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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 state Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, applauds as students are introduced in the Senate gallery in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 9, 2013.
Sue Ogracki / AP

Virtual charter schools would be required to track and report student attendance —something the schools aren’t currently tasked with doing — under a law proposed by an Oklahoma senator.

Oklahoma has five virtual charter schools, enrolling a combined 13,225 students. Two schools reported 100 percent attendance last year, drawing questions and criticism from education advocates.

Oklahoma state capitol
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Perhaps concerned about possible cuts in state programs and business incentives, lobbyists again have spent more on gifts for legislators and state officials in the months heading into the legislative session.

Lawmakers, elected officials and other state employees received about $60,350 in gifts from special-interest groups during the last six months of 2016, according to recently filed lobbying reports.

President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a rally at DeltaPlex Arena, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Andrew Harnik / AP

Betsy DeVos, who is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, has given millions in campaign contributions to politicians across the country.

Some of that fiscal muscle trickled into Oklahoma during the last election cycle through a pro-school-choice “Super PAC” that, notably, opposed so-called “teachers’ caucus” candidates in many instances. (The caucus arose out of many educators’ frustration over what they view as low education funding levels and teacher pay.)

Jimmy Hartford teaches an AP calculus class to 10 students at Cushing High School.
David Britton / Oklahoma Watch

Participation in advanced-level math and science classes in high school is a strong predictor of success in college, regardless of the grade earned in the class or whether it results in college credit, studies show.

Josh Cantwell, Grand Lake Mental Health Center adult services administrator, demonstrates how the organization's iPad program works to help clients access treatment.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

 

Patricia Tompkins wanted help for her son, Eric Tompkins.

Eric, 41, of Ardmore, was suffering from severe depression, according to statements made online by Patricia and other members of Eric’s family. On the morning of Aug. 8, 2015, she suspected he had attempted to kill himself by drinking roach poison.

How Would Todd Lamb Govern?

Nov 28, 2016
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb shorlty before the State of the State address Monday at the Oklahoma state Capitol.
Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

If Gov. Mary Fallin joins President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb will step in to finish the two years left in her term.

The question is, would that mean status quo in policies since both are Republicans, or would Lamb’s half-term, combined with a big crop of new legislators, bring significant changes?

Josh Gwartney, principal of the early childhood center at Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools, displays the paddle available to be used on students.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

All schools should stop paddling students as a form of discipline because it’s “harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities,” U.S. Secretary of Education John King wrote in a letter Tuesday to all state governors and schools chiefs.

The Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission endorses its consultants’ recommendations to retain 10 state business incentives that are reducing state revenues.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

A state oversight panel voted Tuesday to retain 10 business incentives after its consultants rescinded a recommendation to repeal one of them and the state commerce secretary intervened to rescue another.

The panel’s actions provided an immediate reprieve to the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program and the state’s Industrial Access Road Program. But they could provide more momentum to efforts to rein in a fast-growing wind-power tax credit. All of the proposals would require legislative approval.

Oklahoma House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Inman, D-Del City, left, speaks on the floor of the Oklahoma House - May 27, 2016.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

A lot can change in 12 years.

In 2004, before the November election, Oklahoma Democrats controlled 80 of the 149 seats in the Legislature.

But after suffering legislative losses in each of the next seven elections – they lost a net of seven seats Tuesday – Democrats now hold just 32 seats. And the party may have trouble gaining back substantial ground.

State Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie (left), and Gov. Mary Fallin speak at a March 31, 2015 bill signing for a bill requiring doctors in Oklahoma to check a new prescription drug database before prescribing certain addictive drugs.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

Women, already underrepresented in the state Legislature, will hold fewer seats in 2017 despite a surge in the number of female candidates.

Those results, coupled with Hillary Clinton’s failed bid for the White House, have disheartened many women in Oklahoma. Now, at least in the Legislature, women from both parties intend to form a women’s caucus.

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump appears at a rally in Oklahoma City on February 26, 2016.
Emily Wendler / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

The full impact of Donald Trump’s presidency in Oklahoma won’t become clear for some time, but its implications already loom large in the areas of health, energy, taxes and infrastructure spending.

Policy analysts and political observers interviewed by Oklahoma Watch since Tuesday’s election said Trump’s plans, if enacted by Congress, could produce a tectonic shift felt from one end of the state to the other.

Leah Thompson Carter, of Bartlesville, lost her son to a prescription drug overdose and is afraid she will lose another. Here, she speaks at the Suicide Awareness Summit in Bartlesville in September.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

For many Oklahomans, the tug of war between drug addiction and the wait time for treatment can be a one-sided competition: The power of addiction often wins.

