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Oklahoma Watch

Dustyn Rappe / Oklahoma Watch

A controversial practice of shutting children alone in small closet-like rooms to control their behavior has led Oklahoma parents to withdraw their children from school, seek police intervention and take legal action.

Oklahoma Watch

The state’s multicounty grand jury is looking into allegations of financial mismanagement at the Oklahoma State Department of Health as top officers continue to resign or get forced out in the wake of the agency’s sudden cash crunch.

The Special Session, In Numbers

Nov 22, 2017
FILE- Oklahoma State Capitol
Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

Highlights in numbers from the 2017 special session that ended on Nov.17:

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

Lawmakers will likely return to the State Capitol sooner than expected in light of Gov. Mary Fallin’s shocking veto of most of a budget bill approved by the Legislature only hours earlier Friday.

The nearly two-month-long special session appeared to come to a close after the state  Senate sent Fallin a proposal that largely relies on one-time revenue and broad budget cuts to close the state’s $215 million shortfall.

Guns rest in buckets in the Oklahoma City Police Department's property room. The number of firearms-related deaths in Oklahoma has increased in recent years.
Michael Willmus / Oklahoma Watch

The shootings seem to erupt randomly among states. In Texas, 26 slain. In Nevada, 58. In Florida, 49. In Connecticut, 27. In Virginia, 32.

In Oklahoma, it’s been more than three decades since a gun massacre that seized the nation’s attention – 14 killed at the Edmond post office in 1986.

But massacre counts can be deceiving.

Winners And Losers In The Failed Vote On Tax Package

Nov 9, 2017
The Oklahoma House gallery was packed Wednesday as representatives spent hours discussing and debating a tax package to address the state's severe budget shortfall. The measure fell short.
David Fritze / Oklahoma Watch

In the end, the backing of more than 45 health-care, education and public-policy advocacy groups – along with the support of a bipartisan group of current and former state leaders – wasn’t enough Wednesday.

Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

The battle over Oklahoma’s tax on oil and gas production could soon spread outside the State Capitol to dinner conversations and public debates across the state.

A group of small oil and gas producers said despite recent efforts in the Legislature to raise the gross production tax temporarily to 7 percent on some wells, it will forge ahead with trying to put a state question on the 2018 ballot that would set a permanent 7 percent tax on all wells.

Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma State Department of Health went more than a year without a chief financial officer, and questions later arose about whether the agency overestimated revenues and used restricted federal funds to fill the gaps, sources told Oklahoma Watch.

However, a former chief financial officer at the agency said he had no knowledge of restricted funds being used to cover shortfalls.

Matt Whittington, of Edmond, enrolled in Epic Charter Schools because the flexibility of online classes fit with his commitment to gymnastics. The family made special efforts to ensure that the arrangement worked.
Michael Willmus / Oklahoma Watch

Virtual charter schools stand to receive the largest share of local tax funding if a lawsuit by a pro-charter-school group is successful.

That gain could occur despite the fact that virtual schools have fewer expenses than brick-and mortar ones, with few or no buildings to purchase and no transportation to provide.

Newly Obtained Surveys Show Concerns Over Education Standards Law

Oct 26, 2017
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Advocates for students with disabilities, minority students and low-income students were among the stakeholders who weighed in on the state’s plan for education under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Some had recommendations adopted in the final plan, which was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education last month.

Others say their concerns were brushed aside.

Audiologist Jillian Detwiler reviews a patient’s hearing aid function at the John W. Keys Speech and Hearing Center in Oklahoma City. Detwiler oversees the Cabaret Hearing For Seniors Program, which provides high-quality hearing aids for $100 a pair.
Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

When the government began providing health coverage to millions of older Americans five decades ago, it specifically excluded hearing aids.

Hearing loss among the aged was not a life-endangering medical condition, the reasoning went. Good hearing was not considered essential to good health.

