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Statewide News

Coordinated effort brings together state, national organizations to focus on expanding broadband and digital learning opportunities for schools across state

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today launched the Oklahoma Connect and Learn Initiative, a coordinated effort to bring high-speed broadband and digital learning opportunities to schools across the state. As part of the initiative, Oklahoma is partnering with interested school districts and telecommunications service providers to increase the number of schools with fiber optic connections, improve the capacity and affordability of those connections and ensure Oklahoma classrooms have Wi-Fi access to better facilitate digital learning.

“I am proud to establish the Oklahoma Connect and Learn Initiative,” said Fallin. “The initiative is a voluntary program that works with schools to use existing funding efficiently and effectively to maximize opportunities to provide high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi access to students across Oklahoma.

“This techonology also creates digital learning opportunities so that every student may have a personalized learning plan that may include upper level math and science classes and concurrent enrollment courses.”

The Oklahoma Connect and Learn Initiative state team includes the governor’s office,  Oklahoma State Department of Education, Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services and a local school superintendent.

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and EducationSuperHighway, the nation’s leading non-profit focused on upgrading Internet access in every public school classroom in America, are providing technical assistance to the state.

“At EducationSuperHighway, we have one mission: get more students online at speeds that can support digital learning,” said Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of EducationSuperHighway. “In our modern educational environment that is imperative to ensuring students can truly access the tools and resources they need to learn and grow. No student should ever miss out on an educational opportunity because of where they go to school. That’s not fair to them, and it’s not how we will build the strong and vibrant economy we need in the years ahead.

“We are thrilled to partner with the governor in this visionary effort. We are going to get high-speed broadband into more Oklahoma schools, and it’s going to make this great state even stronger. We congratulate Governor Fallin for her leadership and can’t wait to get started.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said she is thrilled for the Education Department to play a role in an initiative as critical to student success as the Oklahoma Connect and Learn Initiative.

“Now is the time to invest in our children’s future by providing them with the tools they need to succeed in a 21st-century education,” said Hofmeister. “It is our shared goal that all Oklahoma schoolchildren become actively engaged in a connected, digital world while preparing for college and career. This initiative is an important step forward in reaching that goal.”

Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy said this initiative will be a boon to Oklahoma students.

“Access to the digital superhighway is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity,” said Murphy. “The OCC is proud to do its part to make it a reality for Oklahoma’s students.”

OKLAHOMA CITY – The annual filing most insurance carriers will use to develop rates for workers’ compensation insurance shows a decrease for the fourth year in a row. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) filed an overall loss cost decrease of 10.2 percent on Thursday. NCCI credits Oklahoma’s loss cost decrease to declines in market experience and market trend, as well as the recent reforms.
 
“I’m extremely encouraged to see this positive trend continue for another year,” Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak said. “When Oklahoma business owners can pay less for workers’ compensation insurance, they can spend more on their employees and on creating jobs. It is a win-win for everyone.”
With this year’s drop, the total impact of NCCI filings since 2013 is a 44 percent decrease. The new loss costs will go through a review process and are expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

The NCCI is an advisory organization that studies workplace injuries, collects workers’ compensation claim data, analyzes industry trends and develops loss costs to be used in the ratemaking process. Most workers’ compensation carriers use the NCCI loss cost values when determining the rates charged to Oklahoma employers.

About the Oklahoma Insurance Department

The Oklahoma Insurance Department, an agency of the State of Oklahoma, is responsible for the education and protection of the insurance-buying public and for oversight of the insurance industry in the state.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today released the following statement on the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2001.

“Fifteen years after 9/11, the United States of America remains the world’s greatest beacon of liberty. On that day, the horrors of terrorism were brought to our doorstep and we were reminded our freedoms make us a target for the enemies of liberty.

“As we remember and pray for the victims of September 11 and their families, we should also take time to honor the heroic actions of countless Americans on that day. The heroes of United Flight 93 kept that plane from hitting its intended target. Thousands of firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency responders rushed to Ground Zero and other crash sites to save lives.

“Finally, let’s express our gratitude for the men and women of our armed services who risk their lives to protect the liberty of others, both here at home and abroad.”

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin has declared a state of emergency for Pawnee County due to a magnitude 5.6 earthquake that occurred Saturday morning near the city of Pawnee.

