Educator tax deduction expanded and made permanent!


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.”


Reader Comments

    1. Thank you Real Teacher, you have demonstrated you are a real genius and were kind enough to point out how stupid I am. For that I will be forever thankful. I will go out an a limb here and bet you will be voting for Hillary. Better hope her husband doesn’t get near any females you know or you have to depend on her to defend the nation. And you better have some $$ saved upo when your taxes go through the roof so she can give more money to people who do not work and planned parenthood. But then again, that’s an idiot talking.

  1. Bob,
    There are teachers and there are those who pretend to be teachers. I think you fall into the latter group. If you have never spend 8 hours in a day on your job as a teacher then I am fairly confident that you are one of those teachers who do the minimum and prefer to judge other teachers by your own standards. The time a teacher spends in the classroom is a small part of the time the teacher spends on teaching responsibilities. You, like many who have never taught a class, tend to discount the time teachers spend on the job outside of the classroom. Ask any hair stylists how they know their client is a teacher and they will tell you that the teachers are the ones grading assignments as they wait for an appointment. The same would be observed at any doctor’s office.

    As for the criticism that teachers get 2 months off, this is not unique to American teachers. This occurs in other countries as well. This time allows teachers (and students) to be re-energised for the next period. Every teacher deserves it. Of course, this is not paid time off but many, like Bob, prefer not to mention that teachers are not paid for these two months. Many teachers, if their schools allow it, will ask that their 10-month salary be spread over 12 months. Others save for the two months and many teachers actually work during the summer. Also, many teachers attend professional development activities during this period (I guess Bob does not) and yes, many of us actually use the summer months to plan for the next school session.

  2. I have read the previous comments and all have added food for thought; Bob is a teacher and he was rather vilified for his viewpoints; I will add that teachers who go into teaching when younger maybe enter with their remembrances of that one teacher who really made a difference; older ones felt a call or an impulse. But the public school arena is a mess: I am older and admit it; I see incompetence at the admin level and at the colleagues’ level; I see more students with belligerence and as for telling parents to “..get with it…”? Parents of this current generation are prone to side with their kids because their kids rule the roost.

    Yet, ask yourselves honestly, was teaching ever a noble profession? Get real. That myth needs to die: the noble, self-sacrificing teacher (mainly women-even now) WHO digs into her well-worn pocket book and gives up her lunch money for a hungry kid. That overworked educator who graded papers till midnight, did bus duty, lunch duty, more bus duty, did dance duty, ad nauseum…that still exists in “some Association ” states but may not be legal in union states. IF you like having minimal medical (pay $300 a month but receive no benefits until YOU pay out of pocket $2500 a year…great, huh?), if you like having your legally mandated planning turned into Professional development at the whim of the administrators, again ad nauseum, then Associations states can do no more for you. But in a union state, there will be some reins pulled on the School board and the administrators. Teachers surrender too many hours of labor for free every month. LET ME REPEAT THAT: TEACHERS ARE MADE TO SURRENDER TOO MANY HOURS OF LABOR FOR FREE EVERY MONTH. You can’t say NO! You can’t say, “What are you paying me?”

    So, as the generation from the 1970s dies or retires, the teacher shortage is gonna (I am not mispelling that word) worsen. I would no more recommend this profession than I would recommend sky diving without a parachute, walking with bare feet on hot lava, or sitting on my rear and not writing to MY STATE legislatures as I do on a regular
    basis. You see, I try to make a difference and I write and write to my state lawmakers and I do not stop; I decry the mess and the chronic stupidities and lack of moral and ethical procedures; I talk and I write and I am going to keep at it until I see huge changes.
    So while we can vent here, and perhaps are crass, get on your email and write to your state legislators and find out who is the head of the education committee. I remember one Sunday my state senator and I were emailing back and forth and I was chastising him for not doing his job: reducing state tests for elementary students. He got annoyed, but we emailed back and forth for almost an hour and I was darn blunt!!!
    IF you want to change education, and get rid of the dross, the mess, and the garbage, you cannot do it here alone. Get on a bus and go to a state capital city; always add YOUR voting number to your emails because it adds more credibility to YOU! Use the proper salutation and her/his title of respect. Run for office yourself. Run for your school board , but do not be like the former teacher who would not take phone calls or talk to the very men and women he taught with for years once he was elected to the board.

