Oklahoma teachers mistakenly received up to $50,000 in bonuses. Now they have to return the money.


Oklahoma education officials are trying to recover at least $290,000 in bonuses they mistakenly paid to several teachers.

After awarding them bonuses of between $15,000 and $50,000 each last fall, the Oklahoma State Department of Education earlier this month required at least nine unwanted recipients to return the funds by the end of next month, according to the organization. Oklahoma Watch surveillance. reported last Thursday, citing interviews he conducted with affected employees. A total of $185,000 went to teachers who did not qualify for the program at all, and $105,000 was overpaid to teachers who qualified for a smaller amount, the outlet reported.

The erroneous payments were awarded to educators who applied for the bonuses last fall through a state program designed to recruit teachers for hard-to-fill positions in Oklahoma schools through pay-based incentives, according to the outlet. Oklahoma's education department made the payments in error because its staff did not sufficiently vet the information provided on the applications, the watchdog said.

“I got an email… it was like the second week of January, saying I had to return it before the end of February,” special education teacher Kristina Stadelman told Oklahoma Watch, adding that she used the money for several improvement projects. for the home and a down payment on a car for his growing family. “I wonder, how am I supposed to do that?”

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State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, who implemented the program, suggested in a memo sent Monday to legislative leaders that some of the erroneous bonuses were because teachers had “misrepresented their experience and qualifications.” He blamed the media for much of the fallout.

“The press has gotten ahead of itself in its reporting, excluding vital details about contracts and our audit system,” Walters wrote in the memo, obtained by The Associated Press. “The fact is that more than 500 teachers were recruited to Oklahoma classrooms through this program.”

The refund demands have brought Oklahoma's education agency under harsh criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers, some of whom say teachers should not be forced to pay back the money. The median teacher salary in Oklahoma is about $54,800, which ranks 38th in the country, according to the National Education Association.

A department spokesperson did not respond to an Associated Press question. order to comment on how many bonuses were paid in error or how you intend to recover them.

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