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Oklahoma requests teachers return up to $50,000 in bonuses paid in error

By Jake Beardslee · January 30, 2024

In brief…

  • Teachers in Oklahoma mistakenly awarded large bonus payments
  • Now being asked to return $15k to $50k bonuses
  • Causing bipartisan criticism of teacher bonus program
  • Teachers face anxiety over having funds clawed back
Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters. Teachers in Oklahoma are facing demands to return erroneously awarded bonus payments of up to $50,000, resulting in anxiety and drawing criticism of the teacher bonus program.  United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce/Wikimedia

Oklahoma special education teachers who received large bonus payments in error are now being asked to return the money, spurring criticism of the state’s teacher bonus program. According to the Associated Press, at least nine teachers were notified by the Oklahoma State Department of Education that they must repay bonuses ranging from $15,000 to $50,000.

The bonuses were awarded through a program intended to recruit teachers for hard-to-fill positions. However, the department said that “Some teachers ‘misrepresented their experience and qualifications’” and should not have received the bonuses.

Kristina Stadelman, a special education teacher expecting her fifth child, told the AP that she “came home the day I found out and just cried for two days straight” after learning she had to repay nearly $30,000. The average teacher salary in Oklahoma is about $54,800.

Republican and Democratic legislators alike have denounced the bonus clawbacks. State Rep. Rhonda Baker called it “anxiety inducing” for teachers to have funds deposited then retracted months later.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters, who implemented the program, suggested the press “jumped the gun” in reporting on the issue and said “over 500 teachers were recruited to Oklahoma classrooms through this program.”

But Walters has faced ongoing criticism over alleged misuse of funds. A state audit found over $1.7 million in federal COVID relief money was spent by the state education department on non-educational items during his tenure.