KGOU

Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.

Ways to Connect

katsrcool / Flickr.com

Oklahoma has finalized a deal with a Massachusetts company to use license-plate scanners to catch uninsured drivers, and the firm expects to issue 20,000 citations a month starting as early as next year.

The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, involves setting up automated high-speed cameras on highways around the state to detect uninsured vehicles and mailing their owners a citation with a fine of $184, according to the District Attorneys Council.

Guns rest in buckets in the Oklahoma City Police Department's property room. The number of firearms-related deaths in Oklahoma has increased in recent years.
Michael Willmus / Oklahoma Watch

The shootings seem to erupt randomly among states. In Texas, 26 slain. In Nevada, 58. In Florida, 49. In Connecticut, 27. In Virginia, 32.

In Oklahoma, it’s been more than three decades since a gun massacre that seized the nation’s attention – 14 killed at the Edmond post office in 1986.

But massacre counts can be deceiving.

Winners And Losers In The Failed Vote On Tax Package

Nov 9, 2017
The Oklahoma House gallery was packed Wednesday as representatives spent hours discussing and debating a tax package to address the state's severe budget shortfall. The measure fell short.
David Fritze / Oklahoma Watch

In the end, the backing of more than 45 health-care, education and public-policy advocacy groups – along with the support of a bipartisan group of current and former state leaders – wasn’t enough Wednesday.

Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

The battle over Oklahoma’s tax on oil and gas production could soon spread outside the State Capitol to dinner conversations and public debates across the state.

A group of small oil and gas producers said despite recent efforts in the Legislature to raise the gross production tax temporarily to 7 percent on some wells, it will forge ahead with trying to put a state question on the 2018 ballot that would set a permanent 7 percent tax on all wells.

Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma State Department of Health went more than a year without a chief financial officer, and questions later arose about whether the agency overestimated revenues and used restricted federal funds to fill the gaps, sources told Oklahoma Watch.

However, a former chief financial officer at the agency said he had no knowledge of restricted funds being used to cover shortfalls.

Matt Whittington, of Edmond, enrolled in Epic Charter Schools because the flexibility of online classes fit with his commitment to gymnastics. The family made special efforts to ensure that the arrangement worked.
Michael Willmus / Oklahoma Watch

Virtual charter schools stand to receive the largest share of local tax funding if a lawsuit by a pro-charter-school group is successful.

That gain could occur despite the fact that virtual schools have fewer expenses than brick-and mortar ones, with few or no buildings to purchase and no transportation to provide.

Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Terry Cline
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

The top official and a senior deputy at the Oklahoma State Department of Health have resigned amid findings that the agency overspent and mismanaged finances for years.

Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

A cash crunch that emerged over the summer at the state Health Department goes beyond the state’s current budget shortfall and caused the department to reach out to public health agencies in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties for help in shoring up its finances.

Audiologist Jillian Detwiler reviews a patient’s hearing aid function at the John W. Keys Speech and Hearing Center in Oklahoma City. Detwiler oversees the Cabaret Hearing For Seniors Program, which provides high-quality hearing aids for $100 a pair.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

When the government began providing health coverage to millions of older Americans five decades ago, it specifically excluded hearing aids.

Hearing loss among the aged was not a life-endangering medical condition, the reasoning went. Good hearing was not considered essential to good health.

That view has changed. Hearing specialists say the consequences of untreated hearing loss can be substantial, from impaired job performance and damaged relationships to social withdrawal, anxiety, depression and possibly even accelerated dementia.

Oklahoma Watch

Oklahomans who buy health insurance on the federal exchange will see higher premiums again when open enrollment begins Nov. 1.

Recent actions by President Donald Trump to dismantle federal health-care policies also could increase costs and reduce options in years to come, particularly for people with chronic or sudden major illness, health experts and insurers say.

Elizabeth Sims / Oklahoma Watch

At least nine student athletes in Putnam City Public Schools suffered a concussion playing sports last school year.

