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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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7 Takeaways From Tuesday’s Budget Deal

May 25, 2016
money
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.

cigarettes
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.

The Tulsa County District Attorney's Office filed sodomy and rape charges against a 17-year-old boy in April 2015. The case was ultimately rejected.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Update
State Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, says he plans to amend a bill to include unconscious victims in Oklahoma's forcible sodomy law. In a news release, Biggs said, "“I am horrified by the idea that we would allow these depraved rapists to face a lower charge simply because the victim is unconscious. I think the judges made a grave error, but if they need more clarification, we are happy to give it to them by fixing the statute."

tax forms and a calculator
Oklahoma Watch

School choice advocates lost a bid this legislative session to channel more public funding to private schools through education savings accounts, a form of vouchers.

But a little-known existing program has succeeded at doing just that and, while still relatively small, is growing.

Taxpayers have received more than $1.4 million in tax credits over two years for donating to a program that gives tuition scholarships to private school students.

Gov. Mary Fallin, flanked by state officials, unveiled budget proposals Arpl 13, 2016.
Oklahoma Watch

In the confusing arithmetic of state budgets, the size of a cut or an increase can be in the eye of the beholder.

That was the case on Wednesday when Gov. Mary Fallin unveiled a new budget proposal for fiscal year 2017 calling for a 4.5 percent cut in budgets for 52 state agencies, including higher education.

But wait. That 4.5 percent is a share of those agencies' expected spending totals after receiving cuts during the current fiscal year, totaling 7 percent of their annual budget.

Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendent Rob Neu speaks to reporters in August 2014, shortly after taking the position.
Oklahoma City Public Schools / Facebook

Less than two years ago, Rob Neu arrived from the Seattle area to become superintendent of Oklahoma’s largest school district, Oklahoma City Public Schools.

On Monday, news broke that Neu is planning to resign.

Oklahoma Watch

At least two Oklahoma law enforcement agencies possess or have used a controversial device, shrouded in secrecy, to track and collect information from cellphones, an Oklahoma Watch investigation found.

The devices, often referred to as “cell site simulators,” are controversial because they collect information not only from criminal suspects, but also potentially from scores of other surrounding cellphone owners who have no idea the data is being gathered.

Ada City Schools Superintendent Pat Harrison says his district will save about $30,000 by cutting six days from the remainder of the school year.
Richard R. Barron / The Ada News

Oklahoma requires one of the shortest school years in the nation, in terms of instructional days.

But that hasn’t stopped a growing number of districts from ending their school year early this year or moving to four-day weeks to deal with cutbacks in state funding.

The Oklahoma City Public Schools administration building.
Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma City Public Schools district proposes addressing racial disparities in discipline through an “intense process” of reforms, an attorney for the district told the school board Monday evening.

The proposal is intended to resolve a 2014 complaint being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that the school district disciplined minority students more frequently and more harshly.

Steven Buck
Provided / Oklahoma Watch

Under current state law, the new executive director of the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs appears ineligible to hold the job.

Also, the new Oklahoma Department of Corrections interim director appears ineligible to become the permanent director.

In an effort to smooth the issues, the Legislature is considering a Senate bill that would reduce the work experience requirements for both positions. That would move Steven Buck closer to qualifying by law for the job he was appointed to in January – executive director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs.

Nico Gomez, CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma Health Care Authority announced Tuesday its plans to cut reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers by 25 percent as a result of the state’s budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year.

The cuts, which must first go through a series of public hearings over the next 60 days, would affect all provider types, including hospitals, physicians, pharmacy, durable medical equipment suppliers and nursing facilities, according to a news release from the Health Care Authority.

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