- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:


Tulsa World, June 13 - Oklahoma could soon be losing its Mississippi safety net. That state, along with South Dakota, approved half-cent sales taxes to raise salaries of teachers in their states - by thousands of dollars.

Oklahoma has been able to point to Mississippi, in many areas, and say, “Thank God for Mississippi.” Now the shoe could be on the other foot. In fact, South Dakota, a conservative state, also trailed Oklahoma in teacher pay.

South Dakota’s sales tax began June 1 and is intended to hike teacher pay by $8,500 a year. Sales-tax legislation signed in 2014 by Mississippi’s governor increased the pay for teachers there by $2,500 a year over two years.

As for Oklahoma teachers, their only hope to rise from the bottom is a proposed 1 percent sales tax dedicated to public education. State Question 779 will be on the November ballot. We haven’t completely embraced the sales-tax hike proposal so far, but were disappointed that the Legislature failed to provide any alternative route to adequate funding of public schools.

Oklahoma teachers have not had an across-the-board raise in eight years. There was plenty of talk and promises before and during this legislative session, but then the bottom fell out of oil prices and income-tax cuts continued, leaving a $1.3 billion budget hole.

As a result, school districts have eliminated teaching positions as well as reduced support personnel. Funding for other school programs had been slashed and some schools have or are moving to four-day weeks.

The outlook for improvements in Oklahoma education funding, at least by the Legislature, look bleak, at best. And now, we no longer have Mississippi to ease our pain. Last one into the cellar, close the door.


The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, June 13 - It’s well known that Oklahoma has often fallen short in protecting vulnerable children. In some high-profile cases, children who clearly should have been removed from a residence were not, and the end result was the child’s tragic death.

Yet despite those cases, another statistic suggests Oklahoma officials may be too quick to remove children from their homes. The ratio of Oklahoma children placed in foster care is 11 out of every 1,000. Only West Virginia has a higher rate.

The national average is less than half Oklahoma’s rate - five out of every 1,000. That’s also the rate of foster placement in neighboring Arkansas, which suffers from many of the socio-economic challenges that plague Oklahoma. And in Texas, the rate is even lower - just four out of every 1,000 children are in foster care.

In a recent meeting with The Oklahoman’s editorial board, Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake said there is a “prevailing practice or culture in Oklahoma that foster care is better” than leaving a child in a home with their parents.

While DHS officials want to ensure children’s safety, they’re also concerned about being overzealous as well. Lake noted the decision to remove a child from a parental home, even if only for a short time, can have long-term consequences.

“There’s a cliche now in child welfare that you can’t undo the harm of that first placement,” Lake said. “And that’s because, I think, the general public doesn’t understand the trauma, the impact of that trauma on children and their development all the rest of their days.”

He notes there is no real tie between foster placement rates and socio-economic challenges. “It’s not just that Oklahoma’s a poorer state,” Lake said. “There are poorer states that are doing a lot better at this than we are.”

Lake said part of the effort to transform DHS involves emphasizing alternatives “that will not produce the kind of harm, or trauma, of being separated from your family,” while still keeping children safe.

Lake said there are instances where the agency may be able to provide services to a family instead of removing children from a home. He said many states that rank below Oklahoma in foster placement rates have taken that approach.

“We’re not saying we’re just going to leave the children at home, because that’s better. That’s not accurate either,” Lake said. “It’s always a safety decision.”

The safety issue is one that looms constantly over DHS, one that has grown in recent years.

From 2011 to 2015, the number of referrals at DHS increased by 15 percent, from around 66,500 per year to roughly 76,500. The number of referrals involving children increased 25 percent. And, most worrisome, the number of cases where DHS substantiated abuse and neglect rose 90 percent.

Thus, the agency must still focus on recruiting more foster families even as officials seek to reduce the share of children placed in foster homes. That the agency couldn’t increase the pay for foster parents this year, despite prior commitments, is cause for concern.

The need for continued improvement at DHS is undoubted. That children have fallen through the cracks even in a system that appears overly reliant on removing children from their homes is just one more reminder.


Tahlequah Daily Press, June 8 - Many Oklahomans have about had it with the bunch at the statehouse. Not only did they waste time and money putting up measures that would never have passed constitutional muster, they came up with a budget that will satisfy few and solve no long-term problems.

Much of what legislators have done in recent months smacks of flagrant hypocrisy. When they preach about reducing the size of government, and then increase their own legislative budget and continue raking in their comparatively cushy salary and benefits packaged, it’s hard to avoid the irony. They alone seem to not have to suffer, though they got us in this mess in the first place.

What’s sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander in other ways, too. For instance, though our elected officials wet all over themselves in their haste to lick the collective boots of the NRA, and though they push at every opportunity for regulation-free open carry in every possible venue, their one exception would be the state capitol building.

Metal detectors at the entrance prevent visitors from bringing in guns. Though our lawmakers insist on the wholesale right to carry weapons, that right stops at their own door.

They know how despised they are, and they’re smart enough to realize lack of restrictions could put them in harm’s way. And thus while they implement laws to protect themselves from the guns they say “don’t kill people,” they’re making sure no barrels are aimed in their direction.

And some of the staunchest of the Second Amendment advocates, while denying others the right to do so, frequently tote their own pistols through the corridors. Although the security system ostensibly catches others who try to slip a gun into the building, legislators have the right to refuse screening. Logic suggests that anyone who avoids screening is probably packing.

Republican Rep. Sally Kern, who mercifully is term-limited, has been caught more than once slipping a piece into the statehouse.

She claims the gays whom she has so maligned are out to kill her, though she provides no evidence of any credible threat and has yet to report an attack from a roving gang of homosexuals.

Though Kern may stand apart in her particular theories, she’s not the only gun-wielding public servant. An Associated Press reporter witnessed six Republican House members set the alarms jangling over the course of 30 minutes.

None would admit they were armed, however, because being caught with a weapon is a misdemeanor that could subject them to fines.

When challenged on the issue, these people have the temerity to bring up their “constitutional rights.” The spectacularly hypocritical Sen. Ralph Shortey showed his true colors when he claimed, “If a legislator wants to carry a firearm in the Capitol, I think they have a constitutional protection to do that.”

Well, what about the rest of us private citizens who might want to avail ourselves of that privilege? It is we, after all, who own that building, not the people who occupy it.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol provides security to those passing through the doors, and it’s their job to make sure no one brings in a gun. Reluctant though they may be to stop the legislators - many of whom are arrogant enough to expect these officers to know who they are - they should hold lawmakers just as accountable as they would a regular Joe Blow from off the street.

Legislators should be subject to the same screening as anyone else, and those who bring guns into the capitol should have to face the consequences of their actions.

Either that, or they should get rid of the gun ban, and take their chances with the public at-large.

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