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Political notebook: OSU Center for Health Sciences gets $1 million federal grant
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Political notebook: OSU Center for Health Sciences gets $1 million federal grant

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Indigenous health: Oklahoma State University's Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa has received a $1 million federal grant to initiate a Center for Indigenous Innovation and Health Equity, 3rd District Congressman Frank Lucas said Friday.

"Native American and other Indigenous populations often experience higher health disparities and societal inequities," Lucas said in a press release.

The new center, Lucas said, "will focus our state’s and our nation’s understanding of how structural inequities impact Indigenous populations while providing policy recommendations to remove disparities, helping Native American populations live longer and healthier lives.”

Last year OSU-CHS opened a teaching hospital in Tahlequah in partnership with the Cherokee Nation, creating the first medical school in the country affiliated with a native tribe. It also houses the Center for Indigenous Health and Research Policy.

Survey says: Ninety-four percent of educators responding to a September survey said at least one student in their building has had COVID-19 since the start of the school hear, the Oklahoma Education Association survey said last week.

More than 80% of the 815 included in the survey said a school employee has had the virus since school started, while only 9% said their schools have enough subs to fill in for sick or quarantined teachers.

Interestingly, a third said their schools require masks, even though state law theoretically bans such mandates.

Don't worry: Some wondered how the state would be able to spend the $1.8 billion allocated it by the American Rescue Plan.

They needn't have.

The on-line application portal opened without much fanfare on Oct. 1. In the first few days it received requests for $1.2 billion — and that was from just 27 applications.

COPS cash: Tulsa received a $200,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS.

A DOJ press release described the award as a "De-Escalation Law Enforcement Agency Grant."

The same release said Tulsa Community College received a $75,000 grant for work toward accreditation.

A total of $33 million in grants were announced, with the only other one in Oklahoma a $75,000 award to Guthrie, also for accreditation.

Small Bytes: The state's academic standards for computer science have not been updated since 2009, and fewer than two dozen Oklahoma teachers have passed the state's computer certification exam in the past two years, the state House of Representatives Education Committee was told.

Renée Launey-Rodolf, director of the Oklahoma Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, said that because the state does not require certification for computer science teachers, no college or university offers a degree program in the field.

In any event, she said, there has been limited demand for teachers trained specifically in computer science.

Only about 37% of public schools offer computer science coursework, the committee was told.

Government work: State employees on average earn about 11% below market rate, according to a study presented last week at the Capitol.

The study is part of an effort by Rep. Mike Osburn, R-Edmond, to replace the state's existing human resources system with one that incorporates market-based salaries and merit-based bonuses.

So far, the plan even has the support of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association.

"Better compensation, bonuses and rewards competitive with the private sector will help us attract and retain quality state employees to deliver better, faster and more efficient state services to Oklahomans who deserve the very best," said Osburn.

State agency heads have for years complained about not being able to hire and retain the kind of people they need because of the state's byzantine and many say outdated merit protection system.

Play time: At least one Oklahoma legislator thinks school kids should be playing more and cramming less.

Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, last year pushed through legislation allowing early childhood educators to employ "play-to-learn" techniques is now promoting the benefits of recess.

"As much as it may go against many preconceived notions about student achievement, allowing more recess to occur in our public schools will lead to better test scores," Rosecrants after presenting a House interim study on the subject.

“Learning doesn’t stop at recess. It changes. Recess improves student thinking by allowing students to decompress, and it improves their social skills,” said one of the presenters, Missy Smith, a counselor at Norman's Lincoln Elementary School.

ACA Exchange: Oklahoma's Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange is adding two more providers, bringing to eight the total available in 2022.

Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready said Centene/Celtic DBA Ambetter in Oklahoma and Friday Health Plans are joining the six current carriers. Only two of the eight — Blue Cross Blue Shield and Medica — will be available statewide, however.

Enrollment for exchange policies will be Nov. 1 through Jan. 15. Detailed information about coverage and cost will be available later this month at healthcare.gov/see-plans/.

Going Monoclonal: Oklahoma's Matt Pinnell was among 15 Republican lieutenant governors asking the Biden administration to reverse its policy on distribution of monoclonal antibody treatments

Monoclonal antibody treatments have proven effective against COVID-19 and are popular among those opposed to vaccination to prevent the virus.

Biden ordered the federal government to take over distribution of the treatments after it was revealed seven states with particularly low COVID-19 vaccination rates accounted for 70% of orders for the drug.

The administration said it wants to make sure all states have equal access to the treatments, but Pinnell and the other Republicans called it "rationing."

Oklahoma, incidentally, is not one of the seven states with unusually high demand for the treatments.

Campaigns and elections: The OEA did not exactly endorse Joy Hofmeister after the state superintendent announced she is running for governor in 2022, but President Katherine Bishop did issue a glowing statement.

“Joy Hofmeister has shown her love for and dedication to children and education during her tenure as State Superintendent of Public Instruction," it said. "She’s worked hard to hold every public school accountable to parents and patrons, and she’s pushed for policies to keep students and employees safe and in school during this unprecedented pandemic."

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jackson Lahmeyer seems to be flirting with trouble from the Federal Election Commission.

In August, the FEC issued a request for additional information to Lahmeyer's campaign about the reporting of several contributions that appeared to violate federal law. The letter gave the campaign until Sept. 27 to respond.

The infractions themselves appear relatively minor, but as of late Friday — two weeks past the deadline — the campaign did not appear to have responded.

Bottom lines: The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services received a federal grant to support local law enforcement crisis intervention training. ... Former state representative and Oklahoma County assessor Leonard Sullivan, an Oklahoma City Republican perhaps most remembered for his efforts to oust then-University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill following her testimony in Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearing, died last week.

- Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World

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