    Being active on this reader board is OK; but get out there! Vote, but check the records; write an email and ask that potential new senator or rep for your government how they feel about pay raises, education issues and suss out the truth. I am going to pepper my two FEDERAL Senators (the ones who live in D.C.) and demand to know why the $250 is not $1000; how does it hurt America if we have the proof with receipts how much we pay for our classes? I have used TeachersPayTeachers (lovely website-I adore you) and I know $250 ain’t cutting it (yes, I used “ain’t!). Those two Federal Senators are going to be really hearing from me. I also am not adverse to going higher…to the Executive Branch.

    See, if I want a change, cliche aside, I have to make the effort. Others can do the same. Right?
    Thanks for reading this. Yes, I meant to write a diatribe.

    Respectfully yours to all who comment. Education in America can be improved!

    1. I am so happy to hear someone else that feels the same way I do. I am finally retiring, and not a day too soon. I hate leaving; I hate leaving my kids, but I am not content any more to deal with all the “stuff” that goes on in the education world. No one cares about the teachers any more. We haven’t had a raise in years. We pay out of our pockets for the needs of our students. And everything that goes wrong in our schools is the teachers’ faults. Give us a break!

    2. Dear Lynn,
      It is great to hear someone who is not afraid to stand up to the system fight for what needs to be changed. I did all the things you mention in your “diatribe” back in the 70s and 80s only to lose my teaching position and was then unable to get a full-time teaching job for 18 years. I wrote letters to the editors of numerous newspapers almost weekly, wrote, spoke to, and visited legislators and Congressmen, attended school board meetings, was very active in NCAE and, at the same time, was a very hard-working, dedicated teacher.

      The system does not deal kindly with teachers who do not follow its dictates. I had many parents and teachers tell me that they were behind me in my quest to save the system– and it was only partially broken at that time. We still had some respect from the students and from most parents, but things were changing with the administration and in the legislature. Why Johnny couldn’t read was the big question of the time, and so began all the fads that have come and gone in the school system which have cost the taxpayers billion and have destroyed basic education.

      Most teachers are afraid to stand up to the system (and with good reason), and teachers’ organizations have basically no power when dealing with the government. They sound good, but in most cases they give in to whatever is the new educational fad at the time–in other words, which testing or educational materials company has the biggest lobby. I was with NCAE when they backed down on collective bargaining because the NC Legislature said that NC is a “right to work state.” They said we are not permitted to have collective bargaining. Ft. Bragg, which was then a member of NCAE, left NCAE, remained with NEA and got collective bargaining. The teachers of NC could have fought for it at that time. They did not stand together then, and I dare say they will not now.

      I fought my cause 40 years ago and cringe at what has become of the public school system. I still write an occasional letter when I see a product of our public school system who can barely read, do basic math, and has no general knowledge. But, I have learned my lesson well. I will not waste my energy any longer for people who will not stand up for themselves and criticize you for trying to improve the system.

  3. I am not criticizing our success in maintaining this deduction, but it is a pittance and certainly needs work. Consider the magnitude of corporate wefare by comparison.

  4. If teacher made a competitive wage for the amount of eduction we are required to have and maintain we would would not need this tax deduction. We spend countless extra hours at school working after hours and on weekends with our students all with no extra pay!! We have one of if not the greatest responsibility…. To prepare our children to be successful in the real world, yet we continue to be unappreciated and underpaid. Teachers are the first to get blamed when students don’t perform well but the last to be given credit when they do well.

  5. What would really be nice if the social security, retirement inequity would be fixed. If one works enough quarters to draw social security, they shouldn’t have it reduced because they have a teacher’s retirement check.

    1. The windfall elimination/government pension offset in Social Security should be THE priority of every teacher, not the pitiful $250. Deduction for supplies! As a powerful group, we need to end this discriminatory law. Working in the private sector, earning enough credits to rightfully earn ones social security, and earning a pension in the teaching profession should not cancel the other out. Th I s practice is discriminatory, and stealing what has been rightfully earned. As a group, we must stand up, write your congressmen and make sure those of us who earned social security, get that FULL pension.

  6. Bob,
    As a teacher, I can tell you that I signed up for this job knowing the pay is pretty terrible compared with most other professions that require 4 year degrees at minimum. I think every other teacher knew this going in as well. We made this decision because we love children, feel a passion for our content area, and believe that we can make a positive difference in our communities and even further out through the education of the thousands of lives we have the opportunity to touch over the course of our careers. However, I think many of us were shocked by the amount of money we spend of of pocket. Your suggestion to just stop doing it goes against our love for our students. I buy supplies to help them with academics, I buy them gifts and treats to show them love, and sometimes I even buy them clothes and shoes and food because they need it. However, speaking out about this does not make us martyrs. It simply brings attention to a problem that many people do not realize exists. Trying to politicize the issue takes the emotion out of it, but dealing with children who do not have access to necessities is emotional. It is heartbreaking.

