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Emergency Implies Urgency: Why Covid-19 in Oklahoma Never Qualified

In March of 2020, New York experienced a health emergency in the form of the Covid-19 virus. In just a few days’ time, and with very little warning, they went from a few confirmed cases to several thousand cases. On March 13 there were fewer than 100 new cases. A week later, on March 20, there were almost 2,000 new cases. This was a true emergency. It arrived without warning. There was little time for deliberation. Something had to be done immediately to stem the tide. Oklahoma was in a very different position. As late as June 8 there were fewer than 100 new cases a day. Oklahoma had three months to prepare for a potential crisis. Perhaps the numbers would have been higher sooner if not for the late-March lockdown order. (Remember when it was supposed to be three weeks to flatten the curve? Boy did they fool us with that one.) Even so, there were three weeks between New York’s emergency and the first “emergency” steps Oklahoma took to slow the spread. So why did the Governor need emergency powers? Do we really believe the legislature couldn’t convene (they were already in session) and come to a consensus regarding the best way to combat Covid? You don’t have to look far back in...

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Western Heights Fiasco Highlights Need for Reform

Last Monday the State Board of Education voted unanimously to amend the conditions of accreditation for the Western Heights school district, effectively taking over the district, substituting state control for local control. For the next year, every action taken by the district will be subject to review by the State Board. In addition, the district will be led by a State Board appointed interim superintendent. This seems to resolve a months-long struggle for power between the district board and the State Board, with the district board choosing to ignore repeated recommendations, suggestions, and mandates of the State Board. Accusations of serious impropriety  were leveled against the Western Heights school district during the March 25th State Board of Education meeting, including financial discrepancies, failed audits, abysmal student outcomes, and vindictive and retaliatory actions from district superintendent Mannix Barnes. The Board subsequently required Western Heights to appear at the April 9th board meeting, which they refused to do. At the April 9th State Board meeting, the Board voted to accredit the district with probation. In essence, the district was given 90 days from...

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Can Kids Handle CRT?

On Monday Oklahoma’s State Board of Education approved rules to implement HB 1775, a bill that bans critical race theory from public schools. The announcement renewed debate about CRT and whether it belongs in public school curricula. A fresh batch of op-eds in the Oklahoman criticize the bill as being rooted in unfounded fear. One piece, by the Editorial Board, entreats opponents of CRT to explain their opposition: “Exactly what are they afraid of?” Rhetorical questions like this only work if your interlocutor has no ready answer. That’s not the case here. CRT may be harmless as an academic hobby, but there is reason to be anxious about CRT being taught in K-12 schools. Reasoning about matters of fundamental importance in politics - such as whether CRT is a productive way to analyze racial disparities - requires great mental discipline. Human psychology is feeble. “Each man’s stock of reason is small,” Edmund Burke once wrote. Our natural inclination is to form opinions in crudely biased ways, and resisting this inclination - especially in the domain of politics - is hard enough for adults. For kids and young people, it’s even harder. There’s consensus about this in our...

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Restoration of First Amendment Rights in Sight for Oklahoma Lawyers, Weakening Monolithic Bar Association

Oklahoma lawyers - at least those who make a living doing lawyerly things - are currently required to join the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA). However, recent developments in legal challenges to various mandatory bar associations are likely to shake up this arrangement. The legislature should be ready to react to these changes in the next couple of years, as it seems likely that Oklahoma’s scheme will be held unconstitutional. Better yet, the legislature should take the initiative and proactively reform the OBA next session. The requirement to join the bar creates tension for several reasons. Aspiring lawyers, like other professionals, don’t want to jump through a bunch of hoops just so they can practice their trade. The OBA’s hoops are more burdensome than most, but this general arrangement is fairly common among licensed professions. The tradeoff with mandatory licensing is that you can charge more for your services than you could if your profession was open to everyone. You’re joining a cartel. This is why so many trade associations support licensing. Often, when licensing is enacted, longtime practitioners are grandfathered in, so there is no cost to them, only increased...

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Lowering Taxes is the Best Economic Incentive

The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.   - Jean-Baptiste Colbert  Around 20 years ago Oklahoma had the idea to be on the cutting edge of commercial space travel. Rocketplane, the company that was supposed to make this happen, was given $18 million in tax credits. Now, broken windows and crumbling walls are fairly common at the spaceport they built along with a few demolished warehouses. Though given money to make space travel happen, it failed. This malinvestment of tax dollars is common since the government acts with imperfect information to invest tax dollars.   There is clearly room for improvement in the level of taxation for Oklahomans. If the government has spaceport money, they have too much money. There are no good taxes and some are worse than others. Taxes alter production, limit economic growth, and hurt both consumers and sellers. A tax distorts pricing, not letting the market decide what a fair price should be. The increased cost of a tax changes what the market provides. Therefore, it’s imperative that taxes are their lowest feasible rate.  An average...

