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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Mike Mason taught science at Putnam City and Mustang high schools.
Oklahoma Watch

The idea of running for public office, much less being part of the Oklahoma Legislature, was never on Mike Mason’s mind during his 31-year career as a science teacher at Putnam City High School and Mustang High School.

That, however, changed after he agreed to meet with Oklahoma Education Association leaders earlier this year about whether he would consider running for office. Already upset at the state’s relatively low education funding, Mason received encouragement and decided to jump into the Senate District 47 contest in south Oklahoma City.

Edmond resident Jay Mandraccia casts her primary ballot during early voting Thursday at the Oklahoma County Board of Elections. Regular voting will be held Tuesday.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

The first decisive moment in Oklahoma’s 2016 election season will occur on Tuesday, when Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians nominate candidates for dozens of legislative and congressional races.

Some of these primary races will lock up the ultimate winner because only candidates from one party are running. Others will be decided in a later run-off or in November.

Making sense of primary results can be difficult. Here are five things to watch for on Tuesday.

Will any incumbents fall?

classroom floor
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The number of third graders meeting minimum reading benchmarks has continued to tick upward in the three years since Oklahoma tied reading scores to advancement to the fourth grade, preliminary results from the state Department of Education show.

That raises the question of whether the controversial high-stakes exam is working by forcing schools and parents to ensure more third graders read better. The goal of the approach, which is used in other states, is to push students from a “learn to read” to a “read to learn” level by fourth grade.

lockers
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The elimination of end-of-course tests that Oklahoma public school students take each year will throw more uncertainty into the state’s efforts to develop a new system of measuring school performance.

The state’s much-criticized A through F report card system relies on students’ scores from standardized end-of-instruction exams, which were eliminated when the governor signed into law House Bill 3218 on Monday.

Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety has purchased several devices capable of seizing funds loaded on to prepaid debit cards to aid troopers in roadside seizures of suspected drug-trafficking proceeds.

The portable card scanners are designed to be carried in law enforcement vehicles, allow troopers to freeze and seize money loaded onto a prepaid debit card, and to return money to an account whose funds were seized or frozen.

Cara Brown (left) and Gloria Ferrell of Tulsa allege in a lawsuit that despite availability of jobs, Stand-By Personnel never offered them a position because of discriminatory practices. The company denies the allegations.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Lawsuits in Tulsa County and a national news investigation reveal a pattern of complaints that businesses engaged in race, sex and age discrimination in hiring through temporary employment agencies.

In two Tulsa lawsuits, job candidates and a former employee at a temp agency alleged that agency workers used a coding system and notes to accommodate client businesses that requested not to be sent workers of certain races or genders or over a certain age. The temp agency’s owner confirmed to Oklahoma Watch that the incidents occurred but said they were rare and violated company policy.

Oklahoma state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, talks with a colleague on the Senate floor during a committee meeting in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 17, 2016.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

When Oklahoma’s $6.8 billion spending plan was unveiled in late May, it was greeted with a mixture of sharp criticism over its cuts and revenue patches and, in some sectors, relief that the reductions were not more severe.

From all sides, however, there was one common reaction to the 114-page budget bill: surprise.

Mark Twain Elementary second grade teacher Elizabeth Clarke staples together work from two of her second-grade students in this 2013 photo.
Chase Cook / Oklahoma Watch

In South Dakota, one of two states with lower average teacher pay than Oklahoma, the Legislature in March approved a half-cent sales tax intended to boost salaries by thousands of dollars.

The other state, Mississippi, also is phasing in a teacher pay increase.

By contrast, when Oklahoma legislators adjourned Friday, they left ambitions of higher salaries for teachers unfulfilled. That means the state could find itself dead last in teacher pay soon unless more funding is generated.

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general, gestures as he speaks at a news conference in Oklahoma City, Monday, April 8, 2013.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

The Oklahoma attorney general has issued an opinion that out-of-state handgun licenses obtained by Oklahomans online are as valid as Oklahoma-issued handgun licenses, even if the other state has more lenient requirements.

The opinion, released Friday, states that Oklahoma residents with a “non-resident” handgun license from another state, such as Virginia, and Utah, are as valid as Oklahoma's concealed handgun license.

Oklahoma Sending Cash To Companies That Pay No Income Tax

May 28, 2016
money, cash
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

Some state lawmakers are justifying their decision to curtail a tax credit for the working poor by declaring that the state shouldn’t be subsidizing people who owe no income taxes in the first place.

But the state has several tax breaks on the books that do essentially the same thing for businesses. Through a combination of direct refunds, rebates and tax credit “transfers,” companies with no income tax liability are receiving cash subsidies.

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