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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Kinsley Ellis, then 3, stood next to her mom and grandmother while they voted in polling stations at the Pottawatomie County Election Board in Shawnee on Nov. 1, 2018, the first day of early voting.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Nearly five years after the Legislature authorized the Oklahoma Election Board to launch an online voter registration system, the work remains unfinished.   

Gov. Kevin Stitt talks with reporters following a Dec. 20 meeting of the state Board of Equalization.
Trevor Brown / Oklahoma Watch

Gov. Kevin Stitt has some big decisions to make in 2020. The Republican governor is entering his second year in office with his promise from the 2018 political campaign still defining expectations for his performance – to make Oklahoma a “top 10” state in several critical areas.

Trends In Oklahoma Public School Enrollment

Dec 23, 2019
Students in an Oklahoma classroom.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Enrollment in Oklahoma public schools is growing, but it’s not happening in every district. Who are the winners and losers?

A divided Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday disciplined an Oklahoma County district judge over her unpaid taxes and parking tickets, but stopped short of ordering a trial for her removal from the bench.

A corrections officer talks with an inmate at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.
Photo provided by Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

Teenagers, fresh out of high school, could be hired to guard and oversee hardened criminals in Oklahoma’s chronically overcrowded and understaffed prisons.

Justin Johnson, an eighth grader at Bridge Creek Middle School in Blanchard, works on an essay during writing class on Nov. 21, 2019. Bridge Creek has four-day school weeks.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

The state’s bar has been set for schools to operate on a four-day week and the requirements could force many schools back to five days a week.

Medical student Ashton Gores speaks to a crowd of Medicaid expansion supporters at the Secretary of State's office on Oct. 24. The group, Yes on 802, reported a record number of signatures on the peition to put Medicaid expansion up for a vote next year.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahomans will learn in the coming weeks whether Medicaid expansion supporters collected enough valid signatures to put the hotly debated question on the 2020 ballot. 

But the proposal, which could provide subsided health coverage to more than 200,000 uninsured low-income adults, likely will not be the only plan up for debate.

A school bus is seen parked in front of Panola High School in southeast Oklahoma.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Teacher pay raises in 2018 and 2019 likely helped address some of the critical educational needs facing rural schools raised in a new report by a national education group. But other funding and academic issues remain, a rural schools organization leader says.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, shown in an interview in March, raised $5.8 million and loaned himself $5 million for his campaign before the Nov. 6 election last year. He has continued to pull in significant donations since.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

In the months since last year’s gubernatorial election, Gov. Kevin Stitt has continued to pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions, topping his predecessor.

Students and parents walk toward a Tulsa elementary school entrance.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

The latest “Nation’s Report Card" results are out, and Oklahoma continues to lag most other states in reading and math scores and faces a steep climb toward its goal of being in the top 20 states.

Sean Jones and his batterer intervention facilitator, Sherri Jolly, attended a Domestic Violence Awareness Month event on Oct. 9. The yearlong program is part of a plea deal Jones received in lieu of prison time for a domestic abuse charge.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

To fight its high rates of domestic violence, Oklahoma sends offenders to 52 weeks of classes in batterer intervention. But an Oklahoma Watch investigation found that many abusers don’t complete the program, even after multiple chances.

Elizabeth Sims / Oklahoma Watch

Featured guests discussed the issues surrounding safety in school sports, with a focus on football. The recent deaths of two football players in Oklahoma schools raised new concerns about whether enough is being done to prevent injuries.

A sign is seen outside of 50 Penn Place in Oklahoma City where Epic Charter Schools leases 40,000 square feet for administrative use.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Parents are suing Epic Charter Schools because the virtual school involuntarily unenrolled their children saying they can’t be enrolled at the same time in Epic and a private school. The parents say the prohibition, which is part of Epic’s contract with the state, violates the state Constitution.

Students at Parkview Elementary in the Mid-Del School District roar during a child prevention lesson put on by The Care Center on Sept. 17.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ counts of child maltreatment present a conundrum: How could cases of abuse plummet over six years while cases of neglect soar?

Members of the Oklahoma Commissioners of the Land Office, whose offices are located in a downtown Oklahoma City high rise, include Gov. Kevin Stitt and four other state officials. Brandt Vawter is currently acting secretary.
Oklahoma Watch

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s pick to head the Commissioners of the Land Office lacks the advanced degree needed to become permanent secretary and has owned a company involved in legal disputes over oil and gas leases.

Oklahoma Watch Executive Editor David Fritze talks with Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt about the MAPS 4 proposal during a public forum on Sept. 17, 2019.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt fielded many questions about the details and intentions of the ambitious MAPS 4 proposal in an Oklahoma Watch forum Tuesday night. The proposal, to be funded by a penny sales tax for eight years, would generate close to $1 billion in public funding – much of it aimed at addressing human-services and neighborhood issues.

What Comes Next After Opioid Ruling?

Aug 28, 2019
Attorneys for the state of Oklahoma, as well as Attorney General Mike Hunter and Terri White, mental health and substance abuse commissioner, address the media after a Cleveland County judge awarded $572 million in a landmark verdict in the state’s opioid
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said there is no question Monday was a “day of reckoning” for pharmaceutical companies that helped accelerate the spread of dangerous opioids across the country.

The question of whether to expand Medicaid and extend health insurance to thousands of Oklahomans promises to be a major topic over the next year.

The Healthcare Working Group, a bipartisan legislative committee charged with deciding whether to endorse Medicaid expansion or other policy moves, kicked off its work last week and is expected to unveil recommendations before next year’s session. Meanwhile, a signature-collecting drive is underway to put a state question on a 2020 ballot to accept expansion.

Gun Deaths In Oklahoma: Trends, Laws And Survival

Aug 6, 2019
A glimpse from 2016 into a bucketful of confiscated guns in the Oklahoma City Police Department’s property room.
Michael Willmus

Mass shootings in Texas and Ohio over the weekend have put gun deaths and firearm laws back in the spotlight.

Oklahoma’s last major mass shooting event was in 1986, when 14 people were killed at an Edmond post office. But the state’s death rate from guns used in both suicide and homicide has been rising and a major loosening of gun regulations is upon us when the state’s new “permitless carry” law goes into effect Nov. 1.

Did Lobbying Efforts Influence Spending On School Panic Button?

Aug 2, 2019
The Rave Mobile Safety app features a large "active shooter" button at the top and other buttons for reporting emergencies such as a fire or medical emergency.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

A $3 million taxpayer-funded program will soon give schools across the state access to a relatively untested “panic button” app that can alert authorities and staff if there is an active shooter, fire or emergency in the school.