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StateImpact Oklahoma reporters reflect on 2023 — from school choice to abortion

StateImpact reporters Jillian Taylor, Beth Wallis and Britny Cordera, with managing editor Logan Layden.
StateImpact reporters Jillian Taylor, Beth Wallis and Britny Cordera, with managing editor Logan Layden.

2023 is coming to a close, and it’s been an eventful year for StateImpact Oklahoma’s reporters. Managing editor Logan Layden talks with the team about highlights of this year and what to expect in 2024.

LAYDEN: Let’s start with education reporter Beth Wallis. Where do we begin? Book bans, tax breaks for parents of private school students, Superintendent Ryan Walters’ vs. Tulsa Public Schools and the battle against so-called woke leftist ideology. You’ve covered so many important issues in 2023. Too many to discuss here. So let’s look forward. What do you expect to be some of the major themes around your education coverage as we go into 2024?

WALLIS: So, the parental choice tax credit rolled out this year. And I think it will be really interesting to see, like in other states that have educational savings accounts programs or voucher programs, if private schools up their prices to match that credit, which would kind of negate the point of it because it would make it less accessible to low income families, which is the written priority of it. As well, I think all the nations’ eyes are on Oklahoma in terms of St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School. It would be the first publicly funded religious school in the country. There are two lawsuits against it. One from the attorney general, who vehemently opposes the state funds going to sectarian institutions. And then you also mentioned Ryan Walters’ campaign to — as he says — turn around Tulsa Public Schools. Tulsa Public Schools just made their interim superintendent their permanent superintendent, much to the disapproval of Walters. And even though they do give monthly updates on how their reading scores are improving, their plans for financial controls, the stakes are I think even higher now, after Walters has proposed new rules to tie test scores to districts’ accreditation statuses. And TPS advocates say Walters by doing these sorts of things and by having these monthly updates and demanding so much of the TPS administration is constantly moving the goalposts.

LAYDEN: Britny Cordera, you joined us earlier this year to get StateImpact back to its roots: reporting on climate, environment and science issues.

CORDERA: Yeah, I finally feel like I have a story to tell every day here in Oklahoma. Some of the highlights I have are just reporting on citizen science and conservation efforts by everyday community members in the state. I really enjoyed learning about monarch migration and seeing Oklahomans participate in tagging monarch butterflies for their migration to Mexico. I also really enjoyed tagging along with the Oklahoma City Office of Sustainability and community members on an urban heat island campaign. And also most recently a story I did about Tulsans working to regrow the urban tree canopy after the storm that hit.

LAYDEN: Can you give us an idea of where you’ll be taking your coverage in 2024?

CORDERA: Absolutely. I’m definitely going to keep on this track of how Oklahomans can conserve pollinators and native species by reclaiming prairie on their own land. You know, keeping track of the cobalt refinery that could or could not happen in Lawton. And then, most immediately, I’m going to be working on a story about beavers and how Oklahomans can coexist with a species that does cause a lot of destruction, but also has great benefits for the environment.

LAYDEN: And Jillian Taylor has also been with us a few months now covering health issues in Oklahoma. With major issues like access to abortion in the state and medicaid unwinding following the end of the COVID emergency, your reporting is an important resource to our audience.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Logan. In my most recent story, I looked at the Medicaid unwinding, which is SoonerCare in Oklahoma. They picked up eligibility reviews after a pandemic pause, and that was confusing for many Oklahomans. We also saw some news with family planning money taken from Oklahoma for not including abortion as an option. And now the attorney general is suing about that loss of funding. And the Oklahoma Supreme Court also put three abortion restriction laws on hold pending legal challenges. I think all of these issues will progress into future stories next year.

LAYDEN: Is there anything you see on the horizon in the coming months?

TAYLOR: In regards to the unwinding process, we’re about to lose enhanced federal funding and state spending will likely be impacted. So I’ll be definitely following that. And I also think we’ll see some further considerations in the legislative session regarding abortion. Senator Nathan Dahm has said he wants to introduce legislation related to medication abortions. Then I’m working on a variety of other things that I’m excited to share with everyone.

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Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma.
Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
Britny Cordera has been StateImpact Oklahoma's environment and science reporter since July 2023.
Jillian Taylor has been StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter since August 2023.
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