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Statewide News

By Sara Plummer OSU Institute of Technology

For the second consecutive year, OSU Institute of Technology was ranked first for students to graduate with the least amount of debt in the West region in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 list of Best Colleges released Wednesday. The lowest debt load distinction places OSUIT third among all regional colleges in the nation.

OSUIT, which participated in the rankings for the third year, was listed as No. 5 in the Top Public Schools- West; No. 20 in Top Regional Colleges-West; and No. 7 in Best Ethnic Diversity rankings for the West Region.

Fifteen states are included in the region: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Less than half of all OSUIT students graduate with college loan debt, and the average amount of debt is $13,775, according to U.S. News’ rankings. Analysts report the average student debt nationally is $35,051, that’s two and a half times more than OSUIT students have when they graduate.

In fact, of all the regional colleges in the North, South, Midwest and West regions, OSUIT ranked third in lowest student debt.

“One of the things that brings me great pride at OSUIT is that our students leave here with little or no debt after they walk across our graduation stage. It’s become a very rare thing in this country, and I am honored that we are recognized as the top school in our region to offer such an affordable, but vital, education,” said Dr. Bill R. Path, OSUIT president.

Rogers State University was ranked second for graduates with the least amount of debt in the West region.

OSUIT continued to make the list of the top colleges in the West region in both the overall and public school categories. U.S. News rankings take into consideration several factors such as freshman retention rates, graduation rates, student to teacher ratios, acceptance rates, ACT/SAT test scores and percentage of classes with 20 or fewer students.

OSUIT was also recognized in the Best Ethnic Diversity regional rankings. U.S. News factors in the proportion of minority students, excluding international students, among each institution’s 2015-16 academic year student body.

The methodology, developed by Philip Meyer and Shawn McIntosh, produces a diversity index that ranges from 0.0 to 1.0. The closer a school’s number is to 1, the more diverse the student population and the more likely it is for students to interact with peers from different ethnic groups.

OSUIT’s index number is 0.54 with the largest minority group on campus being Native Americans, which make up 14 percent of the student population.

“Creating a diverse and inclusive environment is something we at OSUIT are continuously striving toward,” Path said. “Having a diverse campus with people from different backgrounds and with different life experiences is one of the best ways for our students to learn and truly become global citizens.”

Other Oklahoma institutions to make the West region’s Best Ethnic Diversity rankings are St. Gregory’s University, Rogers State University and Oklahoma Baptist University.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced she is appointing Charles “Chuck” Sullivan as district attorney for Pittsburg and Haskell counties. He will replace Farley Ward, who is retiring Sept. 30.

Sullivan, of McAlester, will serve as district attorney for the remainder of Ward’s term, which expires in January 2019.

“Chuck Sullivan has an array of legal experience that gives him a unique perspective,” said Fallin. “I know he will serve the people of Pittsburg and Haskell counties well as district attorney.”

Ward, elected district attorney in 2010, recommended Sullivan, who currently serves as his top assistant, to replace him.

Previously, Sullivan worked in insurance defense with the Steidley and Neal law firm in McAlester and for the Tulsa County public defender’s office.

Sullivan earned his law degree from the University of Tulsa. He and his wife, Kristin, live in McAlester with their family.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin today announced the appointment of Irma J. Newburn as district judge for Comanche County. She is replacing Keith B. Aycock, who retired July 1.

Newburn, of Lawton, serves as first district attorney in Comanche County. She is also a member of the Oklahoma Board of Corrections. Fallin appointed her to the corrections board in February 2015.

Newburn has worked in the Comanche County district attorney’s office since 2008. Before that, she worked one year for a private law firm in Lawton. She also worked as a deputy court clerk for the city of Lawton and as a clerk for the Lawton Police Department.

“Irma Newburn is a skilled attorney who has a wealth of experience in the law and criminal proceedings,” said Fallin. “Given her knowledge and experience, I know she will serve the residents of Comanche County well.”

Newburn earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Cameron University and her law degree from Oklahoma City University School of Law. She is the mother of two adult daughters, Alicia and Beverly.

“My diversity of experience has given me an in-depth understanding of the legal process that will allow me to make decisions that are not only just, but well-grounded in the law,” Newburn said. “I welcome the opportunity to serve my community as a district court judge.”

OKLAHOMA CITY – Gross Receipts to the Treasury continued their downward trajectory for an 18th consecutive month in August as unemployment figures released late in the month show Oklahoma’s jobless numbers exceed the national rate for the first time in almost 26 years.

