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.

Ways to Connect

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma education leaders say a state question designed to give districts more spending flexibility will do little to improve public schools’ financial difficulties.

State Question 801 would allow school leaders to spend money in their building fund — currently restricted for things like construction projects, maintenance and repairs, utilities, and custodians’ salaries — in new ways.

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.

“We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” she told a group of teachers in a training session at Duncan High School. “Well now we know it, and we can’t do it.”

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

William Yarborough walks across the hall from his office to an exam room. His Hawaiian shirt and matching khaki pants aren’t the typical doctor’s garb.

As he opens the door, the informality is reflected in the Oklahoma Pain and Wellness Center’s grey-and-white exam room where Richard Potts sits on a black leather chair — instead of an exam table — waiting to talk to him. What follows is a conversation that Yarborough estimates he has about 20 times a day at the after State Question 788 passed in June.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Kelly Vierling said her son had a “huge heart.”

Vierling’s eyes watered as she described her 21-year-old son Alex in her office on the Oklahoma State University campus. 

Alex was killed in Stillwater in 2014.

Vierling said her son carried a gun to protect himself. He had it with him when he went to a friend’s party the day he died.

Oklahoma Historical Society

As Joyce Henderson and Joyce Jackson walk across the wooden floor of the refurbished Calvary Baptist Church in downtown Oklahoma City, they’re flooded with memories of what took place here nearly 60 years ago.

Calvary Baptist isn’t a church anymore; It’s now a law firm. But in the late ’50sit also served as a rallying point where Henderson and Jackson’s school teacher, and leader of the local sit-in movement, Clara Luper, prepared them for civil rights protests that could have left them humiliated, arrested or injured.

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

About 100 teachers and school administrators filed for political office in the 2018 election. Most are not shy about supporting the first tax increase in nearly three decades, even though it’s a progressive political message in a deeply conservative state.

Pro-tax campaigns from educators seem to be resonating with voters in many parts of Oklahoma — but not everywhere.

Polarizing tax package

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

When Frank Taylor moved to Taft, Oklahoma from California six years ago, his friends asked how he could live in a town of about 300 people right next to two prisons. He laughed it off. 

“I got two big pit bulls,” Taylor said. 

Taylor says the small Oklahoma town is a place where he thought he could leave his doors unlocked. His home, near the center of town, is less than a mile from one of the prisons, Jess Dunn Correctional Center.

The minimum-security men’s prison has a problem.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

UPDATE (July 27 at 12:17 p.m.) A new draft of medical marijuana rules was released late Friday morning. The pregnancy test requirement is among provisions not included in the new draft. The state board of health will vote on the new rules on Wednesday, August 1.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Benji White pulls into a field and honks his horn. Before the shifter hits park and the doors close behind him and his wife Lori, the silver Ford pickup is surrounded by dozens of Red Angus eager for a handout of cattle cake, a protein-dense pellet.

“You definitely don’t want to get in the habit of feeding bulls cake out of your hand because that kind of can create some aggression when you don’t feed them,” Lori said.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

It’s been three weeks since Sarah Sinkinson last saw her children and she’s ready for a visit from her daughter, Madeline. Sinkinson lights up as her daughter is escorted into a small visitation room and sits down at a desk opposite her.

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