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In English class at The Academy of Seminole, students write descriptive essays.
Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Two years ago, the Oklahoma State Board of Education for the first time exercised its authority to approve a rural charter school.

The decision was contentious. A local school board had already denied the charter’s application twice, saying it was incomplete and there wasn’t enough support for the school.

 

The State Board overturned the local board’s decision, which left some wondering who’s really in control of their community.

Teachers, students and supporters march in front of the State Capitol on April 2, 2018, the first day of a teacher walkout aimed at increasing education funding.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

A temporary measure allowing schools to exceed class-size limits without financial penalties will automatically end in five months unless the Legislature acts this session.

Students gather outside of Webster Middle School after classes on Jan. 24, 2019. Middle schools would include fifth-graders under an Oklahoma City Public Schools proposal.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Fifth graders in Oklahoma City Public Schools will be joining older peers in middle schools across the district under a proposal unveiled this week.

Educators march in front of the state Capitol on April 11, the teacher walkout’s eighth day.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

The first post-walkout legislative session is getting underway and lawmakers have proposed bills aimed at alleviating the teacher shortage and making changes to the state’s public education system.

A Preview Of The Big Issues StateImpact Is Watching In 2019

Jan 4, 2019
Teachers rally at the state capitol during the teacher walkout.
Jacob McCleland / KGOU

Twenty-nineteen means a new governor for Oklahoma and a fresh class of state legislators — nearly 40 percent of whom have zero political experience. It’s a new year, but the state government’s slate hasn’t been wiped clean.

Here’s a roundup of some of the biggest policy issues on deck for the upcoming year and legislative session.

Students inside Shannon Dragoo’s third-grade class at Thelma Reece Parks Elementary School in Oklahoma City.
Mark Hancock / Journal Record

In this week's episode of the Business Intelligence Report, Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses Oklahoma City Public Schools’ effort to redesign its system, which could include closures and consolidations. Ray also talks about the decrease of fine arts classes available to Oklahoma students across the state.

Tricia Willyard, an educator who lives in Ketchum, struggled with her decision to retain her son in first grade, which school officials recommended. She later moved him to a different school, and he is doing well.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

As a first grader, Tricia Willyard’s son struggled to read. The educators at his school recommended he repeat first grade — something Willyard, herself an educator in a nearby district, at first opposed.

Oklahoma school districts 2018- 2019. Boundaries based on information provided by the Oklahoma Department of Education.
Center for Spatial Analysis / University of Oklahoma

Oklahoma has more than 500 school districts--up to three times more than some states with similar student populations. KGOU listener Beverly Funderburk emailed How Curious and asked: “How did Oklahoma end up with so many districts?”

 

The vertical water playground was designed so that children have to work together.
Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Gathering Place in Tulsa is the rare local park that’s made national headlines.

The $465 million project opened in September, transforming 66 acres alongside the Arkansas River into a theme park-like space. It was built mostly through private donations and is free to the public.

Epic Virtual Charter School’s dramatic growth has been driven in part by marketing efforts such as creating a children’s play area at Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City.
Mashiur Rahaman / Oklahoma Watch

Leaders of the state’s largest virtual charter school contributed at least $145,000 total to the campaigns of dozens of candidates this year, records reveal, a show of increasing political muscle as the school is experiencing dramatic growth.

Education is a top focus for many voters. Others, like Jason Retherford, a youth and family minister from Duncan, worry about the lack of economic opportunity. A poll found 57 percent of Oklahomans say jobs and economy are the main problems for families.
Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

If Daryl Fisher, a supervisor at a group home for young men, could fix one thing in Oklahoma, it would be education.

“Everybody always focuses on kids,” he said in an interview at a gas station in downtown Oklahoma City. “But are we really focusing on kids when we’re opening up more jails, trying to make more room, and not educating them? Are we really focusing on them?”

Students work on computers in a John Rex Charter Middle School classroom at the Myriad Gardens complex in Oklahoma City.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma is moving closer to changing the way it funds schools after a yearlong look at the education funding formula by a group of lawmakers and educators.

Oklahoma teachers learn about student trauma at a training session at Duncan High School.
Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Kristin Atchley, the Executive Director of Counseling for the State Department of Education, said it’s standard practice for Oklahoma school teachers to yell at kids who are causing trouble, send them to the principal’s office, or tell them to put their head down without much regard for what might be driving their poor behavior.

Now she’s trying to change that.

Students enter Lexington Elementary School on April 13 after the school was closed for nine school days during the teacher walkout.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

The latest counts of emergency certified teachers in Oklahoma capture a stubborn reality: Classrooms across the state are being staffed by a teacher who isn’t fully trained or prepared.

Students at John Rex Charter Middle School in Oklahoma City – sixth graders Finley Cunningham, top left, Direon Kelley, bottom left, Charlie Marshall and Taylor Ellis – sit on cushions in the hallway during a break from schoolwork.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

There are 75 middle-school students in the long, sunlit room, sitting four to a table.

They work quietly and independently on laptops, most wearing headphones. Some fidget, their chairs rocking with them.

Brody Smith is an incoming junior at Noble High School.
Mia Mamone / KGOU

Danica Thompson settles into a couch in the back of Gray Owl Coffee in Norman, where patrons tap away on laptops or read books, surrounded by the smell of freshly-brewed coffee and pastries.

Crescent Public Schools Superintendent Bart Watkins said while his district spend a relatively high percentage of its funding on instruction, it has been forced to make cuts, including in number of positions.
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Amid an intensifying drumbeat of political promises to propel schools to spend more of their dollars in the classroom, Crescent Public Schools stands out.

Ainsley Hoover, a teacher in Enid Public Schools, says the nine-day teacher walkout helped her realized that she has to stay politically engaged if she wants change.
Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

On the night of the primary elections, Ainsley Hoover was at a small watch party at the Chili’s restaurant in Enid. She had helped her friend, a fellow teacher, campaign for House District 41,  and they were anxiously awaiting the results.


Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

When the Oklahoma Legislature passed HB 1010XX in March, it was the first time lawmakers had increased state taxes in 28 years. Both the House and the Senate applauded themselves.

The governor acted swiftly to sign the bill, and at first, it seemed like a reason for school leaders to celebrate. They had been begging lawmakers to increase teacher pay for years, and it finally happened.


Eric Haynes of Ada, Okla., says poorly maintained roads and sidewalks are among the biggest issues his community faces.
Caroline Halter / KGOU

Oklahoma voters will pick their primary candidates on June 26 and weigh in on a state question about legalizing medical marijuana. The political heat will build through the summer with high-profile endorsements, big-money ad blitzes and campaign promises.

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