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More people want to pursue higher education now in the United States, and more students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds want to go to college or university. Even though a desire to achieve higher education is greater, it has also created enormous problems, according to Temple University education and sociology professor Sara Goldrick-Rab.

Oklahoma state Rep. Charles McCall, right, R-Atoka, Speaker of the House, answers a question during a news conference in Oklahoma City, Thursday, April 13, 2017. McCall discussed the budget and teacher pay raises.
Sue Ogrocki / AP Photo

 

 


 

What happened at the Capitol this week?

 

Oklahoma lawmakers are plugging away at a 2018 state budget--figuring out where the state’s money will come from and where it will go.

 

Lights from a drilling rig near Watonga, Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The 2017 legislative session is beyond the halfway point and the clock is ticking on lawmakers who have until the end of May to set the state’s budget and plug an $870 million funding hole. Legislators say every option is on the table, including one with growing public support: Increasing taxes on oil and gas.

First, it was state Democrats like minority leader Scott Inman, who have long argued Oklahoma’s taxes are too generous for oil and gas companies.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-OK4, speaks at a town hall meeting in Chickasha on April 12, 2017.
Claire Donnelly / KGOU

Members of Oklahoma's Congressional delegation are back in their districts through April 21, and many are meeting with constituents for the first time since the election of President Donald Trump.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-OK4, held a town hall meeting Wednesday in Chickasha.

The event was slightly tense, with many of the town hall’s 70 attendees urging Cole to take stronger stances against President Trump on issues like climate change and mental health services.

An investigation by Buzzfeed News alleges extensive abuse of patients at Shadow Mountain Behavorial Health, a live-in facility owned by Universal Health Services, the country’s largest psychiatric hospital chain. The report contains allegations that employees manhandled children as young as eight years old, and to have ignored patients’ attempts to inflict self-harm. The investigation also alleges understaffing, sexual abuse and patient riots. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is now investigating the Tulsa hospital.

Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

A state budget crunch could lead to less money for health care providers in Oklahoma.

 

Oklahoma’s state Medicaid agency may cut Medicaid reimbursements rates by up to 25 percent to make up for a state budget shortfall of almost $900 million. Preston Doerflinger, the state’s budget director, has asked the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to prepare for a possible 15 percent reduction in state appropriations. This means that companies providing services to Medicaid patients might not be fully reimbursed by the government. 

 

Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

Oklahomans could soon be able to vote on whether eye doctors can open clinics inside retail stores.

 

Oklahoma is currently one of only three states with a law that prohibits optometrists from practicing in retail locations or maintaining any commercial relationship with a retail optical store.  

classroom floor
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Students as young as pre-K can be, and are, suspended from Oklahoma schools for as long as the remainder of the school year for violating school rules.

A proposal working its way through the Legislature would expand that by mandating lengthy suspensions for elementary students as young as third grade for assault or attempted assault against a teacher, school employee or volunteer. Currently, a default punishment of suspension for the rest of the semester and entire next semester starts in sixth grade.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., attends an organizational meeting of the House Rules Committee, January 7, 2015.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP

 

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, says he and a bipartisan group of Congressmen will send a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan this week to request a new Congressional Authorization for the Use of Force.

The request comes after U.S. ships fired missiles at an airbase in Syria last Thursday. The country’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, used the airbase to deploy apparent chemical weapons against Syrian citizens last week.

This satellite image released by the U.S. Department of Defense shows a damage assessment image of Shayrat air base in Syria, following U.S. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile strikes on Friday, April 7, 2017.
DigitalGlobe/U.S. Department of Defense via AP

 

American forces launched over 50 missiles at a Syrian air base Thursday night, to retaliate against the Bashar Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.

Joshua Landis, the director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Middle East Studies, told KGOU’s World Views he doesn’t expect President Donald Trump to get involved in regime change.

“Regime change would not be good for America,” Landis said.

