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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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Terrapin Flyer / Flickr Creative Commons

President Obama called for a 2 percent increase in federal education funding while unveiling his budget proposal Tuesday, but little benefit is expected in Oklahoma.

During his presentation, Obama requested $68.6 billion in discretionary education funding. The proposal included no changes in current Title 1 spending, which funds programs for students from low-income families, or special education. Both programs combined take up 39 percent of proposed federal education funding.

Michelle Hightower, third-grade teacher at Oakridge Elementary School in Oklahoma City.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

Two years ago, when Oklahoma third-grade students took the state’s annual reading test, nearly 5,500 them, or 11 percent, failed.

Last year, the results were worse, despite a stepped-up focus on reading instruction: 12 percent of third graders scored at the lowest of four levels, unsatisfactory, meaning they were still reading at about a first-grade level.

Gov. Mary Fallin
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Thirty-one documents related to the Affordable Care Act that Gov. Mary Fallin has refused to release and that are the subject of a lawsuit against her will be archived and made available to the public after Fallin leaves office, her spokesman said.

Fallin’s office, however, has not yet decided whether to stipulate that release of the archived records be delayed for a certain period after her term ends.

female student uses iPad
Brad Flickinger / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma is often held up as the national poster child for offering early childhood education to many students.

But according to state officials and educators, the system has a serious weakness: Data about each student’s academic profile is not shared between early-childhood education program providers and school districts, or between providers. That can prevent kindergarten teachers from being able to immediately target students' learning needs when they arrive, officials say. It also prevents providers from doing the same when a child transfers from one program to another or is enrolled in more than one program.

Warren Vieth / Oklahoma Watch

Four years ago, state Rep. Jason Nelson challenged the status quo in education by authoring the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Act. The measure allowed parents of special-needs students to use state dollars to pay private school tuition and other educational expenses. About 280 students are now participating.

Corrections Director Robert C. Patton, seated at his desk in early 2014 shortly after taking over the department.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

In Robert C. Patton, Oklahoma is getting a new corrections director from Arizona who is more than willing to use private prisons as a means to deal with inmate overcrowding.

“I’m a (prison) bed manager. I’ll tell the policy makers I need beds, and if I can convince them that I need beds, then it’s their jobs on whether it’s public or private,” said Patton, whose first day as Oklahoma Corrections Department director began Tuesday.

Federal investigators are looking into allegations against a Tulsa halfway house that resulted in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections pulling its inmates from the facility, Oklahoma Watch has learned.

Edward Evans, acting director of the Corrections Department, told legislators at a House public-safety subcommittee meeting Tuesday that the federal government was investigating issues at the Avalon Correctional Services facility in Tulsa.

Miraceti / Wikimedia Commons

CORRECTION: The original version of this story from Oklahoma Watch incorrectly stated that Putnam City Public Schools requires all freshman boys and girls at its three high schools who don't opt out to attend health forums about abstinence and sexually transmitted diseases. The health forums are held only at Putnam City North High School.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

The Oklahoma Board of Corrections is looking at three options to deal with overcrowding at the state’s prison facilities: expanding public prisons, contracting for more private-prison beds, and buying or leasing one of the state’s two empty private prisons.

Behind-the-scenes moves by Gov. Mary Fallin’s senior staff members helped lead to a severe weakening of a program designed to cut the state’s high incarceration rates and save taxpayers more than $200 million over a decade, according to interviews and records obtained by Oklahoma Watch.

The efforts by the governor’s staff, assisted by legislative leaders, to take control of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative took place during periods when staff members met with representatives of private prison companies, which stood to gain or lose depending on how the initiative was implemented, emails and logs of visitors to Fallin’s offices show.

During that time, private-prison company representatives also made donations to Fallin’s 2014 campaign as well as to legislators, Oklahoma Ethics Commission records indicate.

Despite continued opposition to new public-school standards, Oklahoma education officials say they are more confident than they were earlier this year that the standards will be fully implemented.

In a national survey conducted by the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, Oklahoma State Department of Education officials indicated in May that it was “somewhat likely” that the state’s decision to adopt Common Core State Standards would be reversed, limited or changed, according to a copy of the survey obtained by Oklahoma Watch through an Open Records Act request.

Brandon Magalassi
Provided

The aftermath of a suicide is an endless tunnel – of pain, regrets and questions.

Could something have been done to stop him? Why did she do it? What warning signs were there?

The act of taking one’s life leaves no easy answers for those left behind.

