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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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Oklahoma State Capitol Building
Claire Donnelly / KGOU

A small group of unelected citizens, all appointed by Republican state leaders, will soon be exercising significant powers to decide how the state’s top agencies spend their funding and which services they should provide.

Legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin added $2 million to the state budget this year to pay for state agency audits to be conducted by a private firm and overseen by a commission of Oklahoma business leaders.

Teacher Shortage Forces Schools To Rely On Aides, Assistants

May 8, 2018
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Nancy Novosad has spent the last 27 years surrounded by students in Yukon classrooms, but she’s not a teacher.

She alternates between helping the teacher and helping the students. Novosad wipes noses, applies bandages, plans arts and crafts activities, opens milk cartons, leads story time, and packs and unpacks backpacks. She also passes out papers, explains assignments, takes students to the restroom and reinforces lessons taught by Elizabeth Wilson, a pre-K teacher at Ranchwood Elementary School.

Brian Maughan for Mayor

The former director of a nonprofit charity has sued an Oklahoma County commissioner who founded the charity, accusing him and the group of failing to pay severance, berating the director publicly and making questionable deposits into a personal bank account.

PDPics / Creative Commons CC0

Amid the celebrations and self-help resolutions, 2017 began in Oklahoma as it has in many other years: with a rash of people taking their own lives.

In the first week, there nine self-inflicted gunshot deaths, four hangings and a deliberate drug overdose, occurring in cities large and small. With those 14 deaths, the year was off to a familiar tragic start in a state that perennially ranks among the 10 worst in the nation in suicide rates.

Oklahoma Watch

Lawmakers are on their way to passing the largest state budget in Oklahoma history. But that doesn’t mean state agencies have recovered from years of cost-cutting.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday on a $7.5 billion appropriations bill that will be $724 million – or 10.9 percent – more than the state’s current fiscal year budget.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

One of the most iconic images of the teacher walkout and the cuts to education funding that drove the movement was of tattered, duct-taped, antiquated textbooks.

John Minchillo / AP Images

For the first time since they officially declared for the race, six of the 10 candidates vying for the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination came together Monday for a forum hosted by The Oklahoman.

The six tackled issues ranging from abortion rights to wind taxes as they tried to convince prospective voters watching in person at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art or at home watching the live feed why they should receive their support.

Here are some of the takeaways from the debate:

Tax Increases

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Days after telling her boss she was pregnant, a 17-year-old fast-food worker in Oklahoma was fired.

An accounting employee was let go from an Oklahoma City pipeline inspection company, two days after requesting information about maternity leave.

A pregnant waitress in her first trimester said the owner of a Choctaw restaurant told her she was being fired because she was too emotional.

Oklahoma State Department of Education

The education advocacy that fueled the teacher walkout also led to a surge of candidates filing for office, including a few surprises in the race for state superintendent.

Joy Hofmeister, state superintendent of instruction, drew four opponents.

Hofmeister, 53, will face two Republican challengers in the June primary: Linda Murphy, of Edmond, and Will Farrell, of Tulsa. Murphy, 66, is a public policy consultant who twice ran against Sandy Garrett for state superintendent. Farrell, 32, is a student at Oklahoma State University and a legal assistant at a Tulsa law firm.

Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

The state will have to find another way to help fund graduate medical education by July 2019 if it wants to use Medicaid matching funds after the federal government denied the Oklahoma Health Care Authority’s latest bid to fix the program’s funding issues.

Ben Fenwick / Oklahoma Watch

This story was updated April 17.

Oklahoma’s prison population will continue to grow in the years ahead — the only question is how much.

A marquee slate of criminal justice reform bills fall short of what Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force, a little over a year ago, recommended to curb incarceration rates and provide alternatives to prison.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

The end of the widespread teacher walkout doesn’t mean questions surrounding Oklahoma’s education funding are settled.

Voters will head to the polls this November to chose Oklahoma’s next governor and elect a large swath of the Legislature. But it’s a pair of proposed state questions, which may or may not ultimately appear on the ballot, that could decide if teachers lose recently approved raises or possibly receive further pay increases.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

The victims number in the hundreds across Oklahoma every year, each one a casualty of the state’s epidemic of suicide by firearms.

The youngest last year was a 12-year-old Spiro boy.  The oldest was a 97-year-old Bartlesville man.  Both died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, state data show.

Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma students lost ground in reading proficiency in the past two years, erasing gains they had made in 2015, newly released data from the “Nation’s Report Card” show.

Nationally, students’ reading scores held steady.

The decline was significant and could raise questions about the efficacy of the state’s third-grade retention policy. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister attributed 2015 gains to the policy.

Hofmeister said Tuesday the results were “deeply concerning.”

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

A Catholic priest is accused of sexual misconduct on the campus of St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee and former students and faculty have questioned whether officials at the now-shuttered college failed to properly investigate complaints.

Two women have filed a lawsuit against the university, which closed and filed bankruptcy in December, and St. Gregory’s Abbey, where the priest resides.

Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

For the fifth time since Oklahoma teachers left their classrooms, House Republicans refused to hear a bill that would end a lucrative tax break for high earners and potentially bring an end to the one-week-old teacher walkout.

Eliminating the capital gains tax deduction – something that largely benefits the wealthy – would free up $100 million or more a year that could be used for education and to shore up the state budget. A state-commissioned consulting group last year recommended the tax break be repealed.

Mike Boettcher / Unfiltered

Oklahoma Watch reporter Paul Monies reached out to the 11 declared gubernatorial candidates to ask them what they think about striking teachers’ demands and what more can be done to fund education and get teachers back in their classrooms. Responses came from the candidates or their representatives. Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb’s campaign pointed to an April 2 Fox News interview in which he addressed the strike. Responses have been condensed.

DEMOCRATS:

Drew Edmondson

Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

A controversial proposal to end a tax break that benefits fewer than 18,000 Oklahomans – the vast majority of whom make upwards of $200,000 – is at the center of the debate over how lawmakers can find more money for education and potentially end the teacher walkout.

Teachers, education advocates and House Democrats have launched a renewed push since the teacher work stoppage began on Monday for the Legislature to pass a bill that would eliminate the state’s capital gains deduction.

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Boosting teacher pay by an average of $6,000—which the Legislature approved last week—wasn’t enough to put the brakes on a massive shut-down of schools to rally at the state Capitol. An estimated 30,000 people attended Monday’s rally, and many school districts are closed again Tuesday so the walkout can continue.

Jeff Raymond / Oklahoma Watch

John Whitfield was just a mile or two away from his home in northeast Oklahoma City when he noticed police lights in his rear-view mirror during a spring night in 2016.

Whitfield, who is black, said he didn’t think he was speeding or had committed any other traffic infraction. He said he had gone to the store because he was out of soap.

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