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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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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.

Keith Ballard, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, and Dave Lopez, interm superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, answer questions from the audience on a range of education issues at an Oklahoma Watch-Out forum on March 6, 2014.
Carmen Forman / Oklahoma Watch

Third-grade reading, new education standards, teacher pay and the arts were among key issues addressed by superintendents from Oklahoma’s two largest public school systems during an education forum last week.

Dave Lopez, interim superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, and Keith Ballard, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, fielded questions from an audience of more than 50 during the forum, held at Kamp’s 1910 Café in Oklahoma City. The forum was sponsored by Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit journalism organization.

Terrapin Flyer / Flickr Creative Commons

President Obama called for a 2 percent increase in federal education funding while unveiling his budget proposal Tuesday, but little benefit is expected in Oklahoma.

During his presentation, Obama requested $68.6 billion in discretionary education funding. The proposal included no changes in current Title 1 spending, which funds programs for students from low-income families, or special education. Both programs combined take up 39 percent of proposed federal education funding.

Michelle Hightower, third-grade teacher at Oakridge Elementary School in Oklahoma City.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

Two years ago, when Oklahoma third-grade students took the state’s annual reading test, nearly 5,500 them, or 11 percent, failed.

Last year, the results were worse, despite a stepped-up focus on reading instruction: 12 percent of third graders scored at the lowest of four levels, unsatisfactory, meaning they were still reading at about a first-grade level.

Gov. Mary Fallin
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Thirty-one documents related to the Affordable Care Act that Gov. Mary Fallin has refused to release and that are the subject of a lawsuit against her will be archived and made available to the public after Fallin leaves office, her spokesman said.

Fallin’s office, however, has not yet decided whether to stipulate that release of the archived records be delayed for a certain period after her term ends.

female student uses iPad
Brad Flickinger / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma is often held up as the national poster child for offering early childhood education to many students.

But according to state officials and educators, the system has a serious weakness: Data about each student’s academic profile is not shared between early-childhood education program providers and school districts, or between providers. That can prevent kindergarten teachers from being able to immediately target students' learning needs when they arrive, officials say. It also prevents providers from doing the same when a child transfers from one program to another or is enrolled in more than one program.

Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

Four years ago, state Rep. Jason Nelson challenged the status quo in education by authoring the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act. The measure allowed parents of special-needs students to use state dollars to pay private school tuition and other educational expenses. About 280 students are now participating.

Corrections Director Robert C. Patton, seated at his desk in early 2014 shortly after taking over the department.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

In Robert C. Patton, Oklahoma is getting a new corrections director from Arizona who is more than willing to use private prisons as a means to deal with inmate overcrowding.

“I’m a (prison) bed manager. I’ll tell the policy makers I need beds, and if I can convince them that I need beds, then it’s their jobs on whether it’s public or private,” said Patton, whose first day as Oklahoma Corrections Department director began Tuesday.

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