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


StateImpact Oklahoma celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2021, and as 2022 approaches, editor Logan Layden sat down with reporters to discuss what listeners can expect in 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 everyone. 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 came to StateImpact, did you think you would continue to cover COVID two years later?

SWEENEY: I certainly didn’t. I came last summer [2020] just when hospitalizations were just beginning to rise. As soon as the vaccines came out in the spring, it felt like we eased off the accelerator and things were a little better. 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 variant. And then omicron arrived.

LAYDEN: There are other health-related issues Oklahoma is going to face in the new year. Tell me a bit about what you’re going to see over the next few months.

SWEENEY: So one of the biggest stories is that Oklahoma expanded Medicaid. I want to see to what extent this has contributed to access to health care. It’s also interesting because a top priority of Governor Kevin Stitt is to partially privatize Medicaid. Of course, I will cover the legislative session when it begins in February. I know there is a lot of controversy over federal vaccine mandates. The Legislature did consider a special session to tackle these issues, but it kind of backtracked on that. They really leaned on that $10 million they gave the Attorney General to bring a bunch of legal battles against all the different vaccine mandates coming out of the Biden administration. I’m sure I’ll see 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 on the virus but on 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 that you just mentioned. School funding is going to be huge. Oklahoma schools have secured more than one point five billion dollars through various federal relief packages for COVID-19. This money – most of it has yet to be spent, so we’ll have to keep an eye on that. If you look at the bills that have been pre-introduced in the legislature, there are a lot of them related to how we teach social studies and how we talk about race and gender and class and sort of say what is taught in class.

LAYDEN: We have a gubernatorial election coming up in 2022. Governor Kevin Stitt, and it looks like he’s going up against Joy Hofmeister, the Superintendent of Schools, which you had…

KORTH: … face to face with. If I was a gamer, I’d bet education will be one of the main – probably the main focus of this race.

LAYDEN: Yes, and Catherine too…

SWEENEY: Another obvious health issue 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?

SWEENEY: That’s right.

LAYDEN: But we’re also going back to the roots of StateImpact 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 to 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 coming months?

WALLIS: So something that we’re really going to keep an eye on is how far McGirt decision extends. With the reaffirmation of these tribal boundaries, questions about mineral rights have arisen. Who has the rights to the coal? Who has the rights to the natural gas that is on these tribal lands? And then the compact water. Water compacts could be affected by the McGirt also governing.

LAYDEN: So an exciting year ahead. They are science and environmental journalist Beth Wallis, health journalist Catherine Sweeney and education journalist Robby Korth. I’m editor Logan Layden wishing you a Happy New Year and asking you to stay tuned as StateImpact heads into 2022.


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