutive weeks of employment of 32 hours a week or more with the same employer. The timeframe for eligibility for the incentive starts today, May 17, 2021 and will be ongoing through September 4, 2021. Claimants can begin uploading their information along with the six weeks of pay stubs starting June 28, 2021. Payments will begin dispersing the second week in July. The incentive is limited to the first 20,000 approved applicants.

Specific details on the incentive program and the federal benefits announcement are available at https://oklahoma.gov/oesc.html.