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Oklahoma Watch

New Rating System Proposed For Virtual Schools

Aug 11, 2017
Stephen Chin / Flickr

The state agency that oversees virtual schools has proposed a new grading system to improve oversight of the schools, which have experienced persistent low academic performance coupled with climbing enrollment.

Questions Linger On Dismissal Of Charges In Hofmeister Case

Aug 7, 2017
Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister takes questions from reporters Tuesday after criminal charges against her and four others were dismissed.
Oklahoma Watch

Just as suddenly as they appeared in November, criminal charges against Oklahoma schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister disappeared on Tuesday. And the reasons remain a mystery.

At a news conference, surrounded by her attorney, family and supporters, Hofmeister appeared elated and relieved. She and four others no longer faced charges of conspiracy to circumvent campaign finance laws in Hofmeister’s 2014 bid for office.

Latino Legislators Remain Few But Represent Range of Districts

Jul 21, 2017

In just under one year, the number of Hispanics in Oklahoma’s statehouse has jumped 200 percent.

But that’s only because the election of one man to the House in November and another to the Senate last week brought the number of Hispanic, or Latino, lawmakers up from one to three.

a stack of dollar bills with a stethoscope and bottle of pills
James Martin / Flickr

Oklahoma is preparing to unveil a $350 million plan designed to reduce health insurance premiums and avert a scenario where the state is left with no provider offering plans on the federally run marketplace.

But the effort comes with a catch:  The more than 1.7 million Oklahomans who receive health insurance outside of the marketplace, including from employers, would pay more – a per-person fee of up to $60 a year.

The fee is part of a federal waiver the state is seeking to begin a reinsurance program through the Affordable Care Act or the GOP’s proposed replacement plan.

Pre-K students in Broken Arrow Public Schools work on an activity in the classroom. The school district is one of several that is increasing the maximum number of pre-K students per class sizes above 20 students.
Broken Arrow Public Schools.

Small classes are a cornerstone of pre-K, but some districts are now raising a long-held cap on the number of students, a move that could dilute Oklahoma’s most admired and arguably successful educational initiatives.

Like many other states, Oklahoma limits pre-K classes to 20 students. When there are more than 10 students, the classroom teacher is supposed to have a full-time assistant.

But a 2016 change in state law has inadvertently opened the door to larger pre-K classes.

prison bars
mikecogh / Flickr Creative Commons

A legal challenge, partly spearheaded by Oklahoma leaders, has blocked the federal government from setting limits on how much inmates and their families can be charged for in-state telephone calls.

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2-1 decision Tuesday that the Federal Communications Commission exceeded its authority in creating a national rule that sought to cap fees on intrastate phone calls for the first time.

Alekza Quinonez, 10, studies reading in a summer school class at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Oklahoma City.
Dustyn Rappe / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma is raising the bar on its pivotal, high-stakes reading test administered to third graders, which is likely to leave more students at risk of repeating the third grade.

Twelve percent of third graders, those who scored “unsatisfactory” – the lowest level – did not meet criteria for automatic promotion in 2016.

The state agency that handles juvenile offenders is making some fundamental changes to the way it operates. The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs is undergoing a major shift in culture away from being a corrections’ system to more of a mental health and treatment agency. KGOU partner Oklahoma Watch has more.

classroom floor
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Students as young as pre-K can be, and are, suspended from Oklahoma schools for as long as the remainder of the school year for violating school rules.

A proposal working its way through the Legislature would expand that by mandating lengthy suspensions for elementary students as young as third grade for assault or attempted assault against a teacher, school employee or volunteer. Currently, a default punishment of suspension for the rest of the semester and entire next semester starts in sixth grade.

Oklahoma Watch

State lawmakers are officially at the one-quarter point of this year’s legislative session after wrapping up four weeks’ worth of work.

So far only one bill – the Real ID compliance act – has made it through the Legislature and been signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. And there remains plenty to do to find a solution to the state’s $878 million budget gap and tackle the hundreds of bills that remain at alive this point.

Oklahoma Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger speaks during a meeting of the State Board of Equalization in Oklahoma City, Monday, June 20, 2016.
Sue Ogrocki / AP

Moments after explaining how another state revenue failure will require millions of dollars of mid-year budget cuts, Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger issued a warning to lawmakers and top state officials.

“I don’t know how much more I can emphasize that the time for action is now,” he said at last week’s Board of Equalization meeting, at which the group also certified revenue figures that show an $878 million shortfall for next year. “It’s not a game. We need new revenue.”

Aubrielle McElroy eats breakfast in her classroom at Remington Elementary in Tulsa. All elementary schools in the Tulsa Public Schools district started offering free breakfast and lunch to all students without requiring applications at the start of the sc
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

At all elementary and middle schools and some high schools in the Houston Independent School District — 220 in all — every student begins the day with a free breakfast right in the classroom.

The result: fewer absences and discipline problems and an increase in math scores, according to the district’s former superintendent Terry Grier.

Online retail giant Amazon could soon start charging sales taxes to Oklahoma customers – a move that would help fill a sizable state budget shortfall for next fiscal year, Oklahoma Watch has learned.

An Oklahoma Tax Commission official said the agency is in discussions with online retailers to voluntarily collect sales and use taxes, and two state legislators said they expect agreements could be struck in coming weeks or months with Amazon, the country’s largest e-commerce site.

Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Lawmakers will take another stab at increasing teacher salaries, will attempt to stymie four-day school weeks and try to eliminate the end-of-year exam in U.S. history.

With the filing deadline on Jan. 19, bills have been streaming in, including many related to common education. Additional bills could surface later because of exceptions to the deadline and shell bills whose language is often replaced mid-session.

Josh Cantwell, Grand Lake Mental Health Center adult services administrator, demonstrates how the organization's iPad program works to help clients access treatment.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

 

Patricia Tompkins wanted help for her son, Eric Tompkins.

Eric, 41, of Ardmore, was suffering from severe depression, according to statements made online by Patricia and other members of Eric’s family. On the morning of Aug. 8, 2015, she suspected he had attempted to kill himself by drinking roach poison.

How Would Todd Lamb Govern?

Nov 28, 2016
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb shorlty before the State of the State address Monday at the Oklahoma state Capitol.
Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

If Gov. Mary Fallin joins President-elect Donald Trump’s administration, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb will step in to finish the two years left in her term.

The question is, would that mean status quo in policies since both are Republicans, or would Lamb’s half-term, combined with a big crop of new legislators, bring significant changes?

Greg Mashburn, Oklahoma District 21 District Attorney (left), and Kris Steele, Executive Director of The Education and Employment Ministry (right), debate State Questions 780 & 781 during an October 18, 2016 Oklahoma Watch-Out forum in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Watch

State Questions 780 and 781 propose making significant changes to Oklahoma’s criminal justice system in an effort to lower the state’s incarceration rates. SQ 780 proposes to change the classification of certain drug possession and property crimes from felony to misdemeanor offenses. SQ 781 would create the County Community Safety Investment Fund to hold and redistribute any savings achieved by incarcerating fewer people for drug possession or nonviolent crimes — the intent of

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.

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.

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