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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

Aurora Lora, superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, resigned Tuesday, compounding the instability at the helm of the state’s largest school district.

Oklahoma City Public Schools has had 11 superintendents since 2000. Lora took the top job in 2016 after a stint as assistant superintendent under Rob Neu.

elementary school library
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

With the start of the 2018 legislative session eight days away, lawmakers have submitted a flurry of proposals related to education.

They range from the expected — proposed salary boosts and other financial compensation for teachers — to the unexpected, like bills to allow schools to sell and place ads on school buses and to permit students to apply their own sunscreen.

The intent of many other proposals is still unknown, as many education-related bills were submitted as “shell bills,” written with no substantive text and to be amended later.

M. Kathi Rawls, an Oklahoma City area attorney, represents consumers in civil cases that involve auto loans, debt collection, repossession and identity theft.
Oklahoma Watch

When customers with poor credit buy a vehicle at some used-car lots in Oklahoma, they must agree to an unusual condition: Let the dealer’s finance company attach a Global Positioning System device to the vehicle that tracks their every location.

If the buyer defaults on the loan, then the lender can find the vehicle easily and repossess it. In some cases, the tracking system also allows the company to disable the ignition if the buyer is late on payments.

A billboard for TSET’s Shape Your Future wellness campaign sits along an Oklahoma City highway. Shape Your Future is one of the agency’s advertising efforts to decrease smoking and obesity, and make Oklahomans healthier.
Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

With another sizable budget shortfall looming, and state agencies pleading for help, some Oklahoma lawmakers are turning hungrily to one of the state’s biggest heaps of public cash.

Oklahoma Watch

Already one of the most conservative states in the nation, Oklahoma continues to grow redder.

prison bars
mikecogh / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma has one in eight inmates who are serving a life sentence or a sentence of at least 50 years, a new report using 2016 data shows.

Oklahoma Watch

Private schools in Oklahoma that offer tax-credit tuition scholarships are required to have admission policies that prohibit discrimination based on race, color, national origin or disability.

But a check of websites for more than 80 participating private schools by Oklahoma Watch found that just seven post policies saying they won’t discriminate in admissions against children with disabilities.

Several schools are explicit about reserving the right to reject students whose disabilities the schools say they are unable to accommodate.

A broad-based coalition of Oklahoma business and civic leaders are the latest group to offer a specific plan to end the state’s ongoing budget impasse.

The proposal is sweeping and dramatic, and is backed by some of the most prominent and powerful industry interests in the state. Whether it will fly with legislators and citizens remains to be seen.

Allison Herrera / KOSU

The number of people sentenced to Oklahoma prisons in 2017 fell slightly, but the state remains second in the nation in overall incarceration and could be ranked first by the end of this year.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections data shows that on the last working day of 2017, a total of 28,153 inmates were in state prisons, halfway houses or in jails awaiting transfer to prisons. That was a less than 1 percent decline from the end of 2016.

Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press

Seven years ago, with Oklahoma stuck near the bottom in key public health rankings, the Oklahoma State Department of Health and Gov. Mary Fallin set out to reshape the strategy for markedly improving health outcomes for Oklahomans.

The approach would involve new health department initiatives, partnerships, educational efforts and other programs.

Shala Marshall, the 2016-17 Jenks Public Schools Teacher of the Year and a finalist for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, assists her students in AP Spanish class. Fewer Oklahoma schools offer world language classes, and most that offer advanced classes are l
Sherman Merchant / Jenks Public Schools

A fourth of high schools across the state have eliminated world language classes over a decade, erasing the chances for thousands of students to acquire skills that could better prepare them for college and the job market.

The number of high schools without a single world language class has nearly quadrupled, from 39 in 2006 to 149 in 2016, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of data collected by the state Office of Educational Quality and Accountability. That means a third of Oklahoma high schools now don’t offer a single course.

Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

Former state Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, was left with a sizable campaign nest egg after his fourth re-election last November.

But Kirby wouldn’t have the chance to spend the $42,416 in leftover campaign funds for another run. He resigned just months after his election following an investigation into sexual-harassment allegations against him.

Cuts announced at the state health department suggest leaner services for years to come.
Oklahoma Watch

At community health centers across Oklahoma, new patients typically have to wait more than two months for a dentist appointment. Those waits may get even longer.

And throughout swaths of rural Oklahoma, nonprofits that provide child-abuse prevention services for hundreds of families have halted their programs. Others are looking for alternative funding sources to stay afloat.

lockers
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The state’s largest virtual charter school reported staggering growth for 2017-18, adding more than 4,000 students to its roster, according to the latest enrollment data.

Epic Charter Schools enrolled 13,158 students as of Oct. 1. That makes Epic the 11th largest “district” by size, slightly larger than Jenks Public Schools, which enrolled more than 12,000 students, data from the Oklahoma Department of Education shows.

More than a century old, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester is a poster child for Oklahoma’s deteriorating prison system. Even the sign at its entry gate, with its missing letters, speaks to the infrastructure degradation and other problems insi
Ben Botkin / Oklahoma Watch

Padlocks are welded onto cell doors at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for when the electronic locks fail.

The state’s three prisons for women are at 129 percent of capacity, meaning inmates must sleep in temporary bunk beds in day rooms.

Shelves with thousands of inmate files jam what once was a basketball court at the Kate Barnard Correctional Center. It’s the backup for a three-decade-old software program used for recordkeeping.

Oklahoma Watch

Documents released Friday by the state Department of Health include a summary of alleged deceptions within the agency that include fraudulent budget reports to state finance officials and omissions in reporting the agency’s financial position to the Legislature and the State Board of Health.

OU Medical Center is one of two safety-net hospitals in the state that could face cuts of $115 million a year from the federal government to train future health care providers.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

Updated to reflect the governor’s executive order for a special session.

Oklahoma’s two largest safety-net hospitals could lose $115 million a year because the state spent Medicaid dollars on training doctors for well over a decade apparently without approval, Oklahoma Watch has learned.

Oklahoma Watch

The cash crisis at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which was years in the making, raises questions about which agencies and state officials could have caught the agency’s reported financial mismanagement.

At first glance, state government appears to have the powers and expertise to detect  financial irregularities occurring at the health department from 2011 to 2017.

Dustyn Rappe / Oklahoma Watch

A controversial practice of shutting children alone in small closet-like rooms to control their behavior has led Oklahoma parents to withdraw their children from school, seek police intervention and take legal action.

Oklahoma Watch

The state’s multicounty grand jury is looking into allegations of financial mismanagement at the Oklahoma State Department of Health as top officers continue to resign or get forced out in the wake of the agency’s sudden cash crunch.

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