Poverty, police abuse, record prison rates and education cuts that mean a four-day school week. Why are public services failing Oklahomans?
A city overpass crumbles and swarms of earthquakes shake the region the underground disposal of oil and gas industry wastes have caused the tremors. Wildfires burn out of control: cuts to state forestry services mean that out-of-state firefighting crews must be called in.
A paralyzed and mentally ill veteran is left on the floor of a county jail. Guards watch for days until the prisoner dies. A death row inmate violently convulses on the gurney as prison officials experiment with an untested cocktail for execution.
Do these snapshots of Oklahoma show a failing state?
Added up, the facts evoke a social breakdown across the board. Not only does Oklahoma lead the country in cuts to education, its also number one in rates of female incarceration, places second in male incarceration, and also leads in school expulsion rates. One in 12 Oklahomans have a felony conviction.
Rosa Brooks of Georgetown University Law Center wrote in an essay that states begin to fail when the contract between citizens and public institutions breaks down. States lose control over the means of violence, and cannot create peace or stability for their populations or control their territories. They cannot ensure economic growth or any reasonable distribution of social goods.
It may be hard to believe, but entry-level employees with a high school diploma at the popular convenience store QuikTrip make more than teachers in Oklahoma.
For four years running, the state has led the nation in tax cuts to education, outpacing second-place Alabama by double digits. Years of tax cuts and budget shortfalls mean that Oklahoma has fallen to 49th in teacher pay. Spending per pupil has dropped by 26.9% since 2008.
Things have become so bad that the Cherokee nation, a tribe systematically cheated out of its land allotments in the creation of the modern state of Oklahoma, recently donated $5m to the states education fund.
Lisa Newman, a high school teacher from El Reno, for instance, recounts a history of cutbacks, increases in class sizes, and her stagnant salary. She takes in less than $1,000 a month after all her bills are paid.
Newman, who recently moved back into her parents house at age 39, contemplates a declining standard of living while she raises two boys and works about 50 hours a week.