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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University of Oklahoma President David Boren, shown here during a 2015 press conference, is calling for a statewide penny sales tax for education.
Ben Fenwick / Oklahoma Watch

A proposed penny sales tax increase would cost medium-income Oklahomans about $262 a year and raise $608 million annually to finance public schools and higher education, a new data analysis shows.

The bottom 20 percent of Oklahoman households would chip in $90 a year, and the top 1 percent would pay $1,691, the study says.

Penny Education Tax In Other States

Buffy Heater, chief strategy officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, is evaluating options for shifting part of Oklahoma’s Medicaid population into a “coordinated care” program using private-sector contractors.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

At the insistence of state lawmakers, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority is exploring cost-saving options that could lead to partial privatization of the state’s $2.4 billion Medicaid program for aged, blind and disabled people.

The state tried that once before, and it didn’t work out. Costs escalated, companies dropped out, and the state pulled the plug. Supporters of the new effort predicted it might turn out better because of improvements in managed-care practices.

a school classroom with empty chairs
comedy_nose / Flickr Creative Commons

For the third year in a row, Oklahoma will not give a standardized writing test next spring that counts toward a student’s score or a school’s letter grade.

That means the state is paying a vendor at least tens of thousands of dollars for a test that yields no results.

An Aug. 24 bulletin from the state Department of Education addressed to school district test coordinators says the writing exam will only be a field test, which is used to create test questions for the following school year.

Tucker Tower is an 80-year-old landmark along the shores of Lake Murray.

State tourism officials are considering plans for an outdoor sports shooting complex at Lake Murray State Park, the oldest, largest and most popular state park in Oklahoma.

The proposal has generated some complaints that a gun range could disturb the ambiance of the park.

The shooting range, modeled after one being built in South Carolina, would be located next to a new state lodge now under construction in the 12,500-acre park.

A state marketing campaign for Insure Oklahoma includes six billboards along interstate highways.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

The social media blitz started in late July. The radio and TV spots showed up in mid-August, along with six billboards placed along key interstate highways. A sleeker website will be unveiled soon.

The message: Insure Oklahoma is still open for business, and ready to grow.

The $450,000 marketing campaign comes after five years of steady shrinkage in the 10-year-old, tax-supported health insurance program for Oklahoma’s working poor.

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

More than a dozen names are inked onto the wooden paddle tucked behind Principal Josh Gwartney’s desk.

Each name memorializes a child who was given a swatting in Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools, located about 25 miles east of Tulsa.

Gwartney, who leads the early childhood center, said the paddle is rarely used on the center’s pre-kindergarten through second-grade students, and only with their parents’ permission. Paddling also is used in the district’s elementary, middle and high schools.

Michael Lockhoff plays with his daughter in their backyard in Tulsa. The Lockhoffs struggled last year, when she was 6, to work with schools to meet their child's educational and emotional needs.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

An Oklahoma Watch investigation finds that across the state, special education students are being paddled, suspended and expelled at higher rates than those of other students.

Students with physical and mental disabilities in Oklahoma are bearing much of the brunt of classroom discipline, government data show.

They're more likely than their peers to be suspended, expelled, arrested, handcuffed or paddled.

Michael Lockhoff plays with his daughter in their backyard in Tulsa. The Lockhoffs struggled last year, when she was 6, to work with schools to meet their child's educational and emotional needs.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

Although the tracking of discipline at schools has increased in recent years, many disciplinary actions are not recorded.

Joy Turner, an attorney with the Oklahoma Disability Law Center, which handles special education law, said she is concerned about the number of students sent home early from school for misbehaving.

The action isn’t marked as a suspension, which means parents cannot formally appeal to the principal or district officials. It also isn’t reported to the U.S. Department of Education, which means federal measures of school discipline are incomplete.

Kelly Freeman at home with her 7-year-old son while he assembles a puzzle.  The Freemans say their son still feels traumatized after being handcuffed at a Jenks school last school year.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

In Jenks Public Schools, campus police physically restrained and handcuffed a second-grade special education student.

His crime? He ran to the playground to escape a noisy classroom.

At Tulsa Public Schools, officials called a father and told him to pick up his 6-year-old daughter, who was having an emotional meltdown. He arrived to find four armed campus police officers holding her down, saying she assaulted one of them.

health insurance cards and dollar bills
Lindsey Whelchel / Oklahoma Watch

Affordable Care Act health insurance rates are expected to rise in Oklahoma in 2016, and the state Insurance Department insists it cannot do anything about rates except review and approve the paperwork.

In the past, however, the department held a somewhat different view, according to a former high-ranking state insurance official.