Mosaic Theater founding artistic director Ari Roth.
Mosaic Theater

 

Ari Roth says conflict is “the coin of the realm” in theater. So theater is naturally effective at giving voice to conflict regions.

“When you're in a conflict region and you care about the people involved. You want to see healing. You want to see repair. You want to see bridges being built,” Roth told KGOU World Views.

Oklahoma state capitol
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

 

With a little less than two months until the end of this legislative session, the Oklahoma House and Senate are considering bills covering a wide range of topics, from gun rights to teacher pay raises.

Bill to loosen Oklahoma gun laws failed in Senate

House Bill 2323 would have allowed a citizen 21 or older, without a felony, to carry a loaded gun in their vehicle without a valid handgun license.

Voters wait in line at a polling place inside Life.Church in Edmond Tuesday.
Brent Fuchs / Journal Record

 

Voters in Edmond rejected a proposed expansion of the Spring Creek Plaza shopping center on Tuesday.

The Journal Record’s Molly Fleming writes the proposal would have added 260,000 square feet of retail space at S. Bryant Avenue and E. 15th Street, as well as 325 luxury apartments. The city council approved the zoning change to the 26-acre  property in November.

Clinton, Oklahoma, resident Cindy Box and her Horse, Rosie, at Foss State Park.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

In March, the legislature asked state agencies how they would deal with worst-case budget reductions of nearly 15 percent. A cut that deep at the Department of Tourism could cost Oklahoma half of its state parks.

In this May 19, 2010 file photo taken near Kingfisher, Okla., storm chasers and spectator vehicles clog the road and shoulder of Highway 81.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

 

 

Storm chasers continue to have a central role in documenting tornadoes, according to a leading Oklahoma meteorologist.

Gary England told KGOU that storm chasers give forecasters and meteorologists “eyes on the ground” that radars and other technological advances cannot provide. A human in the field sends back an immediate eye witness account of what is occurring during  storm, like a wall cloud, a funnel cloud or a tornado on the ground.

The Smart Saver grocery store at NE 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Oklahoma City.
Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

 

A bill that passed the Oklahoma Senate would establish a fund to get more fresh, healthy food into underserved areas.

Senate Bill 507, by Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City,  would create a mechanism to help small retails like convenience stores and grocers to stock fresh, perishable items.

In this Wednesday, June 8, 2011 file photo, sun sets behind an oil pump in the desert oil fields of Sakhir, Bahrain.
Hasan Jamali / AP

 

In 2003, Mike Stice was the chairman of the National Petroleum Council’s supply committee. They reached a consensus on the status of oil in the United States: The country was out of oil and gas.

“Of course, you can see today, we were so wrong,” Stice said.

Now the dean of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Earth and Energy, Stice says emerging technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing, have created a whole new supply of oil and gas in the United States.

 

Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger speaks during a meeting of the State Board of Equalization in Oklahoma City, Monday, June 20, 2016.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

 

 

Monthly revenue shortages have led Oklahoma finance officials to dip into the Rainy Day Fund again this year, draining it completely.

If the state does not have enough money to pay its monthly bills, it typically takes the difference from a state department.

“Normally, they would look to something like the Department of Transportation, which usually has large amounts of cash,” eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley said in his weekly interview with KGOU.

Bob Kerr on his ranch near Carnegie, Okla., which is flanked by turbines from the Blue Canyon Wind Farm.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

 

One major tax incentive for wind energy remains on the books in Oklahoma. And the Legislature is poised to end it — more than three years early. The politics of renewable energy have changed as state revenues have failed, but some wind producers say lawmakers are reneging on a deal that sends a bad message to any industry considering investing in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s wind industry has grown year after year. With 3,400 turbines spread across 41 wind farm projects, the state ranks No. 3 in the nation in the American Wind Energy Association’s report on wind power capacity.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric's Muskogee Power Plant.
Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order to roll back many Obama-era rules meant to combat climate change. Politico’s Alex Guillén reports many of the directives in the order are geared toward making it easier to produce coal used for power generation:

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