More than a dozen sustained one in Norman Public Schools.

In Tulsa Public Schools, 38 students suffered a concussion in the 2016-2017 school year, with the district reporting 13 more in the first six weeks of this year. Edmond Public Schools’ three high schools recorded 62 concussions.

Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma is blaming the Trump administration for failing to approve an expedited plan that was projected to lower health insurance premiums and entice thousands of uninsured Oklahomans to sign up for coverage.

Reports Of Drug-Exposed Newborns Surge

Sep 28, 2017
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services logged 517 reports last year of newborn infants who tested positive for controlled drugs or alcohol. The number of reported exposures has risen steadily, but it's unclear how much is due to rising drug use and how
Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma health-care professionals reported to the state a record 517 cases of newborn infants who tested positive for dangerous drugs or alcohol last year, up from 320 when officials began compiling statistics in 2013.

State officials said they couldn’t determine how much of the 62 percent increase was attributable to rising drug use among pregnant women and how much to improved reporting and testing by health care personnel.

American currency
thinkpanama / Flickr Creative Commons

Legislators aren’t the only ones who returned to the Capitol for the special session.

If it’s anything like the regular session, lobbyists will be picking up the tabs for pricey dinners and drinks during the days or weeks to come. Lobbyists spent almost half a million dollars on meals and gifts for lawmakers and other public officials during the spring session.

Oklahoma State House of Representatives

Republican and Democratic leaders blamed each other Wednesday for the ongoing budget impasse. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, abruptly canceled an expected vote on a proposed cigarette tax increase and announced the House would adjourn until a budget deal is reached.

Ramona Roberts, a special education teacher in Jenks Public Schools, works with students Tim Foster (center), Michael Copeland (left), Elijah Sexton (bottom right) and Hunter Falconer (right). Jenks has had special education teacher vacancies in the past,
Sherman Merchant / Jenks Public Schools

Special education teachers have become so scarce that districts face fierce competition to find and keep good candidates and sometimes leave open positions unfilled.

That’s why late one night in August, Ponca City Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Arrott sprang into action when she heard the distinctive ding of her cell phone. The alert meant a job application had been submitted online to the district. She scrambled to arrange an interview the next morning for the applicant.

elementary school library
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Reducing schools’ use of emergency certified teachers by 95 percent and boosting high school graduation to 90 percent are some of the goals set by the state Education Department in its plan for education under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The state also proposes attacking hunger in schools and is considering forcing failing schools that are on a four-day school week to change their calendar.

Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb speaks to a group in Enid in October last year.
Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle

A nonprofit foundation created by Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb has raised more than $850,000 since it launched to much fanfare in late 2015 and will soon roll out its first major initiatives.

Newly released IRS filings show the E Foundation for Oklahoma, a tax-exempt public charity that is allowed to shield the names of its donors, more than doubled its first-year fundraising total of $237,000 by taking in $622,500 in 2016.

In Search of New Ways To Tame Opioid Crisis

Sep 18, 2017
Images Money / Flickr

Oklahoma is among the nation’s leaders in combating the opioid epidemic in some ways, but lags in others.

The question of what more Oklahoma can do to reduce the hundreds of fatal overdoses from prescription painkillers each year will hover over the 2018 legislative session. A commission chaired by Attorney General Mike Hunter plans to recommend by Dec. 1 new strategies for attacking the problem. Some or all of its proposals will be folded into legislation.

I Voted Sticker
Dwight Burdette / Creative Commons

Faced with low approval ratings, Oklahoma legislators are already seeing signs that they could be up against greater competition in trying to retain their seats in the 2018 election.

Campaign fundraising records indicate that 13 lawmakers have already drawn challengers – a sharp increase over the number that had filed by this stage in the 2016 election cycle. By the end of August 2015, just one lawmaker had drawn an opponent.

Pages