The earthquake was felt in multiple states and was the strongest the state has experienced since November 2011 when a magnitude 5.6 earthquake occurred in Lincoln County.

“I’m glad to hear no one was seriously hurt in today’s earthquake and damage appears to be limited. This emergency declaration will start the process to helping individuals, families and businesses impacted by the earthquakes and serves as a precursor to requesting any necessary assistance,” said Fallin.

“I appreciate the quick response by the Department of Emergency Management and Department of Transportation to assess damage of the affected area and to ensure our state highway and turnpike bridges are safe. And I applaud the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state agency tasked with regulating the oil and gas industry, in taking swift action by ordering all disposal wells within a 725-square mile area of today’s earthquake to shut down and working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has sole jurisdiction over disposal wells in nearby Osage County.

"Information on the earthquake is still being collected," Fallin said, "and will be reviewed by my coordinating council on seismic activity chaired by Secretary of Energy and Environment Michael Teague, as we continue to move forward to make our state safe.”

Fallin and state emergency management officials are asking residents to submit photos of earthquake damage to their homes or businesses through the OK Emergency mobile application. The OK Emergency app is available for Apple, Android, and Blackberry devices as well as any other smartphone, tablet or computer through the mobile site: www.emergency.ok.gov.

Fallin’s executive order allows state agencies to make emergency purchases related to disaster relief and preparedness. The declaration also marks a first step toward seeking federal aid should it be necessary.

Under the executive order, the state of emergency lasts for 30 days. Additional counties may be added if needed.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Attorney General Scott Pruitt on Thursday submitted the ballot title for State Question 788, a measure that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in Oklahoma.

“I commend the attorneys in my office for their diligent work to complete this ballot title in an efficient manner. While my office has done its part by preparing the ballot title well before the September 1 deadline, there are still steps remaining in order for the question to be placed on a ballot,” Attorney General Pruitt said.

“We are dealing with processes established in both federal and state election law for initiatives proposed by the people that require specific procedures to be followed. Even with expedited efforts of both the Secretary of State’s office to count the signatures and my office to write the ballot title, the state is running up against deadlines imposed by this process. It’s important for the people of Oklahoma to know, regardless of the substance of the state question, the signatures were not submitted with enough time to allow this process to be played out completely.”

After the Attorney General's Office submits the substitute ballot title to the Secretary of State, it must be published and opponents must have ten business days to object to the ballot title based on the validity or number of signatures or a challenge to the ballot title. Pursuant to 34 O.S. § 12, the governor cannot issue the proclamation placing the initiative petition on the ballot until the timeline for objections and protests has passed.

To view a copy of the submitted ballot title, click here.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016 13:04

Oklahoma shows increase in ACT participation

OKLAHOMA CITY (Aug. 24, 2016) – More of Oklahoma’s graduating seniors took the ACT college entrance exam than in the previous five years, according to information released today by ACT.

According to ACT, 2,010 more Oklahoma graduating seniors took the test, a 6.5-percent increase over the prior year’s cohort. State participation has been climbing, with 12 percent more students taking the exam since 2012.

Nationally, 64 percent of graduating seniors take the ACT, compared to 82 percent in Oklahoma.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said when more Oklahoma students are taking the ACT, colleges are receiving more information about those students, opening the door to recruitment and scholarship opportunities for Oklahomans.

“Clearly, more of our students are exploring the possibility of extending their education beyond high school,” Hofmeister said. ”More students having access to college-entrance exams means new on-ramps to post-secondary education. This is an important and positive trend, since an estimated 62 percent of Oklahoma jobs will require a post-secondary education by 2020.”

Meanwhile, the number of Oklahoma juniors taking the ACT in 2016 skyrocketed by at least 58 percent over 2015. Last spring, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) offered an ACT pilot program that enabled all public high school juniors in the state to take the exam at no cost to districts or students. Nearly every eligible high school participated, with 457 of 459 taking advantage of the voluntary program. In all, 35,477 juniors took the ACT as part of the initiative, compared to 22,500 the year before. The performance of Oklahoma’s juniors will be reflected in next year’s ACT score report of graduating seniors.

