KGOU

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

Penny Reynolds, executive director of Sisu Youth, hopes to secure funding to open a 10-bed night shelter at Church of the Open Arms in Oklahoma City.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

The five bunk beds, each with a white pillow and tightly fitted sheets, sit empty in the basement of the Church of the Open Arms in northwest Oklahoma City.

Nearby shelves hold donated clothing, cleaning products and young-adult novels.

All are waiting to be used by homeless teenagers. But for months, the beds and items have been sitting untouched by the young.

Tracy McDaniel, principal and co-founder of KIPP Reach Academy in Oklahoma City, said the school has been working on increasing its retention rate of students.
Michael Willmus / Oklahoma Watch

A little-known trend in KIPP Reach Academy's school enrollment casts a new light on its achievement record – a record considered when the charter school’s expansionproposal went before the Oklahoma City school board Monday.

Nearly three years ago, Gov. Mary Fallin requested an investigation into allegations of fraud against the state’s largest virtual charter school.

State agents launched the probe of Epic Charter Schools and, about a year later, turned their findings over to the Attorney General’s Office.

Since then, no charges have been filed against Epic or its employees, and no announcement has been made about the case.

Jacob McCleland / KGOU

A waning number of applicants, coupled with a dramatic cut in state funds, is throwing into reverse Teach for America’s efforts to place teachers in public-school classrooms in Oklahoma.

The national program recruits college graduates and professionals to commit to a two-year stint in mostly low-income, struggling schools.

money, cash
Brian Hardzinski / KGOU

Unused tax credits have created a big cloud over future state revenue collections, and officials say they can’t predict with certainty when or even if a storm might strike.

The tax credit overhang totaled $417 million by the end of 2014 according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of data gathered for the first time by the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Comparable data for year-end 2015 won’t be available until early next year.

Panel Targets Business Incentives Totaling $110 Million

Jul 2, 2016
Members of the Oklahoma Incentive Evaluation Commission prepare to choose the tax breaks they will review this year. Left to right: Lyle Roggow, Carlos Johnson, Cynthia Rogers and Jim Denton.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

A new state oversight panel has decided to target for scrutiny this year 11 business incentives that have been reducing state revenue by at least $110 million a year.

The first-year targets include incentives for manufacturing plant expansions, wind-power electricity generators, historic building renovations and Oklahoma-based film productions.

Rodney Redus of Oklahoma City votes at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics polling location in Tuesday's primary. Only 47 voters had cast their ballots at the site as of 2:30 p.m.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

The potential size of a so-called “teacher caucus” in the Legislature was significantly whittled down Tuesday after 20 current or former educators lost their primary battles.

Many of the candidates running on a platform of increasing state funding for public schools and teacher salaries were taken down by members of their own party and will not advance to November’s general election.

Independent groups that seek to influence elections have spent more than $300,000 over the past five weeks on Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional primary contests.

Since May 19, $300,716 in independent expenditures have been made to influence results in Tuesday’s election, Oklahoma Ethics Commission and Federal Election Commission filings show.

Mike Mason taught science at Putnam City and Mustang high schools.
Oklahoma Watch

The idea of running for public office, much less being part of the Oklahoma Legislature, was never on Mike Mason’s mind during his 31-year career as a science teacher at Putnam City High School and Mustang High School.

That, however, changed after he agreed to meet with Oklahoma Education Association leaders earlier this year about whether he would consider running for office. Already upset at the state’s relatively low education funding, Mason received encouragement and decided to jump into the Senate District 47 contest in south Oklahoma City.

Edmond resident Jay Mandraccia casts her primary ballot during early voting Thursday at the Oklahoma County Board of Elections. Regular voting will be held Tuesday.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

The first decisive moment in Oklahoma’s 2016 election season will occur on Tuesday, when Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians nominate candidates for dozens of legislative and congressional races.

Some of these primary races will lock up the ultimate winner because only candidates from one party are running. Others will be decided in a later run-off or in November.

Making sense of primary results can be difficult. Here are five things to watch for on Tuesday.

Will any incumbents fall?

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.

lockers
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.

Pages