StateImpact Oklahoma

StateImpact Oklahoma is a collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU. Joe Wertz, Emily Wendler, Jackie Fortier and Quinton Chandler travel the state to report on energy and the environment, education, health, and criminal justice — and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans.

StateImpact Oklahoma is funded with private contributions from listeners and readers. Donate here.

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Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Kids are scattered around the preschool classroom at Zarrow International School in Tulsa. It’s loud and chaotic, but it’s organized. Some students paint pictures; others write out the letters of the alphabet. The small group sitting around teacher Irene Castell is learning to count and compare numbers.

Castell says many kids would not learn these skills if they stayed home, or went to daycare.

“We always hear back from teachers of kindergartners, ‘We can always tell who’s been to pre-K,’” she says.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Mickey Thompson has a manila envelope tucked under his arm as he walks towards the Oklahoma Capitol. If the paperwork doesn’t start a fight, it almost certainly will add fuel to one.

Inside the envelope is the handiwork of about 10 people over a couple of months that could clear a path for Oklahoma voters to do something most lawmakers won’t consider: Enact broad tax hikes on oil and gas production to help fund public education.

StateImpact Oklahoma

2017 is wrapping up, but the growing group of reporters at StateImpact are following many important government policy issues that will carry on into the new year.

Senior Reporter and Managing Editor Joe Wertz brought the StateImpact team into the studio for a preview of their coverage in the year to come. Here are some excerpts from the conversation edited for clarity:

HEALTH

Joe Wertz: Give me the big picture for the new year.

AND THE REST/FLICKR / CC BY-SA 2.0

When Moore Public Schools Superintendent Robert Romines asked some of his high school students what the district could do better, they told him they needed more help with mental health.

“I was a bit shocked,” Romines says.

More and more of Oklahoma’s teenagers are dealing with mental illness, and the increase has caught a few school administrators off guard.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

After her divorce, Lori Taylor wanted a home all her own. She moved back to Oklahoma to be near her aging parents, but she had a problem. For years her personal caregiver had been her now ex-husband.

“I have cerebral palsy and that’s brain damage that I incurred at birth, and it affects my motor skills. I’m confined to an electric wheelchair. I can stand but I can’t walk, I have very limited use of my arms,” Taylor says, sitting in the living room of her Norman apartment.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A new report from hundreds of experts and more than a dozen federal agencies is stark: Humans are likely responsible for the warmest period in modern civilization.

The consequences of this warming vary regionally, but scientists and researchers forecast significant effects in Oklahoma and other southern plains states.

Emily Wendler / KOSU

Education leaders in Oklahoma say Gov. Mary Fallin’s executive order on school consolidation oversimplified a very complicated issue.

The November 21 order directs school districts that don’t spend at least 60 percent of their budget on instruction to consolidate administrative staff with other districts. A strict interpretation of this rule would force most Oklahoma school districts to cut an administrator, or a support staff person, and then find a way to split that cost with a neighboring district.

Flickr / Hugh Pickens

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s plan to spray chemicals and biological agents in simulated terrorist attacks at an abandoned school has alarmed residents and caused a stir on both sides of the Oklahoma-Kansas border.

If Houston's record deluge during Hurricane Harvey highlighted the dangers of unchecked, sprawling development, then Tulsa — another city built on oil — is a showcase for the opposite.

Emily Wendler / KOSU

The wind blows strong and steady in Calumet, a small town about 40 miles west of Oklahoma City.

It’s the wind that’s prompted companies to build turbines here. A natural gas company also built a plant nearby.

In northeastern Oklahoma, Google built a large data center in Pryor. And the city of Cushing is flanked by fields of large steel tanks that hold millions of barrels of oil.

These industries bring in abundant property tax revenue for nearby schools — enough that 37 districts don’t receive any funding from the state.

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