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.

Ways to Connect

classroom floor
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The number of third graders meeting minimum reading benchmarks has continued to tick upward in the three years since Oklahoma tied reading scores to advancement to the fourth grade, preliminary results from the state Department of Education show.

That raises the question of whether the controversial high-stakes exam is working by forcing schools and parents to ensure more third graders read better. The goal of the approach, which is used in other states, is to push students from a “learn to read” to a “read to learn” level by fourth grade.

Jacob McCleland / KGOU

The elimination of end-of-course tests that Oklahoma public school students take each year will throw more uncertainty into the state’s efforts to develop a new system of measuring school performance.

The state’s much-criticized A through F report card system relies on students’ scores from standardized end-of-instruction exams, which were eliminated when the governor signed into law House Bill 3218 on Monday.

Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety has purchased several devices capable of seizing funds loaded on to prepaid debit cards to aid troopers in roadside seizures of suspected drug-trafficking proceeds.

The portable card scanners are designed to be carried in law enforcement vehicles, allow troopers to freeze and seize money loaded onto a prepaid debit card, and to return money to an account whose funds were seized or frozen.

Cara Brown (left) and Gloria Ferrell of Tulsa allege in a lawsuit that despite availability of jobs, Stand-By Personnel never offered them a position because of discriminatory practices. The company denies the allegations.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Lawsuits in Tulsa County and a national news investigation reveal a pattern of complaints that businesses engaged in race, sex and age discrimination in hiring through temporary employment agencies.

In two Tulsa lawsuits, job candidates and a former employee at a temp agency alleged that agency workers used a coding system and notes to accommodate client businesses that requested not to be sent workers of certain races or genders or over a certain age. The temp agency’s owner confirmed to Oklahoma Watch that the incidents occurred but said they were rare and violated company policy.

Oklahoma state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, talks with a colleague on the Senate floor during a committee meeting in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 17, 2016.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

When Oklahoma’s $6.8 billion spending plan was unveiled in late May, it was greeted with a mixture of sharp criticism over its cuts and revenue patches and, in some sectors, relief that the reductions were not more severe.

From all sides, however, there was one common reaction to the 114-page budget bill: surprise.

Mark Twain Elementary second grade teacher Elizabeth Clarke staples together work from two of her second-grade students in this 2013 photo.
Chase Cook / Oklahoma Watch

In South Dakota, one of two states with lower average teacher pay than Oklahoma, the Legislature in March approved a half-cent sales tax intended to boost salaries by thousands of dollars.

The other state, Mississippi, also is phasing in a teacher pay increase.

By contrast, when Oklahoma legislators adjourned Friday, they left ambitions of higher salaries for teachers unfulfilled. That means the state could find itself dead last in teacher pay soon unless more funding is generated.

Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general, gestures as he speaks at a news conference in Oklahoma City, Monday, April 8, 2013.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

The Oklahoma attorney general has issued an opinion that out-of-state handgun licenses obtained by Oklahomans online are as valid as Oklahoma-issued handgun licenses, even if the other state has more lenient requirements.

The opinion, released Friday, states that Oklahoma residents with a “non-resident” handgun license from another state, such as Virginia, and Utah, are as valid as Oklahoma's concealed handgun license.

Oklahoma Sending Cash To Companies That Pay No Income Tax

May 28, 2016
money, cash
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

Some state lawmakers are justifying their decision to curtail a tax credit for the working poor by declaring that the state shouldn’t be subsidizing people who owe no income taxes in the first place.

But the state has several tax breaks on the books that do essentially the same thing for businesses. Through a combination of direct refunds, rebates and tax credit “transfers,” companies with no income tax liability are receiving cash subsidies.

State Capitol, Oklahoma Capitol
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

A number of one-time funding measures will help stave off potentially crippling cuts to K-12 education, health care and other core service as part of a budget deal announced Tuesday by Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders.

But some key lawmakers said the agreement, which will need to pass the Legislature by the end of the session on Friday, only delays the need for more painful reductions and could create more financial troubles when the Legislature returns next year.

7 Takeaways From Tuesday’s Budget Deal

May 25, 2016
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

It will take a day or two for lawmakers to digest the details and assess the impact of the big budget deal unveiled Tuesday by Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leaders. But several immediate implications appeared clear.

Budget Cuts Were Reduced By About Two-Thirds.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, updates lawmakers Friday about Oklahoma's budget situation one week before the constitionally required end of the 2016 legislative session.
Oklahoma House of Representatives

After weeks of dire warnings about Oklahoma’s budget situation, legislative leaders say they're hopeful that a package of bills moving through the Legislature over the next few days will avert draconian cuts to education, health and other core programs.

But as work continues to bridge the state’s $1.3 billion budget gap for the 2017 fiscal year that begins July 1, it appears many services will not be fully shielded from cost-cutting moves.

Budget Crisis Clips Credit For Oklahoma's Working Poor

May 22, 2016
Tammy Greenman of Oklahoma City uses a bullhorn to ask Gov. Mary Fallin to call off safety net cuts, including partial elimination of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

In their final rush to contend with Oklahoma’s budget crisis, state lawmakers have voted to curtail a tax credit described by advocates as one of the best programs ever devised to help the working poor.

The measure to eliminate the “refundable” portion of Oklahoma’s Earned Income Credit would reduce the income of about 200,000 low-income households by $147 a year on average, according to a recent data study.

Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

In a time of tough budget decisions, some Capitol watchers say this could be one of the most straightforward choices the Oklahoma Legislature makes this year. 


With a few quick floor votes lawmakers could raise more than $180 million a year and help battle the scourge of lung disease, all with a tax that many state residents will never pay. 


Women represent less than a fifth of superintendents in Oklahoma. Stacey Butterfield, superintendent of Jenks Public Schools, followed her mother and grandmother into a career in education.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

The teachers in K-12 classrooms in Oklahoma and other states historically were mostly women. Their bosses — the principals and superintendents — were mostly men.

In two of those jobs, not much has changed.

Nearly eight in 10 certified public-school teachers in Oklahoma are female, a ratio unchanged in the past decade, according to state Department of Education data acquired by Oklahoma Watch.

prison bars
Pixabay / (CC0 1.0)

Editor's note: The House gave final legislative approval to this bill on a 90-0 vote Monday, and it now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin's desk.

A bill moving through the Oklahoma Legislature could allow many non-violent misdemeanor offenders to avoid a lengthy stay in county jail.

But it comes with a catch: Inmates would have to volunteer their work for free.

The program could save the counties money, but some inmate advocates cite a risk that it could lead to exploitation of inmates with loose oversight at county levels.