“Higher participation gives us a better picture of how we are doing at preparing our young people for college and career,” Hofmeister said. “The ACT, like any test, is a tool to show us areas of strength and weakness. We then act on that valuable information.”

The state’s average composite score went from 20.7 to 20.4, while the national average composite score dropped from 21.0 to 20.8. Data shows that state composite scores are in line with changes in scores across the nation, dropping 0.3 points and 0.2 points, respectively. Oklahoma ranks 29th overall in average composite scores nationally.

The fastest growing racial/ethnic group testing with the ACT over the last five years in Oklahoma is Hispanic/Latino. This group has increased by 45.2 percent. The percentage of Native Americans in Oklahoma taking the test has declined in the same time period by 9.2 percent. However, Native Americans in Oklahoma are performing better than those in the nation. Oklahoma’s Native Americans averaged a score of 19.1, while the national average for the group was 17.1.

Oklahoma’s performance in reading matches that of the nation, both with an average score of 21.3. Meanwhile, the state still lags in math with a score of 19.5 versus a national score of 20.6.

Levi Patrick, OSDE director of secondary mathematics, said the recent instability of academic standards is one reason Oklahoma’s math scores are below average.

“With the flurry of academic standards within the past five years, our seniors have experienced a constant fluctuation in what they’ve been expected to learn. Mix in a culture of over-testing, and it has been hard to maintain a focus on content,” Patrick said. “We feel good about the future because with our new Oklahoma Academic Standards, we have identified and corrected weaknesses from previous standards. In addition to being more rigorous, the new standards have closed instructional gaps and incorporated meaningful progression across grades. We will begin to see a real difference in deep and conceptual understanding over the next few years as the transition between middle school and high school mathematics becomes much more seamless.”

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today signed election proclamations that place five additional state questions on the November 8 general election ballot.

The paperwork signed by the governor placed these issues on the ballot:

State Question (SQ) 779, which would increase the state sales tax by 1 percent to fund teacher pay raises and other education causes.

SQ 780, which reclassify some criminal offenses, such as drug possession and property crimes, as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

SQ 781, which would take money saved from implementing SQ 780 and allow counties to fund community rehabilitation programs.

SQ 790, which would remove a section of the Oklahoma Constitution prohibiting use of state resources for religious purposes.

SQ 792, which would allow wine and full-strength beer to be sold in grocery stores and convenience stores.
The deadline for the governor to sign election proclamations for state questions to be placed on the November8 general election ballot is Friday.

Two other state questions already are on the ballot. SQ 776 would declare that the death penalty is not cruel or unusual punishment and would allow the Legislature to designate any method of execution if a current method is declared unconstitutional. SQ 777 would prevent lawmakers from passing legislation to regulate agriculture unless there is a compelling state interest.

OKThunder

Founded in 2007 the Oklahoma Thunder was undefeated for three seasons and have been ranked number one in the minor league football for two years in a row.  

The Thunder won the Impact Conference Championship this evening against the Memphis Blast at Holland Hall Stadium with an ending score of 37 to 11 earning them a spot in the Gridiron Bowl.

The Oklahoma Thunder football team is a member of the Gridiron Developmental Football League.

Class Photo and Student Session 070

(Shawnee, Okla. – August 19, 2016) Orientation leaders, Resident Assistants (RAs) and the St. Gregory’s University community have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of new students on campus. On Friday, August 19, students and families made their journeys to campus for move-in day.

Alyssa Woolums, an incoming freshman from Texas, is looking forward to getting involved in all that student life at St. Gregory’s has to offer.

“I’m so excited for the whole college experience here at St. Gregory’s. I have been looking forward to getting to campus all summer, so it’s great to finally be here,” she said. “I’m excited about the aerial silk dance class that I’ll be taking and I’ll be a member of the Buckley Team. I’m so excited to get involved in whatever else I can during my time here!”

New students and their families were greeted by current St. Gregory’s students who helped move boxes, bags and refrigerators into their new home on campus. As the vice president of the Student Government Association and assistant resident director, senior Ruby Arani from Midwest City, Okla., enjoyed the new energy that incoming students brought.

“My favorite thing about move-in day is getting to meet all of our new Cavaliers and their families,” said Arani. “They come in with such a great energy and passion for St. Gregory’s, so it’s great to be part of welcoming them into our St. Gregory’s family!”