That view has changed. Hearing specialists say the consequences of untreated hearing loss can be substantial, from impaired job performance and damaged relationships to social withdrawal, anxiety, depression and possibly even accelerated dementia.

As Budget Deal Remains Elusive, Inaction Could Cost State

Oct 11, 2017
Oklahoma Capitol
ensign_beedrill / Flickr Creative Commons

Each passing day without a deal to bridge the state’s $215 million budget shortfall means less potential revenue will be available if lawmakers pass one or multiple tax increases.

An Oklahoma Watch analysis of state projections shows that each day that lawmakers don’t pass the $1.50-per-pack cigarette tax would cost the state between $680,305 and $712,265 in potential new revenue, depending on what calculations the state uses.

Oklahoma State House of Representatives

Republican and Democratic leaders blamed each other Wednesday for the ongoing budget impasse. House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, abruptly canceled an expected vote on a proposed cigarette tax increase and announced the House would adjourn until a budget deal is reached.

Ramona Roberts, a special education teacher in Jenks Public Schools, works with students Tim Foster (center), Michael Copeland (left), Elijah Sexton (bottom right) and Hunter Falconer (right). Jenks has had special education teacher vacancies in the past,
Sherman Merchant / Jenks Public Schools

Special education teachers have become so scarce that districts face fierce competition to find and keep good candidates and sometimes leave open positions unfilled.

That’s why late one night in August, Ponca City Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Arrott sprang into action when she heard the distinctive ding of her cell phone. The alert meant a job application had been submitted online to the district. She scrambled to arrange an interview the next morning for the applicant.

elementary school library
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Reducing schools’ use of emergency certified teachers by 95 percent and boosting high school graduation to 90 percent are some of the goals set by the state Education Department in its plan for education under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The state also proposes attacking hunger in schools and is considering forcing failing schools that are on a four-day school week to change their calendar.

Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb speaks to a group in Enid in October last year.
Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle

A nonprofit foundation created by Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb has raised more than $850,000 since it launched to much fanfare in late 2015 and will soon roll out its first major initiatives.

Newly released IRS filings show the E Foundation for Oklahoma, a tax-exempt public charity that is allowed to shield the names of its donors, more than doubled its first-year fundraising total of $237,000 by taking in $622,500 in 2016.

In Search of New Ways To Tame Opioid Crisis

Sep 18, 2017
Images Money / Flickr

Oklahoma is among the nation’s leaders in combating the opioid epidemic in some ways, but lags in others.

The question of what more Oklahoma can do to reduce the hundreds of fatal overdoses from prescription painkillers each year will hover over the 2018 legislative session. A commission chaired by Attorney General Mike Hunter plans to recommend by Dec. 1 new strategies for attacking the problem. Some or all of its proposals will be folded into legislation.

I Voted Sticker
Dwight Burdette / Creative Commons

Faced with low approval ratings, Oklahoma legislators are already seeing signs that they could be up against greater competition in trying to retain their seats in the 2018 election.

Campaign fundraising records indicate that 13 lawmakers have already drawn challengers – a sharp increase over the number that had filed by this stage in the 2016 election cycle. By the end of August 2015, just one lawmaker had drawn an opponent.

Autopsies Reveal A March Of Infant Deaths Tied To Unsafe Sleeping

Aug 25, 2017
Taffy Henderson, a maternal and child health promotion specialist with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, puts a doll into a crib that is meant to show what a safe-sleeping environment looks like. Henderson uses the crib to demonstrate safe-sleep
Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

In October of last year, a 2-month-old infant from Kiowa County died after co-sleeping with her parents.

Her mother woke up to find her father’s arm partially obscuring her face, according to an autopsy report, which attributed her death to probable asphyxiation due to “overlay.”

In May of last year, a 6-month-old Tulsa County infant died from suffocation after co-sleeping with an adult and a sibling on an adult bed. The baby was found unresponsive between the mattress and wall with his face in a pillow.

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.

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