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Will Higher Education Funding Become a Partisan Wedge?

Last week the University of Oklahoma’s disregard for students’ free speech rights was displayed yet again. A disquieting recording, publicized by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, shows faculty presenters at a recent pedagogy workshop encouraging participants to “call out” students who use “problematic language” or reference “white supremacist ideas or sources” in their speech or writing. The “Anti-Racist Rhetoric and Pedagogies” workshop was one of several offered to first-year English composition instructors, who must attend one workshop each semester. One presenter can be heard saying, “One of the fears is that we’re going to get in trouble for this, right? Like we can’t tell students that they can’t say something in class. But we can. And let me tell you how.” Another says, “I, in this case, usually look for my students who might be, like, entertaining the idea of listening to a problematic argument. Then I say, ‘we don’t have to listen to that.’”  This marks the second time in just a few months that OU has been exposed by FIRE, a nonpartisan group that defends student and faculty rights at American universities. The first instance involved mandatory...

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Why the Hammer Thrower (Gwen Berry) Is Wrong

Gratiis – Latin word meaning “for thanks” and often contracted to “gratis,” meaning “without recompense, for nothing.” Roots for “gratitude,” “grace,” and “gracious.” Pushing for positive change, for justice where it has long been compromised, for right where wrong has been accepted, for restraint where largesse seems generous, and for discipline where indulgence has been easier always causes discomfort. It feels rude to call people to account. It’s complaining. It’s almost unseemly in tone. It certainly doesn’t sound thankful. But in an imperfect world, it’s necessary. Improvement doesn’t automatically just happen. In the movie Ford versus Ferrari, one of the antagonists, race car driver Ken Miles (played by Christian Bale) is quick and outspoken in criticizing whatever might be wrong. This is true whether it’s the car or Ford’s bureaucratic ways that has drawn his ire. He’s considered rude in his lack of conformity, but he knows his stuff. When he’s squeezed out, the Ford team loses. When he is included and drives, the Ford team wins. There is nothing inherently wrong with pushing for improvement where something less than perfection prevails. Vocal perfectionists with...

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Oklahoma Public Trusts Violate the Constitution and Inflate Government

Across our state, county and municipal governments are exploiting public trust laws to accomplish ends that would otherwise be impractical and unconstitutional, not to mention immoral and discriminatory. Consider a few examples. The Oklahoma City Public Property Authority (OCPPA) – a public trust in Oklahoma City that oversees the Cox Center and Chesapeake Arena – recently announced that it was leasing out 254,500 square feet of the Cox Center, to a film production company for the astounding price of one dollar for an entire year. Resigned to dealing with sunk costs or a vacant building, failing to see, or even solicit, viable alternatives, OCPPA believed the film production studio was a godsend that fell from the sky. But is this really in the best interest of the city’s taxpayers? As I’ve argued in a previous blog, simply selling the property, and letting the market decide its most efficient use, could have offered far superior options than essentially gifting the property to a private company. This is a textbook illustration of crony capitalism. Take another example. In recent weeks, two more trusts have made headlines for abusing their power. First, consider the Central...

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Oklahoma Innovation Expansion Program: Oklahoma’s Shark Tank?

In the show Shark Tank, an entrepreneur gives a presentation in hopes of receiving funding for a new venture or product. The investors (sharks) decide if the innovations are worthy of their investment, with an average approval rate of 56%. The Oklahoma Department of Commerce has decided to give this method a shot. While they are not filming a TV show, they are investing in companies claiming they can produce something innovative that will propagate growth and employment. At 78% approval, the odds of getting funding through the program are significantly better than Shark Tank. The state’s program provided $7.74 million in funding to those programs chosen and claims to have created 680 jobs (about $11,000 per job). The companies applying must have a payroll of $625,000 and at least $50,000 designated for capital investment. While requiring this higher level of payroll does favor companies that are less likely to fail, reducing the risk of the investment, it does distort the innovation process to favor bigger companies at the cost of smaller companies. In order to qualify, the project must be innovative, a project that shortens or strengthens the supply chain, or a project that...

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Oklahoma Educators Need to Read, and Follow, Directions

Read all the directions. Teachers used to say this before every test. Read all the directions. Following them was implied. Those who went directly to the first question often made mistakes. Sometimes extra credit was hidden in the directions. Unfortunately, Oklahoma teachers and school districts seem to be having trouble with both sides of that equation: reading and following directions. For example, at a school board meeting on June 7, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel talked about the impacts of SB658 on the district’s plans to continue mandating masks in schools beyond July 1. While Dr. McDaniel correctly pointed out that part of the bill requires the school board to put the issue of mask mandates on its agenda at every regular board meeting until they repeal it, he glosses over the fact that the relevant jurisdiction must be “under a current state of emergency declared by the Governor.” Neither Oklahoma County nor any other part of the state is currently under a Covid-related state of emergency. Putting the mandate on the school board’s agenda, consulting with the local health department, and explicitly listing the purposes of the mandate are all...

