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AM NewsBrief: Oct. 3, 2022.

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This is the KGOU AM NewsBrief for Monday, Oct. 3, 2022.

ARPA money to be used for water infrastructure projects

Oklahoma lawmakers have allocated nearly $2 billion in federal pandemic relief funding. Almost a quarter of that money will go to water infrastructure projects.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board will divvy up much of the money later for specific water needs, but the legislature also approved funding for seven individual projects.

Among them, the clear theme is projects that promise to fuel the state’s future economic growth.

Over $4 million will go towards improving the water infrastructure for Burns Flat and its languishing spaceport in western Oklahoma. Sen. Lonnie Paxton of Tuttle said that the spaceport’s future depends on these upgrades.

“This area needs to be improved or basically abandoned. We’ve decided this is an area that can be improved.”

ARPA funds will also help build a new cargo port just east of Tulsa, prepare for an expansion of Tinker Air Force Base and develop a commerce hub in Ardmore. All these economic development projects require improvements to aging water and sewer infrastructure.

Oklahoma Turnpike Authority hikes rates for license plate tolling

Drivers on Oklahoma turnpikes may have noticed a price hike in tolls after the rollout of the state’s new PlatePay cashless tolling system. Oklahoma’s Secretary of Transportation told lawmakers Tuesday the increase is to make up for the new system’s collection inefficiencies and billing costs.

Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz, who also heads the turnpike authority, says he hopes to avoid pitfalls of cashless systems in other states. For example, Pennsylvania’s license plate tolling cost the state $155 million last year from drivers not paying their toll bills. Gatz says this is mitigated with higher tolls.

We have to upcharge significantly for license plate tolling. We don’t like to do that, but that’s part of the business model that it brings to you.

Drivers without a PikePass have likely noticed the uptick in charges. On the Kilpatrick Turnpike, PlatePay drivers pay more than seven times the toll at some exits than PikePass drivers. A spokesperson for the state turnpike authority says its PlatePay collection rate is currently around 60%.

Thousands of public school students applied and approved to transfer under new Oklahoma law

Heading into the new school year this fall, more than 10,000 students requested to transfer under Oklahoma’s new open transfer law.

More than 80% of the almost 11,000 transfer requests were approved.

Of the nearly 2,000 that were denied, the vast majority were because of capacity issues.

Earlier this month those issues played out during a transfer appeal hearing at the State Board of Education for a student who hoped to attend school in Jenks.

"We are at 27 on an average class size and our capacity had been set at 25," said superintendent Stacey Butterfield describing class sizes at Jenks High School. "Our class sizes are not where we would like for them to be. They need to be lower."

While hundreds of kids were denied, many, many more were able to change schools. But crowded classes are likely to continue to be a barrier for some, especially in growing suburban districts.

Osage congress votes to repeal HB 1775

The Osage Nation Congress has introduced a bill calling on the Oklahoma legislature to repeal House Bill 1775 the so-called Critical Race Theory bill.

The proposal was introduced after a High School English teacher in Dewey said she would not assign her students to read Killers of Flower, a book written about the Osage Reign of Terror when many citizens were kidnapped or killed. The teacher said she feared the stories might upset students and could be a violation of recent state legislation.

Osage Congresswoman Whitney Redcorn say she’s heard concerns from citizens that public schools in Oklahoma would be forbidden to teach students about slavery, history when it contains racial issues and war waged against Native Americans.

Since two schools have already had their accreditations called into question because of House Bill 1775, state lawmakers could clarify the language when it reconvenes, but it’s unclear what effect the Osage Nation bill will have.

African lion cubs born at Oklahoma City Zoo

African lion cubs were born at the Oklahoma City Zoo for the first time in 15 years last week.

Four African lion cubs, three females and one male, were born at the Oklahoma City Zoo last week.

Tyler Boyd, the zoo’s curator of carnivores says the birth is a result of collaboration with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, which is a breeding program that works to manage the populations of endangered species living in captivity.

African lions are designated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as “vulnerable”, which is the least severe level within the threatened category. Their population is decreasing in the wild.

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