School Funding

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

StateImpact Oklahoma celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2021, and before 2022, editor-in-chief Logan Layden sat down with reporters to discuss what listeners can expect in the New Year.

TRANSCRIPTION:

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

SWEENEY: I sure didn’t. i came last summer [2020] just as hospital admissions were just starting to increase. As soon as the vaccines came out in the spring, we felt like we were slacking off and things were improving a bit. But then delta came. The peak has arrived. And then it came back down. Everything was fine, we are safe again until there is another variation. And then omicron came.

LAYDEN: There are other health-related issues that Oklahoma will be facing in the New Year. Tell me a bit about what you’ll be watching over the next few months.

SWEENEY: So one of the biggest stories is that Oklahoma has expanded Medicaid. I want to see how much this has contributed to access to health care. It’s also interesting because a high priority for Governor Kevin Stitt is to partially privatize Medicaid. Obviously, I will be covering the legislative session when it begins in February. I know there is a lot of controversy over federal vaccine mandates. The legislature really did consider a special session to deal with these issues, but they kind of went back to it. They really relied on that $ 10 million they gave the Attorney General to start a series of legal battles against all of the different vaccine warrants emanating from the Biden administration. I’m sure I’ll see a lot of this during the regular legislative session.

LAYDEN: And Robby Korth, our education reporter, what a year it’s been on the education front: masking warrants, parents versus school boards, not just about the virus but critical race theory and others, Epic and other charter schools, and funding.

Korth: Yeah, Logan. I think we’re going to have to keep an eye out for the same trends you just mentioned. Funding for schools is going to be huge. Oklahoma schools have received more than a point five billion dollars from various federal relief plans for COVID-19. This money – most of it hasn’t been spent yet, so we’ll have to keep an eye on it. If you look at the bills that have been pre-tabled in the legislature, there’s a lot about how we teach social science and how we talk about race, gender, and class, and sort of dictate what which is taught in the classroom.

LAYDEN: We have a gubernatorial election coming up in 2022. Gov. Kevin Stitt, and it looks like he’s going to take on Joy Hofmeister, the principal of the schools, who you’ve had a few …

KORTH:… face to face with. If I were a gamer I would bet everything education will be one of the main – probably the main focus of this race.

LAYDEN: Yeah, and Catherine too …

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

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

SWEENEY: Right.

LAYDEN: But we also go back to StateImpact’s roots in the New Year. And these are natural resources, the environment, science. This brings me to Beth Wallis, our new StateImpact reporter. First of all, welcome Beth.

WALLIS: Thanks.

LAYDEN: You’ll never be short 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 over the next few months?

WALLIS: So something we’re really going to keep an eye on is how the McGirt decision extends. Along with the reaffirmation of these tribal boundaries, this has raised questions about mineral rights. Who has the rights to coal? Who has the rights to the natural gas that is on these tribal lands? And then the water compacts. Water compacts could be affected by McGirt rule too.

LAYDEN: So, an exciting year ahead. They are science and environmental journalist Beth Wallis, health journalist Catherine Sweeney and educational journalist Robby Korth. I’m Editor-in-Chief Logan Layden, wish you a Happy New Year and ask you to stay tuned as StateImpact tackles 2022.


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