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Health, education and environment: StateImpact Oklahoma's reporters look ahead to 2022

StateImpact Oklahoma celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2021, and heading into 2022, managing editor Logan Layden sat down with the reporters to discuss what listeners can expect going into the new year.


LAYDEN: Another year of StateImpact is in the books, and we have our reporters here: Catherine Sweeney, Robby Korth, and Beth Wallis. Hello to you all. Well focusing on the pandemic and Medicaid expansion, the impacts of it all, Catherine Sweeney our health reporter, thanks for joining me. When you got to StateImpact, did you think you’d still be covering COVID two years later?

SWEENEY: I definitely didn’t. I came in last summer [2020] right as the hospitalizations were just starting to surge. As soon as the vaccines came out in the spring, we kind of felt like we were taking our foot off the gas and things were getting a little better. But then delta came. The spike happened. And then it went back down. It was kind of all right, we’re safe again until there’s another variant. And then omicron came.

LAYDEN: There are other issues related to health that Oklahoma is going to be facing in the new year. Tell me a little about what you’ll be looking at over the next few months.

SWEENEY: So one of the biggest stories is that Oklahoma expanded Medicaid. I’m wanting to look at how much that has helped health access. It’s also interesting because a big priority of Governor Kevin Stitt is partially privatizing Medicaid. Obviously, I'll be covering the legislative session when that kicks off in February. I know there is a lot of controversy over federal vaccine mandates. The legislature really considered a special session to tackle those, but they kind of went back on that. They really just relied on this 10-million-dollars they gave to the attorney general to file a bunch of legal battles against all the different vaccine mandates coming down from the Biden Administration. I’m sure I’ll be seeing a lot of that during the regular legislative session.

LAYDEN: And Robby Korth, our education reporter, what a year it’s been on the education front: masking mandates, parents versus school boards, not just about the virus but Critical Race Theory and such, Epic and other charter schools, and funding.

KORTH: Yeah, Logan. I think we’re going to have to keep an eye on those same trends you just brought up. School funding is going to be a huge deal. Oklahoma schools have gotten more than one-point-five billion dollars from the various federal relief plans for COVID-19. That money — most of it has yet to be spent, so we’re going to have to keep an eye on that. If you look at bills that have been pre-filed in the legislature, there are many related to how we teach social studies and how we talk about race and gender and class, and sort of dictating what is taught in the classroom.

LAYDEN: We have a gubernatorial election coming up in 2022. Governor Kevin Stitt, and it looks like he’ll be facing Joy Hofmeister, the superintendent of schools, who you’ve had some…

KORTH: …facetime with. If I was a gambler, I’d bet everything that education will be one of the main — probably the main focus of this race.

LAYDEN: Yeah, and Catherine as well…

SWEENEY: Another obvious wedge issue when it comes to health is abortion. Oklahoma has a ton of bills that would trigger bans if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. We don’t know much about Joy Hofmeister’s position.

LAYDEN: What kind of Democrat is she going to be?


LAYDEN: But we’re also getting back to StateImpact’s roots in the new year. And that’s natural resources, the environment, science. That brings me to Beth Wallis, our new StateImpact reporter. First, welcome Beth.

WALLIS: Thank you.

LAYDEN: You’ll never run out of stories about Oklahoma and the environment, climate change and natural resources, water, pollution. What are some of the things that have caught your attention so far that our listeners can expect to hear in the next few months?

WALLIS: So something that we’re really going to keep an eye on is just how far the McGirt ruling extends. With those tribal boundaries being reaffirmed, it’s brought up some questions about mineral rights. Who has the rights to coal? Who has the rights to natural gas that is sitting on these tribal lands? And then water compacts. Water compacts could be affected by the McGirt ruling as well.

LAYDEN: So, an exciting year to come. That’s science and environment reporter Beth Wallis, health reporter Catherine Sweeney, and education reporter Robby Korth. I’m managing editor Logan Layden wishing you a happy new year, and asking you to stay tuned as StateImpact tackles 2022.

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Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma.
Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
Catherine Sweeney was StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter from 2020 to 2023.
Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
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