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Oklahoma Schools Superintendent Shelves Plan To Reclaim Teacher Bonuses After Major Controversy

Oklahoma’s schools superintendent, Ryan Walters, has retreated from a controversial plan to reclaim teacher bonuses following widespread criticism from lawmakers and legal action.

The bonus program, designed to attract and retain educators, necessitated a five-year commitment to teaching in the state, with bonuses of up to $50,000 funded by federal resources.

The Bonus Controversy

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Some educators received notices in January demanding the return of their previously granted bonuses, citing their failure to meet program qualifications.

Two affected teachers filed a lawsuit against Walters and the state Education Department.

Walters’ Reversal

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On Wednesday, Superintendent Walters announced a potential solution to allow educators to retain their bonuses.

He indicated that only four teachers were directly affected and suggested they might keep the bonuses by extending their teaching tenure beyond the originally stipulated five years.

Federal Involvement

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Walters emphasized that federal officials were informed of the ongoing efforts to resolve the issue while maintaining accountability.

“We want you to keep the money, we want you to stay in the classroom,” Walters said.

Lawmakers’ Reaction

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The demand for bonus repayment sparked criticism from lawmakers, particularly those who had previously clashed with Walters over his rhetoric against “woke” teachers.

Republican Rep. Mark McBride’s Stance

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Rep. Mark McBride expressed a willingness to collaborate with Walters on the incentive bonus but firmly opposed the notion of forcing teachers to return the funds.

Walters: Teachers Are To Blame

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Walters said the issue was caused by the teachers.

“They signed a contract agreement that if anything in that contract was false, they would have to pay the money back,” Walters said.

“It says in the contract, you had to not be a teacher in a school last year.”

The Teacher’s Perspective

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One teacher, Kay Bojorquez, who initially qualified for the maximum bonus, shared her experience of receiving and then being asked to return $28,073, describing it as “life-changing.”

Wave of Nausea

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When the Education Department sent her a letter in January asking her to return the bonus by February, “I immediately had a wave of nausea and I had to run to the bathroom,” Bojorquez said.

Legal Action

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Kay Bojorquez subsequently filed a breach-of-contract and defamation suit against Oklahoma and Superintendent Walters, alleging defamation due to public statements accusing her of dishonesty on her application.

Contract Integrity

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Bojorquez argued that she had signed her contract in good faith and believed that the terms should not be altered.

Another Teacher’s Situation

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Kristina Stadelman, a K-4 special-education teacher, highlighted how her family had utilized the bonus for essential purposes, including a down payment on a van and preparations for their fifth child.

Expectations from the Education Department

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“The Education Department is the one that’s supposed to have our back and take care of their teachers,” she said.

Education Department’s Response

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A spokesperson for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Dan Isett, contended that the media had selectively portrayed data to generate controversy. 

They said, “The effort by the liberal media in Oklahoma to defend the failed educational status quo and attack Superintendent Walters for highly successful conservative reforms has been unprecedented.”

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