ARDMORE, Okla. (KTEN) —Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters has announced a signing bonus program for new and returning teachers committing to work in early education and special education classrooms across the state.

Teachers are eligible for the bonus if they were not employed by an Oklahoma school district in the 2022-23 school year.

"I believe we have two teachers in our early childhood program who are on emergency permits, which is going to be the case in most all districts that are trying to find early childhood teachers," said Tishomingo Public Schools Superintendent Bobby Waitman. "When you post a position, there just aren't many applicants."

Certified educators can earn up to a $50,000 signing bonus in return for a five-year commitment to teaching in Pre-K through 3rd grade or special education.

A larger bonus is available based on years of teaching experience and if they commit to teach in a rural or high-poverty school district.

"I've been meeting with superintendents and telling them; this is their opportunity for pre-K through third grade, the biggest shortage areas," Walters said. "We know if a kid can't read and do math proficiently by third grade, the statistics show in graduation rates drop out rate."

Walters is also looking to raise teachers' pay.

"This effort that we’re undertaking has to be coupled with ensuring the teachers in classrooms get pay increases, and we’re advocating for that at the capitol," Walters explained. "We want a significant pay increase for the great teachers we have in the state, and we also launched the teacher empowerment program, which gives teachers the ability to apply through the State Board of Education and get up to $40,000 bonuses for the mentoring they’re doing with other teachers, the coaching they’re doing."

Waitman believes recruiting internally could also help with the need for more special ed and early childhood applicants.

"There could be something added to this, and that might be someone who's currently teaching and give them an incentive to look at special education or early child as an option, " Waitman explained. "In terms of transitioning from a given classroom into a special education or early childhood classroom."

The state incentive program is a one-time effort for the 2023-24 school year.

For more information on the bonus program, visit the OSDE's Website