Those who lack insurance or cannot pay out of pocket often find themselves on a long waiting list that prioritizes the most severe drug addiction cases. If the person isn’t pregnant or injecting drugs, he or she will not receive state-funded treatment or will be forced to wait, sometimes weeks, until a spot opens up.

ABLE Charter School’s administrative offices are located in an office building on North Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Watch

For the first time in its four-year history, the state board that oversees virtual charter schools has decided to shut down one of the schools, citing a pattern of violations.

The Statewide Virtual Charter Board voted Thursday to end its contract with ABLE Charter School, the newest and smallest of the state’s five virtual schools.

The school, which has an enrollment of 61 students across the state, had come under fire for being out of compliance with several state laws and rules. ABLE’s superintendent said the school will appeal the decision.

Carol Barnes, of Ponca City, says that one of her greatest fears was losing her vehicle, cutting off her only access to mental health treatment.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

There was a time in Carol Barnes’ life when the prospect of losing her car would have worsened her already severe anxiety and depression.

When she was struggling with her disorders during the mid-2000s, Barnes said, losing her only means of transportation would have meant losing access to her mental health providers.

Matt Whittington, of Edmond, enrolled in Epic Charter Schools because the flexibility of online classes fit with his commitment to gymnastics. The family made special efforts to ensure that the arrangement worked.
Michael Willmus / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma’s largest online charter school is on a track of explosive growth, nearly tripling its enrollment over three years, to almost 8,500.

That pursuit of lightning growth by Epic Charter Schools – a goal affirmed by its co-founder – shows no signs of letting up. Epic officials predict enrollment will near 10,000 by mid-school year.

Supporters wave Trump campaign signs at a rally in Oklahoma City on February 26, 2016.
Emily Wendler / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

Recent polling and fundraising numbers seem to confirm that Donald Trump will likely win Oklahoma’s seven electoral votes this November.

Trump has now outraised Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the state for the third consecutive month. And a statewide poll out this month shows Trump leading Clinton by 15 percentage points.

But the data also shows Trump will be hard-pressed to win Oklahoma by as wide a margin as the past several GOP presidential candidates did. That could indicate a lack of enthusiasm for Trump among many conservative Oklahomans.

Janet Roloff, managing attorney at the Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma’s McAlester office, represents a Fort Towson couple who couldn't afford a private attorney in a legal action to foreclosure on their mobile home.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

Attorney Janet Roloff pauses as she tries to estimate what it would cost David and Minnie Harris if she had billed them for the hours she’s worked representing them in their mobile-home foreclosure case.

“For three years of litigation against major corporations?” she asks, seated behind a cluttered desk in the McAlester field office for Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma. “You know, I’d have to say least a hundred thousand dollars.”

That is well beyond the reach of the Harrises, a Fort Towson couple whose only income is Social Security disability payments.

Rikki Cosper stands in the McGee Bright Start Early Education Center in Norman, where she is director. She also heads the Licensed Child Care Association of Oklahoma. Her center is one of 3,409 remaining child-care homes or centers in the state.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

After 23 years in the child-care industry, Laura Hatcher is edging toward a decision she doesn’t want to make.

The 51-year-old Antlers resident runs one of the four licensed day-care facilities in Pushmataha County in southeast Oklahoma. But she questions whether she can keep her doors open beyond another year or two because running the business is getting more expensive and difficult.

“It’s a struggle and I’m working 11, 12 hours a day,” she said. “If it continues the way it is, I’m not going to be able to keep going.”

Robinson Tolbert was honored in 2014 by the University of Oklahoma’s Anne and Henry Zarrow School of Social Work Hall of Fame for her work in rural areas,
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

From its vast, open ranges in the northwest to its lush, rolling hills in the southeast corner, rural Oklahoma still evokes an idyllic image.

The archetype of quiet, small towns with a strong sense of community – where friendliness is abundant and “big city” stresses are few – often marks the popular imagery used to represent the state and its values.

But for many of those who live in Oklahoma’s rural areas, the reality does not match the trouble-free imagery.

In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 14, 2009, a display of items used in the "shake-and-bake" method of manufacturing methamphetamine is shown at the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics in Oklahoma City.
AP

Oklahoma has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the country. Many deaths can be attributed to opioids, but methamphetamine continues to plague the state. Meth overdoses are soaring, despite a big decline in lab busts.

Listen To The Story From Oklahoma Watch Reporter Brad Gibson

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