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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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Oklahoma City Public Schools teachers missed an average of 11 days of class in 2012-2013, matching the national average, according to a national report on teacher absenteeism released Tuesday.

The National Council on Teacher Quality looked at teacher absenteeism rates in the largest district in each of the 40 biggest metropolitan areas. The organization advocates for reforms that would improve teacher quality.

The death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections

A month after the controversial attempt to execute an Oklahoma prisoner, the state Department of Corrections has yet to release the official log detailing what went on in the days and hours leading up to the incident.

The Corrections Department did release a detailed timeline covering the 14 hours before and during the botched execution of Clayton Lockett on April 29. But so far the department has not released a copy of the execution log, which officials are required to keep starting seven days before an execution.

Oklahoma’s execution protocol states, "Seven days prior to the execution of an offender sentenced to death, a daily log will be kept regarding every aspect of the proceedings except names of those participants who are to remain anonymous."

Wesley Fryer / Flickr Creative Commons

Changes to Oklahoma’s third grade reading retention law will not be a blank check to pass students on to fourth grade if they failed the state’s reading test.

Oklahoma House of Representatives

Gov. Mary Fallin's veto to changes in Oklahoma's third grade reading retention law was short-lived Wednesday.

Both the House and Senate voted to override the veto, a move that paves the way for parents to work with teams of teachers and reading specialists to determine if their child will advance to fourth grade if they failed the third grade reading test.

Reaction of the override quickly flooded Twitter:

Shelly Deas, principal of Lee Elementary School in Oklahoma City, shows the school’s system for tracking achievement and improvement levels of each student. Students in blue are at the highest performing level; students in red are at the lowest.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma could add $80 million to K-12 education funding in a budget deal announced by Gov. Mary Fallin Friday, but it’s unclear how it will impact Oklahoma’s per-pupil funding levels.

Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma is one of only seven states in the nation where revenues available for appropriation are falling below expectations despite growth in the broader economy, according to a newly released survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The conference, in its spring 2014 state budget update, attributed Oklahoma's revenue shortfall primarily to an unanticipated decline in corporate tax collections. It said the same problem is creating budget difficulties in Delaware and Tennessee.

State Rep. Katie Henke (R-Tulsa) speaking during a press conference after the May 12 House vote.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

Three days after it was announced that nearly 8,000 Oklahoma students are at risk of repeating the third grade for failing the state’s reading test, lawmakers voted to change the state’s retention requirements.

ECDC Public School's class watches intently as teacher Sommer Lyons shares the story of the Easter Bunny.
Nick Conroy / Oklahoma Watch

Students worried about repeating third grade for failing Oklahoma’s reading test will have to wait until Monday for a potential legislative reprieve – a move that would come three days after school districts get the test scores back.

Rep. Katie Henke, R-Tulsa, said she will push to get the bill she co-authored heard on Thursday, but was promised by House leadership that the bill will be heard Monday.

Lee Elementary School pre-kindergarten teacher Victoria Tsaras gets active with her students, dancing to “What Does the Fox Say?”
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

How much would a $2,000 a year raise for Oklahoma public school teachers cost? The state Department of Education estimates the price tag is close to $100 million a year.

A rough estimate giving each of the state’s 43,915 teachers a $2,000 raise would cost about $87.8 million a year, but that number does not include a corresponding increase in benefits.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said a boost in benefits brings the state’s estimate to about $100 million a year.

The Javoric / Flickr Creative Commons

When the state of Kentucky decided two years ago to require doctors to check their patients’ drug-taking histories before writing new narcotic prescriptions, some physicians were adamantly opposed.

The doctors said mandatory checks would cause them to waste valuable time and money running checks on patients with legitimate pain and anxiety problems. They said they didn’t need an online database to help them spot “doctor-shoppers” who might be obtaining prescriptions from more than one doctor.

Then, a funny thing happened.

Carmen Forman / Oklahoma Watch

Teacher pay and school accountability were among the biggest topics discussed during a community forum Wednesday evening tackling issues facing Oklahoma public-school teachers.

A panel of educators, joined by other teachers and representatives from education and public-policy groups in the audience, talked about the challenges they see in schools and classrooms on a daily basis.

ECDC Public School's class watches intently as teacher Sommer Lyons shares the story of the Easter Bunny.
Nick Conroy / Oklahoma Watch

Like leaks in a levee, teacher shortages are springing up faster than Oklahoma school districts can respond.

Now, instead of shortages mainly in math, science and special education, schools are grappling with vacancies in all departments and grade levels, according to lawmakers and district recruiters.

Oklahoma City Public Schools has 403 teaching vacancies that need to be filled before next school year, up from levels three years ago, recruiters said. Tulsa Public Schools is struggling to fill 84 positions, up from the typical 30 to 40 vacancies. Smaller districts are also struggling to recruit.

Gov. Mary Fallin
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The minimum wage has become a campaign issue in Oklahoma and nationally as Republicans and Democrats debate whether the wage should be raised and what effects that would have.

In Oklahoma City, a labor union and a lawyer launched a petition effort in February to increase the city’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour, which is the state and federal minimum, to $10.10 an hour. That prompted a GOP-supported legislative bill to prohibit municipalities from setting their own minimum wage and vacation and sick days for private businesses.

The Javoric / Flickr Creative Commons

The number of Oklahomans enrolled at one time in the state’s Medicaid program reached an all-time high in March, and officials are examining whether many people who signed up were spurred to do so by the Affordable Care Act.

By the end of March, there were 830,850 Oklahomans enrolled in SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program; that was the highest single-month total of enrollees since the program began, according to data from the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.

timlewisnm / Flickr Creative Commons

Who’s to blame for glitches that prevented 8,100 Oklahoma students from taking their online exams Monday?

State Education Superintendent Janet Barresi minced no words as she berated test administrator CTB/McGraw-Hill for the outage, which affected middle school and high school students across the state.

State Superintendent Janet Barresi during an April 2014 press conference announcing problems with the state's standardized testing vendor.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

Updated at 2:26 p.m. after a State Department of Education press conference.

For the second consecutive year, standardized testing for Oklahoma students has been disrupted, prompting the state superintendent to suspend all online testing for the day.

Lee Elementary School pre-kindergarten teacher Victoria Tsaras gets active with her students, dancing to “What Does the Fox Say?”
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

One by one, K-12 education reforms passed in previous years by Oklahoma lawmakers are being targeted for weakening or repeal.

Among them: Common Core State Standards, the Reading Sufficiency Act, A-F school grades for districts, and middle-school end-of-instruction exams for history and social studies. These could all be scaled back or revoked by various legislative bills that have passed in both the House and Senate.

Both of Oklahoma’s senators are among a cadre of lawmakers asking that the U.S. Department of Education stop tying federal funding to the implementation of Common Core standards and related curriculum.

The U.S. Department of Education has been a supporter of Common Core State Standards, and has included their adoption as criteria for federal Race to the Top grants.

Shelly Deas, principal of Lee Elementary School in Oklahoma City, shows the school’s system for tracking achievement and improvement levels of each student. Students in blue are at the highest performing level; students in red are at the lowest.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Four in 10 of Oklahoma’s lowest-performing students showed little or no improvement in language arts and math last year, raising questions about whether the state and schools are focusing enough attention on students who struggle the most.

In public schools where at least three-fourths of students were from low-income families, about half of test takers made no significant improvement over the previous year, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of state test results in spring 2013.

Interactive: How Bottom 25 Percent Scored at Each School

A map showing how states stack up in terms of projected student growth.

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Oklahoma is expected to add 28,000 students by 2022, according to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

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