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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Gov. Mary Fallin delivers her 2016 State of the State address Feb. 1, 2016.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

In her State of the State address on Monday, Gov. Mary Fallin called for shortened prison sentences, higher taxes on cigarettes and a $3,000 a year pay hike for all teachers.

Fallin also proposed a 6 percent cut for most state agencies in Fiscal Year 2017, with certain exceptions, and generating more revenue by eliminating some of the $8 billion in annual sales tax exemptions. Fallin's proposals come amid a budget crisis in which the state must offset a nearly $1 billion budget hole caused mainly by a plunge in oil prices. Income tax cuts have contributed to the revenue drop.

Karen Burston, of Oklahoma City, is tearful as she talks about what she believes is the discrimination she and her son have faced at Sequoyah Elementary School. Burston’s son is in a special education program.
Victor Henderson / Oklahoma Watch

A federal civil rights agency has opened its fourth investigation into Oklahoma City Public Schools, this time focused on claims that school officials discriminated against special education students.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights said the newest investigation, filed on Dec. 3, examines whether the district applied different treatment, exclusion or denial of benefits to students with disabilities.

A sales tax exemption approved in 2005 applies to electricity used in "waterflood" oil recovery projects in older fields, such as the Glenn Pool field shown above, with Sapulpa in the distance.
Oklahoma Historical Society

An obscure sales tax break authored by Oklahoma’s Senate leader is subsidizing an expensive form of enhanced oil recovery for seven companies, including the senator’s employer.

The tax break on electricity used to power old “waterflood” recovery projects was authored in 2005 by now-Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.

The first company to apply for and receive the exemption was Uplands Resources Inc. of Tulsa. At the time, Bingman was the company’s land manager. He currently works there as vice president of land and operations.

Oklahoma state Capitol
LLudo / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Income tax cuts approved by governors and legislators of both parties over the past decade reduced this year’s state revenue collections by more than $1 billion, according to an independent data analysis.

The calculation by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington suggests that past income tax cuts contributed significantly to the state’s current budget shortfall. State officials have tended to place most of the blame on falling oil prices.

lockers
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Another $19 million could be cut from Oklahoma’s public schools as early as next month, potentially raising the total mid-year revenue reduction to $66 million.

The additional cut would fall on top of $47 million in cuts enacted last week by the state Board of Education, acting on advice from state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

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

Despite efforts to reduce incarceration, Oklahoma's prison population is growing at a defiantly steady pace.

The trend includes a surge of hundreds of state inmates being held in county jails and the rate of women in prison reaching its highest recorded level.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections data show that since late 2014, a year when early-release policies were relaxed to help reduce incarceration, the number of inmates in corrections facilities has increased by nearly 1,200, reaching 28,095 near the end of 2015. The total also rose throughout 2014.

Tulsa Community College freshman Zoey Radcliffe, center, looks at her notes while preparing for a final in her remedial math course. Thousands of Oklahomans take remedial college courses each year to relearn content they should have learned in high school
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

Each year, thousands of Oklahoma students graduate from high school with the understanding that they are fully ready to pursue a college degree.

They have passed end-of-instruction exams in math, science, English and social studies. Many earned A’s or B’s in classes.

When they don their caps and gowns, nearly nine out of 10 of them will be handed a diploma certifying they meet Oklahoma’s “College Preparatory/Work Ready Curriculum Standards.”

Among all state and local law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol received the most funds from the U.S. Department of Justice's Equitable Sharing Program. In fiscal year 2014, the agency received $667,593 through the program.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

A controversial federal program that allowed the U.S. Department of Justice to share seized cash and property with local law enforcement agencies is being placed on hold indefinitely, federal officials have announced.

The suspension of the Equitable Sharing Program could mean a loss of more than $2 million in annual seized revenue for Oklahoma state and local law enforcement agencies. In fiscal year 2014, Oklahoma law enforcement garnered $2.3 million through the program.

Donrae Moore (left) placed her son Skyler (to her left) on the waiting list for state-funded services for the developmentally disabled. The family is still waiting for those services.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Ten years is a long time to wait for state help to improve the care of a developmentally disabled child or other relative.

But that is the current wait time for assistance for Oklahoma families seeking state-paid special-needs services. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services reports more than 7,200 households are on the list; the estimated waiting time for more than half is six years.

Search, Seize And Settle: Anatomy Of A Forfeiture Case

Dec 26, 2015
Oklahoma Watch

On a March day in 2009, Moua Yang and his father, Chao Yang, were driving west from Oklahoma City in a rented Nissan sedan with more than $25,000 in cash in the back seat.

A Canadian County deputy stopped them.

Deputy Mike Stilley, working drug interdiction, clocked the car at 76 mph in a 70-mph zone on Interstate 40. He gave chase as he called in the vehicle’s out-of-state plate, pulled the car over and, after approaching on foot, began questioning the Yangs.

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