  7. How about this idea? Do not spend a dime on work related costs. Force the education district to pay for things kids need. How about stop pretending to be a martyr.

    If some thing is necessary for school, the district needs to provide. If the school does not provide they are saying its not needed.

    Why don’t the essentially powerless yet well funded teacher associations push this issue?

    1. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. We always tell them what we need- and we’re talking about composition books to take notes, markers and poster paper for projects, pencils (to write with-duh!)-THE BASICS (sorry, but our kids are not writing with chalk, on slates). These are the things the kids don’t have. The district does NOT provide these things.

    2. Uh… because teachers aren’t dicks? Districts do provide some funds of course for materials in the classroom, but it’s nowhere near enough. As a teacher, my main focus is on my students, not on politics or economics. So, like my colleagues, I pay for supplies out of pocket all the time.

      1. I teach “reading intervention” and never has the school district provided funding for my classes. How does that sound?

    3. Bob, that would be a great idea if the state did not keep cutting funding for supplies like that. If they gave more money for things like supplies for students (in low income areas) then teachers would not have to use their money to provide needed supplies for students. For example, I am currently teaching how to measure and sketch angles with a protractor, but several of my students don’t have one. How is that effective teaching to have some have the needed tools while others just sit and watch? So I go out and buy the protractors for those that don’t have one because the school has no money to provide them.

    4. If I’m getting evaluated and the kid doesn’t have a pencil, I am slammed for it as the kid is not “engaged” in learning. I have to provide the pencil because my school is Title One and they are more concerned with providing testing materials than what I need on a day to day basis. I am not allowed to teach out of the text anymore, but provide “fun” activities that engage the students (out of my pocket.) No one has a clue what we are going through right now.

    5. Bob,
      We don’t pretend to be Martyr’s, we just want the best for our children and making sure they have the tools they need empowers them to be successful. Many families can not afford to meet the financial demands that school supplies place on them and rural communities such as mine just do not have the funding that other communities have available. I’m sure it’s hard for someone who doesn’t work in the education system to understand that! “Just stop doing it” is not an option for us.

  8. This is a step in the right direction…but a baby step. Actually, the fact that teachers pay $1.6 billion from their own pockets for student needs is a national disgrace. Conclusion…most members of Congress do not care about our nation’s children. Think of that the next time you vote.

  9. That’s a valuable deduction. Too bad it is only available for teachers K-12. Preschool teachers work for low wages at programs that operate on shoestring educating our youngest children. The importance of the early years and value of quality preschool is well documented. Preschool teachers spend lots of their little money on things for the classroom. Why do they continue to be excluded from this benefit?

  10. Why shouldn’t a yea he be able to deduct whatever expenses they can support with documentation with an upper limit of $2500. It is well documented that teachers buy supplies. Document it and have an off the top deduction.

  11. I just stopped spending the system is lucky if I spend 150 bucks for entire year. This whole get up on the cross thing teachers do makes us look weird .

    1. I’m with you on this. I know its hard for teachers, but if we could ALL work the hours we are paid to work and not dip into our pockets for things the system should be providing, maybe the district shortcomings would be noticed. Not all parents read articles about the sacrifices teachers make, but you can be they’d notice if their kid came home and said they had to simply watch in math class because the school didn’t provide them with the tools they didn’t have.

  12. Seriously? It’s ALWAYS been $250! That is NOT an improvement. It’s a continuation. It should be more like a percentage of what you spend. If one teacher spends $250 and another spends $500, it’s not fair that they both get a $250 credit. What would be more fair would be a percentage of what is spent. If everyone could get a 20% credit of what was spent, that would be a much better improvement. Either that, or actually pay teachers what they are worth! We are the only profession that is required to have years of higher education, and, in some states, required to have at least a Master’s Degree to begin teaching and still have to start at the bottom of the pay scale at $30,000 or less per year. Congress needs to realize that we are educating THEIR children and should be held in higher regard.

    1. Still $250 this year, but now that it’s permanent (instead of being renewed each year) and indexed to inflation, it should increase each year.

