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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Expansion of Michelin's tire manufacturing plant in Ardmore and Goodyear's plant in Lawton are being subsidized by the state for nearly $89 million over 13 years.
Laura Estes / Oklahoma Watch

When a state commission examining business incentives voted in June to review 53 of them over four years, one did not appear by name on the list: a subsidy for big tire manufacturers in Oklahoma.

Lyle Roggow, chairman of the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission, said when the group voted, members weren’t familiar with the little-known incentive, which is costing the state nearly $89 million over 13 years. Roggow said he learned about it after Oklahoma Watch asked the Office of Management and Enterprise Services why the incentive wasn’t named on the list for review.

wedding rings
John Morton / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Citing budget cuts, state officials are ending the controversial Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, a 17-year-old program originally aimed at reducing the state’s high divorce rate.

The state Department of Human Services announced it is eliminating its funding for the program because the agency is facing a budget shortfall of more than $100 million this fiscal year. It is implementing $45 million in cuts that include slashing 91 positions and reducing several public-assistance programs and will seek supplementary funding to help fill the remaining gap.

Oklahoma Watch

As Oklahoma schools prepare to start classes in coming weeks, they are dealing with the impact of having less money – fewer teachers, cuts in arts and music programs and tighter budgets for classroom supplies.

But according to state and local officials, the pain might be less if state and county governments took steps to ensure collection of school-related county taxes that are being lost because of incorrectly assessed property values.

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Prescription drug overdose deaths appear to be subsiding in Oklahoma as new laws and outreach efforts take effect. But black-market methamphetamine and heroin deaths are surging.

Drug law enforcers and medical professionals said they were both encouraged and alarmed by the latest overdose death data, generated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and compiled by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.

The encouragement comes from increasing evidence that tougher oversight and outreach are causing the toll of prescription drug overdoses to stabilize and decline slightly.

Sign reading "The Silent Majority Stands With Trump."
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

Donald Trump has a new reason to believe that deep-red Oklahoma will swing his way as the presidential campaign accelerates into the final months.

Federal Election Commission filings released recently show that June was the first time the Republican presidential nominee has raised more money in the state than his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Penny Reynolds, executive director of Sisu Youth, hopes to secure funding to open a 10-bed night shelter at Church of the Open Arms in Oklahoma City.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

The five bunk beds, each with a white pillow and tightly fitted sheets, sit empty in the basement of the Church of the Open Arms in northwest Oklahoma City.

Nearby shelves hold donated clothing, cleaning products and young-adult novels.

All are waiting to be used by homeless teenagers. But for months, the beds and items have been sitting untouched by the young.

Tracy McDaniel, principal and co-founder of KIPP Reach Academy in Oklahoma City, said the school has been working on increasing its retention rate of students.
Michael Willmus / Oklahoma Watch

A little-known trend in KIPP Reach Academy's school enrollment casts a new light on its achievement record – a record considered when the charter school’s expansionproposal went before the Oklahoma City school board Monday.

Nearly three years ago, Gov. Mary Fallin requested an investigation into allegations of fraud against the state’s largest virtual charter school.

State agents launched the probe of Epic Charter Schools and, about a year later, turned their findings over to the Attorney General’s Office.

Since then, no charges have been filed against Epic or its employees, and no announcement has been made about the case.

Jacob McCleland / KGOU

A waning number of applicants, coupled with a dramatic cut in state funds, is throwing into reverse Teach for America’s efforts to place teachers in public-school classrooms in Oklahoma.

The national program recruits college graduates and professionals to commit to a two-year stint in mostly low-income, struggling schools.

money, cash
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

Unused tax credits have created a big cloud over future state revenue collections, and officials say they can’t predict with certainty when or even if a storm might strike.

The tax credit overhang totaled $417 million by the end of 2014 according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of data gathered for the first time by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Comparable data for year-end 2015 won’t be available until early next year.

Panel Targets Business Incentives Totaling $110 Million

Jul 2, 2016
Members of the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission prepare to choose the tax breaks they will review this year. Left to right: Lyle Roggow, Carlos Johnson, Cynthia Rogers and Jim Denton.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

A new state oversight panel has decided to target for scrutiny this year 11 business incentives that have been reducing state revenue by at least $110 million a year.

The first-year targets include incentives for manufacturing plant expansions, wind-power electricity generators, historic building renovations and Oklahoma-based film productions.

Rodney Redus of Oklahoma City votes at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics polling location in Tuesday's primary. Only 47 voters had cast their ballots at the site as of 2:30 p.m.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

The potential size of a so-called “teacher caucus” in the Legislature was significantly whittled down Tuesday after 20 current or former educators lost their primary battles.

Many of the candidates running on a platform of increasing state funding for public schools and teacher salaries were taken down by members of their own party and will not advance to November’s general election.

Independent groups that seek to influence elections have spent more than $300,000 over the past five weeks on Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional primary contests.

Since May 19, $300,716 in independent expenditures have been made to influence results in Tuesday’s election, Oklahoma Ethics Commission and Federal Election Commission filings show.

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?