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.

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Leah Thompson Carter, of Bartlesville, lost her son to a prescription drug overdose and is afraid she will lose another. Here, she speaks at the Suicide Awareness Summit in Bartlesville in September.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

For many Oklahomans, the tug of war between drug addiction and the wait time for treatment can be a one-sided competition: The power of addiction often wins.

Those who lack insurance or cannot pay out of pocket often find themselves on a long waiting list that prioritizes the most severe drug addiction cases. If the person isn’t pregnant or injecting drugs, he or she will not receive state-funded treatment or will be forced to wait, sometimes weeks, until a spot opens up.

ABLE Charter School’s administrative offices are located in an office building on North Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Watch

For the first time in its four-year history, the state board that oversees virtual charter schools has decided to shut down one of the schools, citing a pattern of violations.

The Statewide Virtual Charter Board voted Thursday to end its contract with ABLE Charter School, the newest and smallest of the state’s five virtual schools.

The school, which has an enrollment of 61 students across the state, had come under fire for being out of compliance with several state laws and rules. ABLE’s superintendent said the school will appeal the decision.

Carol Barnes, of Ponca City, says that one of her greatest fears was losing her vehicle, cutting off her only access to mental health treatment.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

There was a time in Carol Barnes’ life when the prospect of losing her car would have worsened her already severe anxiety and depression.

When she was struggling with her disorders during the mid-2000s, Barnes said, losing her only means of transportation would have meant losing access to her mental health providers.

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

Oklahoma’s largest online charter school is on a track of explosive growth, nearly tripling its enrollment over three years, to almost 8,500.

That pursuit of lightning growth by Epic Charter Schools – a goal affirmed by its co-founder – shows no signs of letting up. Epic officials predict enrollment will near 10,000 by mid-school year.

Supporters wave Trump campaign signs at a rally in Oklahoma City on February 26, 2016.
Emily Wendler / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

Recent polling and fundraising numbers seem to confirm that Donald Trump will likely win Oklahoma’s seven electoral votes this November.

Trump has now outraised Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the state for the third consecutive month. And a statewide poll out this month shows Trump leading Clinton by 15 percentage points.

But the data also shows Trump will be hard-pressed to win Oklahoma by as wide a margin as the past several GOP presidential candidates did. That could indicate a lack of enthusiasm for Trump among many conservative Oklahomans.

Janet Roloff, managing attorney at the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma’s McAlester office, represents a Fort Towson couple who couldn't afford a private attorney in a legal action to foreclosure on their mobile home.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

Attorney Janet Roloff pauses as she tries to estimate what it would cost David and Minnie Harris if she had billed them for the hours she’s worked representing them in their mobile-home foreclosure case.

“For three years of litigation against major corporations?” she asks, seated behind a cluttered desk in the McAlester field office for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. “You know, I’d have to say least a hundred thousand dollars.”

That is well beyond the reach of the Harrises, a Fort Towson couple whose only income is Social Security disability payments.

Rikki Cosper stands in the McGee Bright Start Early Education Center in Norman, where she is director. She also heads the Licensed Child Care Association of Oklahoma. Her center is one of 3,409 remaining child-care homes or centers in the state.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

After 23 years in the child-care industry, Laura Hatcher is edging toward a decision she doesn’t want to make.

The 51-year-old Antlers resident runs one of the four licensed day-care facilities in Pushmataha County in southeast Oklahoma. But she questions whether she can keep her doors open beyond another year or two because running the business is getting more expensive and difficult.

“It’s a struggle and I’m working 11, 12 hours a day,” she said. “If it continues the way it is, I’m not going to be able to keep going.”

Robinson Tolbert was honored in 2014 by the University of Oklahoma’s Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work Hall of Fame for her work in rural areas,
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

From its vast, open ranges in the northwest to its lush, rolling hills in the southeast corner, rural Oklahoma still evokes an idyllic image.

The archetype of quiet, small towns with a strong sense of community – where friendliness is abundant and “big city” stresses are few – often marks the popular imagery used to represent the state and its values.

But for many of those who live in Oklahoma’s rural areas, the reality does not match the trouble-free imagery.

In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 14, 2009, a display of items used in the "shake-and-bake" method of manufacturing methamphetamine is shown at the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country. Many deaths can be attributed to opioids, but methamphetamine continues to plague the state. Meth overdoses are soaring, despite a big decline in lab busts.

Listen To The Story From Oklahoma Watch Reporter Brad Gibson

student in a classroom using a laptop computer
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Black and Hispanic students are much less likely to be identified as “gifted” than their white and Asian counterparts — a disparity found in Oklahoma that mirrors national statistics on gifted and talented education.

In Oklahoma, black students make up 9 percent of all students but 4.5 percent of students in gifted and talented programs. Similarly, Hispanic students comprise 16 percent of all students but 10 percent of students classified as gifted and talented.

Summerlinn Muhammad, right, elections assistant, checks in Jason Soper, right, for early voting in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

The lineup for November’s general election ballot will be settled after candidates in one congressional and 13 legislative races face off Tuesday.

The run-off elections will feature the top two vote earners from the June primaries in races where no candidate received at least 50 percent of the votes.

Districts in much of the state won’t vote because their legislative and congressional match-ups for the general election have already been set.

Voters participate in early voting at the Oklahoma County Elections Board in Oklahoma City, Thursday, June 19, 2014.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

A more than four-year legal challenge to overturn Oklahoma’s voter identification law was rejected earlier this week by a state district court judge who upheld the constitutionality of the measure.

Oklahoma County District Court Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons dismissed the case Monday after hearing arguments from lawyers representing the Oklahoma State Election Board and Tulsa resident Delilah Christine Gentges. Gentges’ attorney said he plans to appeal the decision.

Teachers In Oklahoma Expected To Spend Hundreds On Classroom Supplies

Aug 14, 2016
Tulsa high school history teacher Vince Facione expected to spend at least $300 before the first day of school. He gives each of his 190 students a three-ring binder.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Elementary music teacher Tony Flores’ entire classroom budget for the year will be expended on music for three performances. Last year, he bought new instruments, to the tune of $1,000 out of his own bank account.

In Danielle Childers’ pre-kindergarten classroom, students will have snacks for snack time, mats for naptime and stickers for a job well done, but the cost of those items falls on her.

The Norman Public Schools' administrative offices.
Jennifer Palmer / Oklahoma Watch

Parents upset over the axing of a Norman Public Schools language program are driving an effort to create what could be the state’s second charter school allowed outside Oklahoma City and Tulsa under a new law.

A group of parents is asking the district to sponsor the school, which would continue the mission of a French immersion program that was eliminated in the spring at Reagan Elementary School to save the district $400,000. The charter school, Le Monde International School, also would offer Spanish immersion.

The Oklahoma Judicial Center houses the state Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

Anti-abortion laws. A Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol. An overhaul of the workers’ compensation system.

Controversial rejections of all or parts of these legislative actions by the Oklahoma Supreme Court – coupled with a push by national and state conservative groups – have led to a steady march of bills over the past decade that would alter the process for choosing state Supreme Court and Appeals courts justices.