Freshmen and transfer students settle in quickly, as move-in day also serves as the kick off to New Student Orientation weekend. With activities such as a meet and greet with the monks of St. Gregory’s Abbey, an introduction to campus and closing with the Academic Convocation on Sunday, students have the opportunity to connect with their future classmates, as well as learn more about the St. Gregory’s community.

New Student Orientation also signifies the kick-off to the 2016-2017 academic year, with fall classes beginning on Monday, August 22.
Class Photo and Student Session Photo Caption: St. Gregory’s University’s new students gather for a photo on the steps of historic Benedictine Hall.

Move In Day 2016 042: St. Gregory’s freshman Alyssa Woolums poses for a photo with her parents as she sets up her dorm room during Cavalier Move In Day.

Move In Day 2016 010: McCrae Lopez, sophomore, helps unload a new student’s car to help them get their dorm room set up during Cavalier Move In Day.

Founded in 1875, St. Gregory’s University is Oklahoma’s oldest institution of higher learning and only Catholic university. St. Gregory’s offers a liberal arts education rooted in the Benedictine tradition of cultivating the whole person – mind, body and spirit. With campuses in Shawnee and Tulsa, St. Gregory’s features both traditional and adult degree programs, including associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees. For more information about the cardboard boat University, visit www.stgregorys.edu.

Move In Day 2016 010

Move In Day 2016 042

Agreement settles long-standing water disputes, establishes framework for future cooperation and conservation, and provides certainty for water resource management

OKLAHOMA CITY/DURANT, Okla./ADA, Okla. – The Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations, the State of Oklahoma and the City of Oklahoma City announced today that they have reached a water rights settlement, which will be presented to Congress for final approval.

When finalized, the settlement will resolve long-standing questions over water rights ownership and regulatory authority over the waters of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations’ historic treaty territories, an area that spans approximately 22 counties in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma. The agreement provides a framework that fosters intergovernmental collaboration on significant water resource concerns within the Settlement Area, while at the same time protecting existing water rights and affirming the State’s role in water rights permitting and administration. Additionally, the agreement will implement a robust system of lake level release restrictions to allow Oklahoma City’s measured use of Sardis Lake for municipal supply purposes while continuing to support regionally critical recreation, fish and wildlife uses.

“We are proud to be part of this historic agreement among the State of Oklahoma, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and the City of Oklahoma City,” said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. “We all understand the importance of water for sustaining life and as the engine that drives our economic growth. By choosing cooperation and collaboration over conflict and litigation, this agreement strengthens governmental relationships based on the common interests of the State and the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations.

“While the State will continue to exercise its authority to manage and protect water resources throughout Oklahoma, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations will rightly play a role in significant water allocation and management evaluations within the Settlement Area. This agreement is an important first step in all Oklahomans coming together to address the wise use and protection of our shared water resources.”

For decades there has been legal uncertainty in the Settlement Area regarding water rights and regulatory authority arising from unresolved questions of federal law and tribal rights. These uncertainties have contributed to long-running conflicts over Sardis Lake and the Kiamichi Basin in southeastern Oklahoma, resulting in multiple court actions. Once finalized, the settlement will end ongoing litigation including a federal lawsuit the Nations filed against the State of Oklahoma and the City of Oklahoma City with regard to Sardis Lake and other waters of the historic treaty territory and a second lawsuit the State filed to adjudicate water rights in the Kiamichi, the Muddy Boggy, and the Clear Boggy watersheds. By reaching this settlement, the parties avoid decades of litigation and associated expenses and uncertainty for the State, the Nations, Oklahoma City and property owners throughout the Settlement Area.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt commented, “Water is a shared resource, so finding a way to work together was vitally important. I commend the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations and City of Oklahoma City for working purposefully and tirelessly with the State over the past five years to reach an equitable agreement. The State retains its permitting authority over water in the Settlement Area, which is important since uniform permitting and administration provide certainty and consistency for the management and use of water resources. When finalized, the agreement will protect existing rights and provide certainty for future uses in southeastern Oklahoma and other areas of the state.”