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The Rare Courage of Thomas Sowell

Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell BY JASON L. RILEY BASIC BOOKS, 248 PAGES, $19 Last Juneteenth Fortune Magazine published a list of “19 Black economists to know and celebrate.” Predictably, it fails to include Thomas Sowell, the Hoover Institution scholar and author of over 30 books, including the bestselling Basic Economics. Despite being frequently reckoned among the greatest economists alive today, Sowell continues to be ignored by mainstream media for espousing unwoke views on the merits of free markets and the demerits of liberal policies on poverty and race. But that hasn’t stopped him from educating millions of readers through the years with his dozens of books and innumerable essays and columns. Sowell is owed a great debt, and while his recent intellectual biography, written by the similarly contrarian Jason Riley, may not pay it in full, it’s a good start. Riley makes clear that Maverick is foremost an intellectual biography, an exploration of Sowell’s ideas more so than his life story. Interesting details about his life may surface now and then – he once rented a helicopter with fellow photography buff Steven Pinker to take aerial pictures of the San Francisco...

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No, 12-Year-Olds Are Not a Major Threat to Your Safety

​“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” -Edmund Burke, 1757 Just when you thought it was safe to resume some semblance of a normal life, another danger has appeared on the horizon: children ages 12-17. According to a Tulsa World article published Monday, the very low vaccination rate for that age demographic is cause for concern. Dr. Dale Bratzler, the University of Oklahoma’s chief Covid officer, is extremely worried about a spike in infections and deaths in the fall because of low vaccination rates for children ages 12-17. Citing data posted by the New York Times, he states that only 13% of Oklahomans aged 12-17 have had one dose of the vaccine, and only 6% have been fully vaccinated. This is bad news according to Dr. Bratzler, as it places Oklahoma well below the nation-wide one-dose average of 28% for 12-17-year-olds. While this may sound concerning, one must wonder why he is emphasizing vaccinations for 12-year-olds. Children run the lowest risk of infection, hospitalization, or death out of any age demographic – and it’s not even close. Here is Dr. Bratzler’s argument in a nutshell: currently, children ages 12-17 have...

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Best District in Oklahoma; Mediocre Everywhere Else

It probably comes as no surprise to many that the Jenks public school district would be named the best school district in the State of Oklahoma. Not only has this happened before, the district is in a fairly well-to-do community, it has nice facilities, it’s good-sized, and it is decently financed. What the Jenks school district is not, however, is all that good, at least not according to the statistics published by Stacker.com, which reported the best district in every state. Only 44% (4 in 10) of students in the Jenks district are considered proficient in reading. When it comes to math, only 42% (4 in 10) Jenks students are proficient. Compared to the best districts in the other 49 states, only Oklahoma’s best district had a level of reading proficiency under 50%. Most states’ best districts reported more than 60% of their students proficient in reading. Percentages above 70 and 80 are common. In general, other states’ best districts did not fair quite as well when it came to math proficiency. A few others saw percentages below 50%, with at least one reported at Jenks’ abysmal level. But 50%, 60%, and 70% of students proficient in math were common statistics among districts...

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Universal School Choice Empowers Parents and Undermines Indoctrination

Over the years, I’ve listened to numerous interest groups and cabinet officials pitch various public policy ideas. While discussing how the proposal would resolve some issue of state-wide concern, proponents often included the caveat, “It’s not a silver bullet.” Very few policies merit silver-bullet designation; however, universal school choice is a notable exception. Truly universal choice can resolve many of the problems that plague today’s education system. During the 2021 legislative session, the state legislature took steps toward increasing mobility within the monopolistic public education system with two pieces of legislation. The first expanded the state’s open transfer law, and the second supported a pluralistic educational system by growing the state’s Equal Opportunity Scholarship program. As the legislature supports legislation that empowers every parent to direct their child's education, an actual educational marketplace will arise. An open educational marketplace will allow students and parents to vote with their feet. It will enable them to determine the composition of a pluralistic system as they send their children to schools that meet students’ individual needs....

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Hate

From guest writer John Brock: I hate Hate. It ruins your life. It destroys your soul. “Hate destroys the very structure of the personality of the hater ... when you start hating anybody, it destroys the very center of your creative response to life and the universe; so, love everybody.” - Martin Luther King, Jr “Always remember, others may hate you. Those who hate you do not win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.” - Richard Nixon “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” - Nelson Mandela I am fearful that we in the United States are institutionalizing Hate. It is institutionalized in the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. When you visit Kosovo or other Baltic countries, the first thing they tell you about is an atrocity committed by their neighbors a thousand years ago. These countries are filled with hate. It causes "ethnic cleansing" as in Rwanda and Kosovo. In our country, a multi-million-dollar industry of extortion has grown up around...