    2. Educators have the $250 but expenses above that get put against work expenses along with your cell phone, union dues, etc.

      1. Only those expenses related to work (i.e. cellphone used primarily for work) and only the amount that exceeds 2% of your gross income. This means most teachers never get this deduction, and instead get the same Standard Deduction that anyone else gets!

    3. The thing is….we aren’t educating the children of Senators. Those kids go to private schools. Therefore legislators could care less. Even Obama’s kids do not attend public schools.

      1. But Capt Cyn, who, what party, do teacher organizations embarassingly tell their members to vote for? The majority of people elect legislators in their district then complain when those they elect do not do want they want. How can any thinking person allow some organization to tell them for whom to vote.

        Maybe the real emphasis is to impose term limits at all levels of government. We now have that power but voters seem too stupid to use their vote to toss out the useless politicians who serve for decades and embed themselves in greed and lack of hearing.

        Politicians want to take our second amendment rights away while they have all sorts of armed people around them. Bit of inconsistency here ? Just like the education issues, no different

    4. Terri, if the pay is so bad, why do people sign up to teach? Demand drives prices. If you don’t like the pay, don’t sign up. And by the way, from my personal observation and experience, master degrees associated with teaching qualification require about 1/2 or less effort than ‘real’ master degrees. I have both.

      And please do not forget, teachers get 2 months off per year. Most reasonable employers offer about as much vacation as teaching allows during the school year.

      Do not tell me how much teachers work outside of school. If you want to make a comparison, talk to someone who works at a salaried position at a Fortune company.

      1. How ignorant of that writer to say that teaching degrees are not real. I used to work in a fortune 500 company and I left to get a real degree so that I could teach. I make a whole lot less money but what I do is so much more gratifying. The only downside is when I have to teach ill mannered disrespectful children who are being raised by ill mannered disrespectful parents like that writer. Fortunately the majority of my students do not fit that category. And as for having two months off, those two months are spent on professional development. When I worked in the corporate world i sat on my behind all day long what is hard about that? Before you criticize walk a mile in a teacher shoes.

      2. Bob keep in mind that teachers are not paid for this time off. We take smaller checks through the school year so we can sustain our living for those 2 months off. We also do not have the luxury to take vacation when we want and there for pay peak travel prices during vacation time. I am aware that taking a vacation is a luxury but we do not get the luxury of shopping for the best time or deals for said vacation.

      3. Bob has two Master degrees and does not know why people go into teaching and why so many drop out after less than ten years, defeated, especially Special Education teachers. He is either lying or pathetically ignorant.

        Well Bob, the literature would say it is because we feel a calling to repay the teachers who gifted us enjoyably or otherwise with invaluable knowledge and skills. Another is the fact we care deeply about kids and have been told by others we would or already are naturally skillful teachers. The literature would show that a life of service is the best in feeling great self-worth, the respect of many and sometimes you need to answer “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” and then go do it.

        Having operated and operating several businesses over the years- I see comparing the rewards and work loads of Fortune Companies with teaching a false argument with several fallacies. If you compare similar pay scales in education with comparable middle management, teachers workload compared paired with unpaid continuing education components, that would show teachers are significantly underpaid and overworked several times over. Many of us have the traditional class counts of several teachers, particularly in SPED. Bob, you should go check out a life-skills classroom in a low income middle or high school if you want to witness the underpaid real heroes of America. BTW my sister operates at a kindergarten level of academic skills yet lives on her own, in an apartment, has a fabulous social life and works- thanks to teachers like me. She has never said a mean thing in her life.

      4. Myth that teachers get 2 weeks vacation. Teachers get paid for teaching 160 days. Don’t get paid for Christmas break or spring break. They do not receive a salary for summer breaks and many times are taking required professional development classes at their own expense. They get paid on a twelve month schedule by dividing their contract days by 12. Before you criticize this profession you should get your facts straight or walk in their shoes for a week. You will then see that their work day frequently exceeds 8 hours and their is no Overtime Pay for the extra hous worked.

        1. Teacher in our system have 187 day contracts and then add to it summer school which is an additional 6 weeks during the students’ summer break. I work every month in the calendar year. In other words, I work 217 out of the 260 no weekend days in the year. This does not factor in after school detention supervision, ball game duty, and attending school dances, concerts, etc. I have a full time, year round job and then go home every evening to teach evening classes an additional 10 hours per week. I assure that I spend at least $ 1 a day on my students.

