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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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When Oklahoma Police Confront The Mentally Ill

23 hours ago
Josh Cantwell, Grand Lake Mental Health Center adult services administrator, demonstrates how the organization's iPad program works to help clients access treatment.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Patricia Tompkins wanted help for her son, Eric Tompkins. Eric, 41, of Ardmore, was suffering from severe depression, according to statements made online by Patricia and other members of Eric’s family. On the morning of Aug. 8, 2015, she suspected he had attempted to kill himself by drinking roach poison. When she called the local mental health crisis center, Patricia was told that for Eric to be admitted, the police would have to be involved first, she wrote in a posting . She was instructed...

How Would Todd Lamb Govern?

Nov 28, 2016
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb shorlty before the State of the State address Monday at the Oklahoma state Capitol.
Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

If Gov. Mary Fallin joins President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb will step in to finish the two years left in her term. The question is, would that mean status quo in policies since both are Republicans, or would Lamb’s half-term, combined with a big crop of new legislators, bring significant changes? Lamb, an Enid native and former Secret Service agent, would become governor at a challenging time for the state, with another sizable budget shortfall expected for...

Josh Gwartney, principal of the early childhood center at Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools, displays the paddle available to be used on students.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

All schools should stop paddling students as a form of discipline because it’s “harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities,” U.S. Secretary of Education John King wrote in a letter Tuesday to all state governors and schools chiefs. Oklahoma is one of 22 states that allow corporal punishment in schools, and one of the states where its use is the most prevalent. Several districts here paddled more than 12 percent of students in...

The Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission endorses its consultants’ recommendations to retain 10 state business incentives that are reducing state revenues.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

A state oversight panel voted Tuesday to retain 10 business incentives after its consultants rescinded a recommendation to repeal one of them and the state commerce secretary intervened to rescue another. The panel’s actions provided an immediate reprieve to the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program and the state’s Industrial Access Road Program. But they could provide more momentum to efforts to rein in a fast-growing wind-power tax credit. All of the proposals would require legislative...

Oklahoma House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, left, speaks on the floor of the Oklahoma House - May 27, 2016.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

A lot can change in 12 years. In 2004, before the November election, Oklahoma Democrats controlled 80 of the 149 seats in the Legislature. But after suffering legislative losses in each of the next seven elections – they lost a net of seven seats Tuesday – Democrats now hold just 32 seats. And the party may have trouble gaining back substantial ground. That’s because seven of next year’s Democratic lawmakers, or 22 percent, will be barred from seeking another term in the 2018 elections. They...

State Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie (left), and Gov. Mary Fallin speak at a March 31, 2015 bill signing for a bill requiring doctors in Oklahoma to check a new prescription drug database before prescribing certain addictive drugs.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

Women, already underrepresented in the state Legislature, will hold fewer seats in 2017 despite a surge in the number of female candidates. Those results, coupled with Hillary Clinton’s failed bid for the White House, have disheartened many women in Oklahoma. Now, at least in the Legislature, women from both parties intend to form a women’s caucus. When the Legislature reconvenes in 2017, there will be 19 women among the state’s 149 elected representatives — or just under 13 percent. Election...

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump appears at a rally in Oklahoma City on February 26, 2016.
Emily Wendler / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

The full impact of Donald Trump’s presidency in Oklahoma won’t become clear for some time, but its implications already loom large in the areas of health, energy, taxes and infrastructure spending. Policy analysts and political observers interviewed by Oklahoma Watch since Tuesday’s election said Trump’s plans , if enacted by Congress, could produce a tectonic shift felt from one end of the state to the other. Here is an initial assessment of how Oklahoma might fare under Donald Trump’s...

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. The problem is...

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...

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. “If you don’t already have anxiety, you will, because you worry about it,” said Barnes, who lives in Ponca City. “I finally had to make myself not worry about it and tell myself,...

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. But the trend is raising concerns from one top online charter-school regulator about whether there is too much turnover of students. And at least one national...

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...

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...

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...

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. Outside of Oklahoma City and...

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