Reports released today by State Treasurer Ken Miller show gross receipts – which provide a broad view of state economic activity – were down by 4 percent in August compared to the same month of last year. Total collections during the past 12 months were off by more than 7 percent compared to the prior period, according to the reports.

The revenue news comes as the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reports the state’s unemployment rate at 5 percent, one-tenth of one percentage point higher than the national rate of 4.9 percent in July. The last time Oklahoma’s jobless rate topped that of the nation was in October 1990.

Miller, an economist, said he’s on the lookout for indications the contraction is ending.

“We keep scouring through the data to find signs of an impending turnaround, but it’s just not there,” Miller said. “Some aspects of the August report aren’t as negative as in prior months – a few revenue streams have ticked up slightly – but we can’t yet point to a positive trend.”

Unlike the past few months, August gross receipts show two revenue sources with slight improvements. Monthly collections from individual income and motor vehicle taxes were each around 5 percent higher than in August 2015. However, measured over the past 12 months, every major revenue stream remains lower than the prior one-year period.

Collections from gross production taxes on oil and natural gas increased from the prior month for the fourth consecutive time, reflecting a slight rebound in wellhead prices. However, compared to the prior year, receipts remain suppressed.

August collections

The report for August lists gross receipts at $832.2 million, down $34.3 million, or 4 percent, from August 2015.

Gross income tax collections, a combination of individual and corporate income taxes, generated $254.2 million, a reduction of $4 million, or 1.53 percent, from the previous August.

Individual income tax collections for the month are $242.7 million, up by $12.3 million, or 5.3 percent, from the prior year. Corporate collections are $11.5 million, down by $16.3 million, or 58.5 percent.

Sales tax collections, including remittances on behalf of cities and counties, total $351.2 million in August. That is $21.5 million, or 5.8 percent, below August of last year.

Gross production taxes on oil and natural gas generated $31.8 million during the month, a decrease of $9 million, or 5.8 percent, from last August. Compared to July reports, gross production collections are up by $1.3 million, or 4.2 percent.

Motor vehicle taxes produced $68.7 million, up by $3 million, or 4.5 percent, from the prior year.

Other collections, consisting of about 60 different sources including taxes on fuel, tobacco, horse race gambling and alcoholic beverages, produced $126.3 million during the month. That is $2.7million, or 2.1 percent, less than last August.

Twelve-month collections

During the past 12 months, September 2015 through August 2016, gross revenue totals $1 million less than $11 billion. That is $903.8 million, or 7.6 percent, below collections for the previous 12-month period.

Gross income taxes generated $4.1 billion for the period, reflecting a drop of $317.9 million, or 7.2 percent, from the preceding 12 months, September 2014 to August 2015.

Individual income tax collections total $3.6 billion, down by $212.3 million, or 5.6 percent, from the prior 12 months. Corporate collections are $507.8 million for the period, a decrease of $105.6 million, or 17.2 percent, from the previous period.

Sales taxes for the 12 months generated $4.2 billion, a decrease of $217.4 million, or 4.9 percent, from the preceding period.

Oil and gas gross production tax collections brought in $347 million during the 12 months, down by $280.2 million, or 44.7 percent, from the trailing period.

Motor vehicle collections total $753.1 million for the period. This is a decrease of $15.3 million, or 2 percent, from the trailing 12 months.

Other sources generated $1.6 billion, down $73 million, or 4.4 percent, from the previous 12 months.

About Gross Receipts to the Treasury

Since March 2011, the Treasurer’s Office has issued the monthly Gross Receipts to the Treasury report, which provides a timely and broad view of the state’s macro economy.

It is provided in conjunction with the General Revenue Fund allocation report from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, which provides important information to state agencies for budgetary planning purposes.

The General Revenue Fund receives slightly less than half of the state’s gross receipts with the remainder paid in rebates and refunds, remitted to cities and counties, and placed into off-the-top earmarks to other state funds.

 (OKLAHOMA CITY) The Department of Public Safety has announced that the agency will receive a $1.9 million allocation from the state budget surplus.

The news came after DPS officials met with representatives from the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives, along with fiscal staff from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

DPS Commissioner Michael Thompson expressed appreciation to the Governor’s Office, Senate members and the House members for the decision to return the much-needed funds to DPS.

“I am very happy to get the 1.9 million dollars returned to DPS,” Thompson said. “We will use every dollar to apply towards our budget deficit and limit the need for adverse personnel actions. I am very encouraged by the meetings so far with the Governor’s Office, Senate members and House members to find a positive solution for the remaining budget shortfall. I am confident we can find a solution to avoid furloughs.”

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.

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