“The majority of people who are survivors spend the rest of their lives not talking about this and suffering in silence,” said Mike Brose, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, which will soon rename itself as as statewide group. “You don’t necessarily get over it, but you can get better.”

Hospitals: Patients Eligible For Free Care Fail To Complete Paperwork

Nov 5, 2013
Wagoner County Economic Development Authority / State of Oklahoma

At least 40 nonprofit or government-owned hospitals in Oklahoma spent less than 1 percent of their net patient revenues caring for those who couldn’t afford to pay their medical bills, records show.

The data, obtained by Oklahoma Watch and analyzed and reported with the Tulsa World, covers 2011 and 2012. Some hospitals reported spending below 1 percent during both years while only one year of data was available for others.

Most of the hospitals with charity care below 1 percent had negative operating margins but a few did not.

New Data Reveals Widespread Financial Losses Among Small Oklahoma Hospitals

Oct 28, 2013
Bruce Mayhan, lab manager at Pauls Valley General Hospital, looks at a blood sample through a microscope in the hospital’s lab.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

A majority of small general hospitals in Oklahoma are losing money, and health care officials warn that some hospitals could close, be sold or cut services.

Federal financial reports for nearly every hospital in the state, obtained by Oklahoma Watch and analyzed and reported with the Tulsa World, show that in each year from 2009 to 2012, between half and three-fourths of general hospitals with fewer than 100 beds lost money. Most are in small cities or rural areas. More than half posted losses in multiple years.

Larger hospitals fared better. In each year during the four-year period, between 7 percent and 19 percent of general hospitals with 100 beds or more lost money.

Texas State Offender Registry

View a map showing officers with certification actions.

In July 2010, a former Kingfisher County Sheriff’s Office deputy pleaded no contest to a charge of committing lewd acts with a child when he was an officer two years earlier.

Shawn Theo Thomsen, then 43, was given a five-year suspended sentence, court records show. Now living in Texas, he’s required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Despite the crime, Thomsen is still certified as a peace officer by the Council on Law Enforcement and Education, or CLEET. State law requires that the state agency take away certification for an officer who pleads guilty or no contest to a felony charge, thus removing him or her from law enforcement.

Government Shutdown Could Curb Benefits For Oklahoma Women, Children

Oct 3, 2013
woman and child in a WIC office
U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr Creative Commons

If the partial shutdown of the federal government continues for weeks, it could lead to cutbacks in the federally funded program that helps low-income women, infants and children in Oklahoma, officials said Wednesday.

One possible result could be limiting the aid provided under the federal Women, Infants and Children program to only one or two of those groups, such as infants.

Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Apprehension and optimism abound in Oklahoma as the Affordable Care Act shifts into higher gear with the opening of the federally-run health-care marketplace on Oct. 1.

At the same time, residents and business owners are awaiting the unveiling of an “Oklahoma Plan” to expand health coverage and improve health outcomes that Gov. Mary Fallin promised in her State of the State speech earlier this year.

These and other topics were discussed Tuesday evening during Oklahoma Watch’s first “Oklahoma Watch-Out” community forum at Kamps 1910 Café in Oklahoma City.

Bonnie Campo / Oklahoma Watch

Hugh Meade hopes he can find a health plan that costs less than his home mortgage. Katie Bolin is looking for an insurer who won’t turn her down for pre-existing conditions. Ricardo Lopez Jr. wants coverage so he can stop going to free clinics.

Meade, Bolin and Lopez are among several hundred thousand uninsured Oklahomans whose lives could change when the next phase of the Affordable Care Act takes effect.

Oklahoma Watch

During most of the past two decades, the annual number of alcohol-related traffic deaths across the country has fallen by about 20 percent, to more than 11,500.

More stringent drunken driving laws, widespread public education campaigns and safer vehicles have all played a role in that sharp reduction.

In Oklahoma, however, it’s been a much different story. Despite having the same safer vehicles, increased educational efforts and tougher laws, the state saw a 10 percent increase in alcohol-related traffic deaths between 1994 and 2012. The trend mystifies state public-safety officials.

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

Three large insurance companies are planning to offer health policies to individual Oklahomans at rates ranging from less than $100 to more than $1,000 per month through the new insurance marketplace being set up under the Affordable Care Act.

The rates posted by Aetna Life Insurance Co., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma and Coventry Health & Life Insurance Co. for policies they will offer under the health-care law vary widely based on age, geographic location, tobacco use and plan type.

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