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HomeNewsCourt Orders Oklahoma Teachers Who Received Nearly $ 50,000 Bonuses To Pay...

Court Orders Oklahoma Teachers Who Received Nearly $ 50,000 Bonuses To Pay It All

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In an interesting turn of events, Oklahoma teachers who were awarded bonuses have been asked to pay back the money they received. Most of the teachers who are now asked to return the bonuses they received considered the money to be a lifesaver, but it turns out they were wrong.

Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters speaks during a special state Board of Education meeting on April 12, 2023, in Oklahoma City.
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The Oklahoma State Department of Education sent a letter to the teachers indicating that they had received the money in error and now had to repay it quickly. The Oklahoma State Department awarded teachers bonuses between $15,000 and $50,000 each.

The department demanded that about nine of the teachers who received the funds should return it by the end of February. According to Oklahoma Watch, a total of $185,000 was awarded to teachers who didn’t qualify for the bonuses at all, and $105,000 was overpaid to those who qualified for a lesser amount.

The confusion started when the education department made errant payments to educators who applied for the bonuses last fall. A statewide program was implemented to recruit teachers for hard-to-fill roles in Oklahoma schools through payment bonuses as incentives. According to Oklahoma’s education department, the mistake was made because staff members failed to vet the information the applicants appropriately provided.

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“I got an email … it was like the second week of January, saying I have to pay it back by the end of February,” special education teacher Kristina Stadelman told Oklahoma Watch. “I’m like, how am I supposed to do that?” Stadelman said that she had used the money to make some repairs around her house and also made a down payment for a car.

The state department notified Stadelman that she was not qualified for the program because she worked in an Oklahoma school district last year. The program rules state that any teacher who has taught in an Oklahoma public school during the last school year isn’t eligible. According to Stadelman, she misunderstood the instructions.

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“I don’t think it’s my mistake,” Stadelman said. “And I think that they need to take the brunt of it because they made the error.” the government now requests that she refund the entire $50,000, including taxes. If she fails to refund the money by the end of February, it will go to a collection agency.

“It felt really surreal,” Stadelman said through tears. “I just broke down that day, and I just came home and sat in silence. It was hard.” Unfortunately, Stadelman is one of about nine teachers caught in the mix-up.

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The program was implemented by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters. In a memo he wrote, he said that some of the errant payments were because some teachers had “misrepresented their experience and qualifications.” He also blamed the press for the confusion.

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“The press has jumped the gun on their reporting, excluding vital details on the contracts and our auditing system,” Walters wrote in the memo, obtained by The Associated Press. “The fact of the matter is that over 500 teachers were recruited to Oklahoma classrooms through this program.”

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