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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Oklahoma Tornado Project
9:30 am
Tue July 15, 2014

Auditing The Storm: Disaster 4117 - Moore Public Schools

A new Briarwood Elementary School in Moore is near completion, paid for by insurance and federal public assistance money.
Lindsay Whelchel Oklahoma Watch

The smell of freshly cut lumber rides a south breeze to the front of the steel and concrete skeleton rising out of red clay. Construction workers and machines move about.

The new incarnation of Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children died in the May 20, 2013, tornado, is set to open this fall. And in front on this day stand Mikki Davis and family members, there for a rally calling for the state to help pay for safe rooms in schools. Davis holds a picture of her 8-year-old son Kyle, one of the seven children who died.

“I didn’t want him taken (from life),” Davis said. “I expected to come here (on May 20) and find him looking for mama to pick him up.”

Returning to the site brings back memories and emotions. But knowing that the new school will have a safe room gives Davis some consolation.

“If my son’s life was taken so that others in the future could be saved in the future, then that makes me proud to be his mom,” Davis said.

The inclusion of safe rooms in the three schools damaged or destroyed in last year’s tornadoes is part of the FEMA disaster aid enabling the district to  rebuild. The assistance covers three-fourths of the cost of what is not paid for by insurance and donations.

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Oklahoma Watch
6:31 am
Tue July 15, 2014

After 32 Years And A Wrongful Conviction, New Suspect In Rape Is Charged

Neeta Lind Flickr Creative Commons

The Cleveland County District Attorney's Office has charged a suspect in a 32-year-old case of rape for which another man was wrongfully convicted and spent more than 13 years in prison.

The suspect, Gilbert Duane Harris, 58, of Biloxi, Miss., was identified after an Oklahoma Watch inquiry last year caused the Norman Police Department to request a national DNA database check related to the 1982 rape of a University of Oklahoma student. That check, sought by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, matched Harris' DNA with DNA evidence from the rape, but authorities say it took months to verify and follow up.

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The Oklahoma Tornado Project
9:45 am
Mon July 14, 2014

Auditing the Storm: Disaster 4117 - The Long Road

The Moore Medical Center immediately after the May 2013 tornados.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mark Hybers

In 2007, Oklahoma was blitzed by a series of deadly storms, including an ice storm in January that engulfed most of central and eastern Oklahoma and killed 32 people.

Nearly seven years later, three of those federally declared disasters remain on active status. A handful of projects and audits have yet to be completed.

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Oklahoma Tornado Project
7:01 am
Sun July 13, 2014

Special Report: Auditing The Disaster Aid For 2013 Tornadoes And Storms

Federal public-assistance funds are paying for the rebuilding of Plaza Towers Elementary School, in which seven children died in the May 20, 2013, tornado. The school is expected to open next month.
Clifton Adcock Oklahoma Watch

The tornadoes and storms that devastated Oklahoma and killed 34 last year triggered the release of tens of millions of dollars in federal and state aid that will keep flowing for years.

To date, the federal government has approved up to $257 million in disaster assistance of various kinds to help re build damage and help victims of the winds and flooding that struck between May 18 and June 2, 2013, and to mitigate future risks.

The state has contributed an additional $10.5 million, and private insurers are paying about $1.1 billion. Charities also have pumped in aid.

The relief aid stemming from Disaster No. 4117, as it is called by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is arriving through several channels, heading ultimately to state and local agencies, contractors, businesses and individuals.

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Oklahoma Watch
7:00 am
Sun July 6, 2014

Out-Of-State Students More Than Double At Oklahoma Colleges

Lindsay Whelchel Oklahoma Watch

The number of out-of-state students attending Oklahoma’s public universities and colleges has more than doubled in just over a decade as schools increasingly rely on nonresident tuition to supplement their budgets.

From 2000 to 2013, the number of nonresident undergraduate students enrolled in public colleges and universities jumped to 22,169 from 10,129, an increase of 119 percent. The nonresidents hail from all 50 states. Nearly half of them are Texans.

In-state enrollment rose by 12 percent, to 135,842, according to data obtained from the State Regents for Higher Education and analyzed by Oklahoma Watch. That rate matched state population growth.

The portion of what colleges call their “educational and general primary budgets” provided by out-of-state tuition also jumped significantly over the 13-year period. The enrollment figures do not include graduate or international students.

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Oklahoma Watch
7:45 am
Tue July 1, 2014

Oklahoma Medicaid Providers Face More Possible Cuts

Images Money Flickr Creative Commons

In its second round of sweeping budget cuts, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority on Tuesday will consider reducing payments to doctors and other Medicaid providers by $159 million, effective immediately.

The authority will meet in special session to vote on provider reimbursement cuts affecting up to 13,932 physicians, 2,097 advanced practice nurses, 1,561 therapists, 1,285 physician assistants, 1,277 pharmacies, 1,255 personal care providers, 1,133 dentists and several thousand other providers.

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Oklahoma Watch
7:00 am
Sun June 29, 2014

Is Oklahoma Spending Too Much On School Administration?

The population of Le Flore County in southeastern Oklahoma is less than a tenth of Oklahoma County’s population. Yet Le Flore has 17 school districts compared to Oklahoma County’s 15.

At Reydon Public Schools in western Oklahoma, the superintendent makes $116,000 a year, including benefits, to oversee one of the smallest districts in the state, at 124 students. That’s $936 per student, compared to $6 for Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Keith Ballard, the highest paid superintendent this year, making  $260,000.

For years, conservative legislators and others have decried what they say are high administrative costs in Oklahoma districts and schools. They say the state’s K-12 system is top-heavy and wasteful. And they point to this as a reason not to increase Oklahoma’s per-pupil funding to levels found in most other states, and to expand school-choice options such as charter schools.

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Oklahoma Watch
12:11 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

New Census Data: Oklahoma Younger, More Hispanic

Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma is one of only seven states that grew younger last year, thanks in part to an influx of 20-something oilfield workers, newly-released Census Bureau data shows.

The Sooner State also became slightly more Hispanic, as a higher birthrate within that population group more than offset a leveling-off of new arrivals from Mexico and other countries, Census officials said.

Oklahoma barely made the list of states that managed to reverse the aging process. The median age ticked down to 36.2 years on July 1, 2013, a minuscule 0.007-year reduction from a year earlier.

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Oklahoma Watch
7:45 am
Tue June 24, 2014

Oklahoma Health Authority Weighs $252 Million In Medicaid Cuts

Lora Zibman Flickr Creative Commons

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority will consider $252 million in Medicaid cutbacks at its board meeting on Thursday, including new limits on patient services, higher copays and smaller reimbursements to doctors and other medical providers.

The cutbacks, described in a draft agenda for the board’s 1 p.m. meeting (see below), were devised by leaders of the Health Care Authority and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in response to standstill state funding and reduced federal support.

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Oklahoma Watch
7:47 am
Mon June 23, 2014

Election Records: ‘Dark-Money,’ Campaign Groups Have Close Connections

State Rep. T.W. Shannon (R-Lawton) is sworn in as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives - January 8, 2013
Oklahoma Legislative Service Bureau

Key individuals involved in a so-called “dark-money” group supporting T.W. Shannon for U.S. Senate this year have had close ties with the campaign or its main consulting firm, according to state, federal and other public documents.

Those same individuals helped lead a separate independent political group in 2012 that had close connections to the consulting firm representing some state candidates also supported by the political group.

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