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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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Panelists at a May 3rd, 2017 Oklahoma Watch-Out forum on the state of "Hunger in Oklahoma."
Patrick Roberts / KGOU

Hunger and food insecurity are practically interchangeable terms used to describe the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. According to figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture, the prevalence of food insecurity in Oklahoma between 2014 and 2015, though declining… was nevertheless higher than the national average. 

Oklahoma City Police Department

With less money from the state and bounced-check funds drying up, Oklahoma district attorneys are turning to issuing tickets and putting people on probation through their offices – activities typically left to police, counties and the Department of Corrections.

Their newest effort that yields revenue is to crack down on uninsured drivers using a system that scans the license plates of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans on roadways every year.

Oklahoma Watch

State lawmakers are officially at the one-quarter point of this year’s legislative session after wrapping up four weeks’ worth of work.

So far only one bill – the Real ID compliance act – has made it through the Legislature and been signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. And there remains plenty to do to find a solution to the state’s $878 million budget gap and tackle the hundreds of bills that remain at alive this point.

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

Moments after explaining how another state revenue failure will require millions of dollars of mid-year budget cuts, Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger issued a warning to lawmakers and top state officials.

“I don’t know how much more I can emphasize that the time for action is now,” he said at last week’s Board of Equalization meeting, at which the group also certified revenue figures that show an $878 million shortfall for next year. “It’s not a game. We need new revenue.”

Aubrielle McElroy eats breakfast in her classroom at Remington Elementary in Tulsa. All elementary schools in the Tulsa Public Schools district started offering free breakfast and lunch to all students without requiring applications at the start of the sc
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

At all elementary and middle schools and some high schools in the Houston Independent School District — 220 in all — every student begins the day with a free breakfast right in the classroom.

The result: fewer absences and discipline problems and an increase in math scores, according to the district’s former superintendent Terry Grier.

Online retail giant Amazon could soon start charging sales taxes to Oklahoma customers – a move that would help fill a sizable state budget shortfall for next fiscal year, Oklahoma Watch has learned.

An Oklahoma Tax Commission official said the agency is in discussions with online retailers to voluntarily collect sales and use taxes, and two state legislators said they expect agreements could be struck in coming weeks or months with Amazon, the country’s largest e-commerce site.

Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Among the deluge of bills filed by state legislators in advance of the upcoming session are more than two dozen proposals to boost teacher pay.

Teachers, disappointed by the defeat of State Question 779, which would have generated about $550 million a year for education through a 1 percent sales tax, say they’re counting on legislators to do more than just talk.

Oklahoma state Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, applauds as students are introduced in the Senate gallery in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 9, 2013.
Sue Ogracki / AP

Virtual charter schools would be required to track and report student attendance —something the schools aren’t currently tasked with doing — under a law proposed by an Oklahoma senator.

Oklahoma has five virtual charter schools, enrolling a combined 13,225 students. Two schools reported 100 percent attendance last year, drawing questions and criticism from education advocates.

Oklahoma state capitol
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Perhaps concerned about possible cuts in state programs and business incentives, lobbyists again have spent more on gifts for legislators and state officials in the months heading into the legislative session.

Lawmakers, elected officials and other state employees received about $60,350 in gifts from special-interest groups during the last six months of 2016, according to recently filed lobbying reports.

President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a rally at DeltaPlex Arena, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Andrew Harnik / AP

Betsy DeVos, who is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, has given millions in campaign contributions to politicians across the country.

Some of that fiscal muscle trickled into Oklahoma during the last election cycle through a pro-school-choice “Super PAC” that, notably, opposed so-called “teachers’ caucus” candidates in many instances. (The caucus arose out of many educators’ frustration over what they view as low education funding levels and teacher pay.)

Jimmy Hartford teaches an AP calculus class to 10 students at Cushing High School.
David Britton / Oklahoma Watch

Participation in advanced-level math and science classes in high school is a strong predictor of success in college, regardless of the grade earned in the class or whether it results in college credit, studies show.

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.

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?

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.

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 approval.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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