Teachers Asked To Return Up To $50K In Bonuses Paid In Error

Oklahoma special education teacher Kristina Stadelman, anticipating a growing family, received a $50,000 bonus for accepting a challenging job. However, she and several other teachers recently received letters from the Oklahoma State Department of Education stating that the bonuses were issued in error and must be repaid promptly.

Stadelman, like others, faces financial challenges in returning the funds by the end of February. This situation has sparked criticism from lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, who argue against forcing teachers to repay the money, especially considering the state’s average teacher pay of around $54,800, ranking 38th in the nation.

The bonuses were part of an Oklahoma program designed to attract teachers to hard-to-fill positions, such as special education and early elementary education.

The state’s legislators are now considering revamping the program to avoid lump-sum payments and implement a more stringent screening process to prevent such errors in the future.

While the exact number of erroneously issued bonuses and the department’s plans for reclaiming them remain unclear, at least nine teachers have been asked to return bonuses ranging from $15,000 to $50,000. Reports suggest that $185,000 was disbursed to teachers who didn’t qualify at all, and an additional $105,000 was overpaid to those eligible for a lower amount.

Ryan Walters, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, implemented the program and suggested in a memo to legislative leaders that some of the incorrect bonuses may be linked to teachers misrepresenting their experience and qualifications. He also attributed much of the fallout to media coverage of the situation.