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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Penny Hike Would Make Oklahoma Number 1 In Sales Taxes

Oct 31, 2015
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

A proposed penny sales tax increase for education would push Oklahoma to the top of list of states with the highest combined state and local sales taxes, according to data from a national research group.

It also would elevate Tulsa and Oklahoma City to No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, among major cities with the highest combined sales taxes, trailing only Chicago and Seattle, the Tax Foundation said.

The Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.
Ben Fenwick / Oklahoma Watch

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to place caps on how much inmates in jails and prisons can be charged for making phone calls.

The new caps will help inmates and their families, many of whom struggle with finances because of poverty or the loss of a breadwinner, and help them stay in touch with each other, said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who championed the rule.

“The system is inequitable. It has preyed upon our most vulnerable for far too long. Families are being further torn apart and the cycle of poverty is being perpetuated,” Clyburn said.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren is proposing a statewide sales tax for education.
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s proposed penny sales tax for education reflects a fundamental shift in the way the state is paying for public schools, higher education and other services.

Economists interviewed by Oklahoma Watch expressed concern about reducing the state’s reliance on income taxes and increasing its dependence on sales taxes to finance essential state functions.

Most Police Seizures Of Cash In Oklahoma Come From Blacks, Hispanics

Oct 14, 2015

Nearly two-thirds of seizures of cash by Oklahoma law enforcement agencies come from blacks, Hispanics and other racial or ethnic minorities, an Oklahoma Watch analysis of high-dollar forfeiture cases in 10 counties shows.

classroom floor
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Two of the three experts brought in to help Oklahoma create new academic standards say numerous flaws in the third draft show Oklahoma will likely fall short of creating the best standards in the nation.

The flaws highlight the monumental challenge lawmakers gave to the state Education Department to write new standards, but also clash with the rhetoric that surrounded the process at the start.

health insurance cards and dollar bills
Lindsey Whelchel / Oklahoma Watch

The Affordable Care Act health insurance market in Oklahoma faces big changes next year, with the dominant company moving 40,000 people into different plans and three other companies dropping out entirely.

On Jan. 1, Oklahoma will be left with only two companies offering individual health plans in the “Obamacare” market:  Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma, the existing market leader, and UnitedHealthcare, a new entry.

Education Sales Tax Used In Other States

Oct 4, 2015

Several states have proposed or approved sales tax increases to support education similar to a proposal in the works in Oklahoma, and the results have varied.

In some cases, the sales tax hikes have remained in place for years, expanding or preserving education spending. In another case, a tax hike was repealed by voters, and a second tax ran into legal trouble.

Iowa, Arizona, Idaho, Florida and Georgia are among the states that implemented sales tax increases similar to the one proposed by University of Oklahoma President David Boren.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren, shown here during a 2015 press conference, is calling for a statewide penny sales tax for education.
Ben Fenwick / Oklahoma Watch

A proposed penny sales tax increase would cost medium-income Oklahomans about $262 a year and raise $608 million annually to finance public schools and higher education, a new data analysis shows.

The bottom 20 percent of Oklahoman households would chip in $90 a year, and the top 1 percent would pay $1,691, the study says.

Penny Education Tax In Other States

Buffy Heater, chief strategy officer of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, is evaluating options for shifting part of Oklahoma’s Medicaid population into a “coordinated care” program using private-sector contractors.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

At the insistence of state lawmakers, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority is exploring cost-saving options that could lead to partial privatization of the state’s $2.4 billion Medicaid program for aged, blind and disabled people.

The state tried that once before, and it didn’t work out. Costs escalated, companies dropped out, and the state pulled the plug. Supporters of the new effort predicted it might turn out better because of improvements in managed-care practices.

a school classroom with empty chairs
comedy_nose / Flickr Creative Commons

For the third year in a row, Oklahoma will not give a standardized writing test next spring that counts toward a student’s score or a school’s letter grade.

That means the state is paying a vendor at least tens of thousands of dollars for a test that yields no results.

An Aug. 24 bulletin from the state Department of Education addressed to school district test coordinators says the writing exam will only be a field test, which is used to create test questions for the following school year.

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