Oklahoma Asks Some Teachers to Return 5-Figure Bonuses

At least 9 teachers were reportedly told to repay the money
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 31, 2024 9:50 AM CST
Oklahoma Asks Some Teachers to Return 5-Figure Bonuses
Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters speaks during a special state Board of Education meeting on April 12 in Oklahoma City.   (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

With four young children and a fifth on the way, Kristina Stadelman was ecstatic after qualifying for a $50,000 bonus for taking a hard-to-fill job as a special education teacher in Oklahoma. She used the money to finish home improvements and buy a new car for her growing family. Then a letter arrived from the Oklahoma State Department of Education: It told her she received the money in error and must repay it, quickly. "I don't obviously have the money to pay it back by the end of February," Stadelman tells the AP. "I came home the day I found out and just cried for two days straight."

The errant payments, first reported by Oklahoma Watch, and the repayment demands have Oklahoma's education agency drawing fierce criticism from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, some of whom say teachers shouldn't be forced to give the money back. Average teacher pay in Oklahoma is about $54,800, which ranks 38th in the country, according to the National Education Association.

The bonuses were awarded under an Oklahoma program that's intended to help recruit new teachers for the most difficult jobs to fill. Oklahoma Watch reported that at least nine teachers were asked to return bonuses ranging from $15,000 to $50,000. A total of $185,000 went to teachers who didn't qualify for the program at all, and $105,000 was overpaid to teachers who qualified for a lesser amount, the outlet reported. Stadelman said the letter she received said she was ineligible because she'd been employed as a full-time special education teacher in another district last year; she said she indicated that on her application.

story continues below

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, who implemented the program, suggested in a memo sent Monday to legislative leaders that some of the errant bonuses were because teachers had "misrepresented their experience and qualifications." He blamed the media for much of the fallout, writing they "exclud[ed] vital details on the contracts and our auditing system. Over 500 teachers were recruited to Oklahoma classrooms through this program." Still, lawmakers from both parties have leveled fierce criticism at Walters and the agency. "It was up to the State Department of Education to provide proper oversight in the vetting and approval of the bonus recipients," said state Rep. Rhonda Baker, chair of the House Common Education Committee.

(More teacher stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.