Under the terms of the agreement, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations will participate in technical evaluations of significant future water right allocation proposals within the Settlement Area. The agreement also formalizes protections for the current and future water needs of communities throughout the region, ensuring adequate water for south-central and southeastern Oklahoma and enhancing stewardship of water resources both for future consumptive use within the region as well as protecting lake levels and stream flows on which the vibrant tourism industry relies.

“This agreement is a win for all Oklahomans,” said Gov. Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation. “We have forged this deal based on our common interests with an understanding that we all want the same thing – to take care of our vital water resources responsibly with respect to the needs of all Chickasaws, Choctaws and Oklahomans. The Nations now have a meaningful and active voice in significant water transfers from our area. Furthermore, this settlement preserves and protects water resources essential to economic growth and quality of life in south-central and southeastern Oklahoma. Unity and cooperation among all stakeholders offers our best chance to help ensure a strong economy and thriving natural environment for our children and grandchildren through proper stewardship of our shared water resources.”

Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation stated, “What happens in regards to the protection and preservation of water is of great importance. When finalized, this agreement secures existing uses of water and provides certainty with regard to the future use of Sardis Lake for the benefit of recreation, fish and wildlife, and local water use. Importantly, moving forward, both the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations will have a seat at the table in the protection of southeastern Oklahoma water resources for municipal and recreational use. And, as we all know, a vibrant recreation and tourism industry creates jobs and strengthens economies inside and outside of the Settlement Area. Additionally, we are pleased that the agreement supports keeping water in the Settlement Area within the State by maintaining current state law prohibitions and adding significant protections.”

“Five years of concentrated research, analysis and modeling provide the underpinnings of this agreement,” stated J.D. Strong, Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) executive director. “All parties were committed to basing decisions on fact and science, building upon the foundation of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan using the best information we had or could develop regarding potential impacts on lake levels and stream flows. The State, the Nations and Oklahoma City were committed to applying what we have learned through decades of study so that our water resources can be protected while supporting a strong and growing economy in the region and throughout the state.”

The agreement also establishes the legal security of Oklahoma City’s water supplies and gives the greater Oklahoma City metropolitan area access to water for its future needs. Oklahoma City’s releases from Sardis Lake will be governed by a system of lake level release restrictions based on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s lake level management plan, which is designed to protect fishing and recreational resources. Oklahoma City will also gain access to the Kiamichi River dependent upon lake level release and minimum stream flow restrictions intended to protect the environment and recreational uses.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett commented, “We expect the considerable growth we have experienced in Oklahoma City over the past decades to continue well into this century. Our future growth will be propelled by our ability to attract capital, promote innovation, maintain affordable energy, increase productivity, and probably most importantly, manage our water and land use. And while this agreement ensures we have access to water through a clearly defined and orderly process for decades ahead, we must continue to promote water conservation. We are pleased to be part of this agreement and the opportunities it creates for even greater collaboration and cooperation in the future.”

The agreement achieves the State’s goals of affirming the OWRB’s role in water rights administration, allowing for an orderly system of water allocation and administration. Additionally, the agreement resolves the outstanding debt associated with Sardis Lake and provides vital water supply to local water users and to Oklahoma City, while at the same time protecting recreational uses and the reservoir’s trophy bass fishery.

Existing water rights or rights to surface or groundwater will not be affected by the agreement, and the agreement does not authorize out-of-state use or diversion of water, which remains unlawful absent of State legislative approval. The settlement calls for a commission to evaluate the impacts of future proposals for out-of-state water use or diversion, which would remain subject to State legislative authorization. Should the Oklahoma Legislature ever approve such a proposal, the agreement ensures that any proceeds would be devoted to meeting water and wastewater infrastructure needs, particularly in southeastern Oklahoma.

In response to the announcement of an agreement, The Honorable Judge Lee R. West, with the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, commented, “I have been on the bench for 51 years, but this is an especially proud moment to witness all of these diverse parties coming together to find solutions that are in the best interest of all Oklahomans and my home state. This is without doubt an historic achievement.”

After the agreement is signed by all parties, it must be approved by federal legislation and executed by the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior. The parties are now working with the Oklahoma congressional delegation to secure appropriate legislation.

Additional information can be found online at www.WaterUnityOK.com.

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