Oklahoma Watch

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.

Governor Delays Use Of Card Scanners

Jun 17, 2016
Gov. Mary Fallin delivers her 2016 State of the State address Feb. 1, 2016.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin directed the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to delay use of recently obtained portable card readers capable of freezing or seizing funds from prepaid debit cards.

In a media release distributed late Friday, Fallin’s office said the governor had directed her cabinet secretary of safety and security to postpone use of the devices until more thorough policies can be developed and more public education undertaken. She did not specify a time frame.

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 executive editor David Fritze, Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services commissioner Terri White, and Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Nico Gomez.
Patrick Roberts / KGOU

At the Oklahoma Watch-Out public forum last month, two prominent state health officials described the impact the state budget crisis and the oil-and-gas downturn could have on residents' physical and mental health.

As the Legislature prepares to assemble in February, the state’s two primary agencies that deal with health care for the impoverished and the mentally ill are bracing for cuts to services. At the same time, losses of jobs threaten to strain physical and emotional health for families at all income levels.

State Officials Go To Court To Challenge FCC Cap On Inmate Phone Call Fees

Jan 31, 2016
The Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.
Ben Fenwick / Oklahoma Watch

The state of Oklahoma and state law enforcement officials are challenging a recent Federal Communications Commission rule that caps the amount of money prisoners and their families are charged for telephone calls.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ interim director Joe Allbaugh, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel and the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association filed a petition on Jan. 25, via Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, requesting the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidate a ratings cap on inmate phone costs passed by the FCC in October.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol
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.

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.

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.

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

More than a dozen names are inked onto the wooden paddle tucked behind Principal Josh Gwartney’s desk.

Each name memorializes a child who was given a swatting in Chouteau-Mazie Public Schools, located about 25 miles east of Tulsa.

Gwartney, who leads the early childhood center, said the paddle is rarely used on the center’s pre-kindergarten through second-grade students, and only with their parents’ permission. Paddling also is used in the district’s elementary, middle and high schools.

James Alexander, who suffers from bipolar II disorder, spends 23 hours a day in lockdown in the Tulsa County jail.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Before he was locked up in the Tulsa County jail, James Alexander lived in a hole in the ground.

That hole was under Interstate 44 in east Tulsa, and there he slept, ate and stored his belongings, including food he had stolen from nearby stores. He lived with depression related to bipiolar II disorder.

In jail for nearly two years since, Alexander, 30, now has a stable life. He is locked up 23 hours a day but gets steady meals. He is offered medication but refuses to take it.

His red beard is wiry and his fingernails long and yellowed.

Law Enforcement Seizures Misspent, Missing

Jul 18, 2015
Oklahoma state senator Kyle Loveless.
Oklahoma Senate

Funds and property seized by Oklahoma law enforcement agencies have gone missing or have been used for personal or other improper purposes, state audit records reveal.

Among the violations were using seized money to pay on a prosecutor’s student loans and allowing a prosecutor to live rent-free in a confiscated house for years, records show.

Verna Foust, CEO of Red Rock Behavioral Health Services in Oklahoma City, said people with mild depression, anxiety and other problems are "falling through the cracks," not getting treatment.
Lindsay Whelchel / Oklahoma Watch

Every year, thousands of Oklahomans with mental-health or addiction problems call or show up at state-funded treatment centers and get little or no care.

The message is: Until you get sicker, you will get minimal help from the state.

That’s because Oklahoma’s mental-health system relies on a “triage” approach that limits most subsidized treatment to the seriously ill.

State Program Diverting Workers’ Tax Payments to Businesses

Jun 13, 2015

Oklahoma employees of Goodyear, Hitachi and 15 other firms are contributing part of their paychecks to help pay for plant expansions and equipment purchases costing more than $89 million, an Oklahoma Watch investigation shows.

In many cases, they probably don’t even know it.

State Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville

Because of a failure to write clear laws, Oklahoma leaders say, the state paid more than $90 million to insurance companies it shouldn’t have over the past five years in the form of rebates.

The rebates were paid to insurance firms that provide workers’ compensation coverage in Oklahoma and that had paid assessments required by state law to a fund called the Multiple Injury Trust Fund.

Schools Chief Warns Of Larger Classes, Closing Schools

Jun 6, 2015
Joy Hofmeister

Schools are closing, teacher layoff notices have gone out and class sizes will grow across Oklahoma because of the state’s standstill education budget, Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said in an interview.

Hofmeister said details are emerging that show the state’s K-12 budget, which remained at $2.5 billion for fiscal year 2016, will ultimately result in cuts at many school districts. Overhead costs such as insurance are increasing, enrollment is rising and some districts are losing local revenue because of a drop in oil and gas production.