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Unintended Consequences of Government Intervention: Inflation, Shortages, & Surpluses

The economy before Covid-19 was starting to show the wear of a long-term boom. The Fed funds rate was cut in July of 2019 and has continued on a downward trajectory. The yield curve flipped in the summer of 2019, showing that short term investments were favored over longer term investments, which does not bode well for a robust economy. In the Oklahoma economy both natural gas and oil prices started dropping in January of last year (2020). The rig count, the number of oil and natural gas wells that are currently being drilled, had a sharp downturn in the second half of 2019, with the number being cut almost in half from 96 in July to 51 in November. It is fair to say the economy could have been doing better leading into the Covid-19 crisis. Then the government decided which jobs were and were not needed and some businesses were shut down. Which businesses were allowed to stay open was seemingly random with some businesses favored over others. The closures put undue hardship on businesses that were already faced with a lackluster economy. During this period many businesses that supposedly closed temporarily never reopened. How could the price of such an intervention be truly...

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Legislators Have a Responsibility to Make Laws, Not Goals

The world seems to be dividing into two camps. In the first camp, we value freedom, and we know that it can only survive with a healthy dose of personal responsibility. We accept responsibility for our actions, including our mistakes. Those in the second camp value safety, even when it comes at the expense of freedom. They also tend to look for ways to escape accountability. Some vague notion of “society” is somehow responsible for every mistake you make. Individuals who act wrongly are victims of this ineffable society. Most Oklahomans are in the first camp. And, logically, we tend to vote for leaders who reflect these values. We like it when adults take responsibility for their actions, even if they turned out poorly. Political scientists theorize that legislators prefer to delegate responsibility to unaccountable administrative agencies. The theory goes that legislators are constantly trying to keep everyone happy. They create administrative agencies with vague missions and send them forth into the state to do good things. They bask in the goodwill created by forming these agencies. But when the agencies act in ways that are unpopular, legislators can plausibly claim they...

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Oklahoma Policymakers End Perverse Incentives, Encourage Oklahomans to Get Back to Work

This week Governor Stitt and the Oklahoma Legislature decided to end participation in a handful of federal pandemic aid programs, namely the $300 per week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and the Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC). These federal benefits will expire on June 27th, giving recipients approximately six weeks to find a new job. In addition, the governor signed an executive order offering a special one-time $1200 incentive to the first 20,000 workers to rejoin the workforce. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has turned into a partisan issue. Governors and legislatures in many GOP-led states have opted out of the federal assistance programs or signaled their intention to do so. Those on the other side of the aisle decry such actions as a dangerous attempt to take aid away from people in their most vulnerable state, leaving them without a job or the enhanced unemployment benefits. One article in the Oklahoman lists a few reasons why they believe opting out of these benefits is dangerous (quoting from the article): Some jobless workers don't have the...

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Open Transfer, Great! But Transfer to Where?

Much ado has been made about the passage of HB 2074, which expands the Open Transfer Act – allowing children to more easily transfer from one school or district to another. While it isn’t perfect and leaves room for bureaucratic gamesmanship, I am happy to see a move toward increased student mobility. In the world of parent empowerment and school choice, expanding transferability is a good but small first step. Regrettably, the options available to a majority of parents remain severely limited. Much of the state is still legally and culturally antagonistic to parental control and educational choice. During a recent conversation, I mentioned that my wife and I were trying to find a school for our soon-to-be kindergarteners. We were informed that the schools in the area were “good,” something we are frequently told even though school report cards do not support this claim. I then stated that I was hoping to set up some tours of the local schools and classrooms to get a better feel for the campus as well as what was being taught and how. The response? Laughter. Apparently, that does not happen. The complacency and lack of transparency are concerning to me as a parent, a resident,...

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Grand Jury’s Epic Schools Report – Abuse of Justice System

What would a grand jury know about school funding? What an odd question. One might as well ask what an elephant knows about landing on the moon. The two have nothing to do with each other. Unfortunately, the question is far more relevant than it ought to be. Earlier this month, a multi-county grand jury investigating Epic Charter Schools issued an Interim Report, offering its “expert” opinion on how the legislature should reform charter school laws. Yes, you read that correctly, a secret body convened to investigate potential criminal charges, armed with subpoena power, is offering the legislature a position paper on school funding and management. The grand jury’s position can be boiled down to two concerns: first, the company managing Epic is for-profit, rather than a not-for-profit company or a government agency; and second, the company managing Epic is acting like a for-profit company, rather than a not-for-profit company or a government agency. Neither of these is against the law. Remember that a grand jury’s role is to bring indictments for criminal activity. The report stresses that the grand jury is not concerned with the quality of education Epic is offering. The grand...

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