By Amanda Litvinov
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Shortly before its session adjourned in December, Congress expanded and made permanent the educator tax deduction that allows educators to deduct eligible unreimbursed classroom spending up to $250.
The deduction was significantly improved by indexing it to inflation and including professional development as an eligible expense.
It’s welcome news for public school educators, 99.5 percent of whom dip into their own pocketbooks to provide supplies and instructional materials for their students, according to the most recent survey of the National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA).
“I’m just like most educators across the country in that I think of my students as ‘my kids,’” says Tamera Detwiler, an elementary school teacher from the state of Washington.
“I feel a responsibility to help meet their needs in any way possible, and that includes purchasing countless binders, books, and other supplies my kids need every year,” said Detwiler.
With a record number of students living in poverty and education funding lagging in most states, educators have only seen student needs for basic supplies and classroom tools increase.
During the 2012-13 school year, the NSSEA survey found that educators spent a total of $1.6 billion of their own money to help meet their students’ needs. The average teacher spent $485, and 10 percent spent $1,000 or more—double the percentage previously reported.
“It’s not my students’ fault if their family circumstances make it impossible for them to bring everything they need for school,” says Detwiler. “I can’t look away if there’s something basic they really need.”
It’s that generosity that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle wanted to recognize when they instituted the tax deduction in 2001. But the annual renewal process has often been a nail-biter.
Last year, Congress renewed the educator tax deduction, but only retroactively for 2014; it then promptly expired.
The National Education Association has long understood the importance of the deduction for educators, and rallied educators to tell their representatives in Congress why it matters by sharing stories about their own classroom spending.
“Making the $250 educator tax deduction permanent, adding the inflation enhancement feature, and including professional development expenses will greatly assist educators, who routinely go above and beyond to serve our students,” said Al Campos, who has fought for the educator tax deduction for 13 years in his work as a federal lobbyist at NEA.
“This helpful tax relief benefit could not have come to fruition without the tireless advocacy efforts of NEA members, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and support from President Obama,” said Campos, for whom the educator tax deduction became not just a job assignment, but a labor of love.
“I have enormous gratitude for all those who made it possible to enact this important educator tax relief provision.”