      5. Bob –

        It’s clear that you don’t understand why those of us who go into teaching do it, and that’s fine. I have two master’s degrees (both ‘real’) and am a National Board Certified Teacher. I was lucky as all three of those experiences were rigorous, so I learned a great deal. I did all three of those during my “summers off” (and while working full-time during the school year, of course).

        Comparing someone who has a position at a Fortune company to a teacher, who, even with all those credentials and 15 years of experience only makes $47,000, is not even in the realm of a fair comparison.

        I urge you to volunteer in your local school district! Get in the trenches and see what it’s like (it’s also a TON of fun!) before you pass judgements.


      6. Bob – Just so you know, teachers are also in a salaried position. We receive a contract every year. Is someone at a Fortune company, or any other company, for that matter, required to do that? All teachers do not receive 2 months off during the summer. If you want to talk comparison, why don’t you volunteer at your nearest school, and see what happens in a classroom? You might then be able to appreciate teachers and the work that is done.

        1. To talk about how much teachers work and complain about the hours is nonsense. It is inconsistent to claim you are passionate about something, enter the vocation fully understanding the requirements, then complain about it. If you didn’t know the requirements, its your own fault. You didn’t do your due diligence.

          Having lived 3 careers, Officer in the Marine Corps, middle manager in a Fortune company, and high school teacher for 14 years, I have the experience to comment on what I have observed. Not like those who have done nothing but listen to inane local teacher associations complain that the principal looked cross eyed at them and file a grievance.

          Seems that too many (not all) teachers want to be treated like salaried employees yet embrace typical hourly worker habits. For example, I have to work more than 8 hours per day, the contract says… and so forth. I can’t stay after school for an hour to attend a meeting. The contract says one hour only…….

          It is clear that abuses have caused unions to exist and are likely needed in many public jobs but in too many instances they have crippled improvement and forward movement.

          No one I ever saw in teaching spent 8 hours per day, for two months in the summer, doing teaching related work. Make no mistake in any other ‘knowledge worker’ job you must spend time outside of working hours maintaining competence in your skill area. It is not unique to teaching. In may system we got pay raises for accumulating master degree credits beyond the degree requirements.

          Public school systems are a mess. I am not sure if they can ever be fixed but approaches like charter schools and so forth are a good approach. There ought to be vouchers for those parents who chose to send their kids to private schools. At some breaking point there would be a critical mass to fix the public school systems. I will go out on a limb and say people are smart enough to see there is a real problem.

          First and foremost is to get the federal government out of local schools. Then figure out how to have principals who are leaders, not crappy managers who didn’t want to be teachers so they decided they would become managers, pretending to be leaders. Teachers should be paid fairly, but recognize when there is a surplus of teachers, salaries will be stagnant. Teachers need to refuse to spend their own money on school needs. Stop acting like students are your kids, they are other people’s kids. Call those parents and tell them to get with the program. And when the parents don’t care, you have done your job. If you chose to buy lunch for some kid in your class, why do you stop there? Find more hungry kids.

          Social programs need to do things like make 2 people accountable for kids. If there is a single parent, mom, family, mom didn’t have the kids by herself. Where is the father? Get the bleeding heart legislators you voted for to find ‘dad’, hold him accountable for fathering a kid, and grow up.

          Groups like the NEA and so forth need to get out of politics. They can advance the teaching occupation but not with minority group issues, lobbying and so forth. If there were term limits, lobbyists would become ineffective, politicians would be changed as often as your underwear and people would have a better chance of getting real representation. No teacher organization should spent $1 on endorsement for any political candidate. They should only present facts about what candidates say about issues of interest.

          This is the short list, many more reforms are needed but whining just produces contempt by those outside your system. Don’t vote for people who will continue what we are now doing. That is insanity.

      7. Dearest Bob – perhaps your two Masters degrees brought your intelligence down and you need to be educated. Teachers do NOT get paid when they are off for breaks.

        So “Mr Fortune” company – let me educate you a little. Most teachers have the options to spread their pay out over the entire calendar year if they wish, however – they are ONLY getting paid for the number of days on their contract.

        I worked in corporate – I had enough years in that I received 4 weeks PAID vacation. I’m guessing you probably receive something similar since you are with a “Fortune company”.

        So before you start spouting at the mouth regarding teachers getting paid during their time off – please make sure you have correct information. Fortune companies probably get time off with pay but teachers do NOT!!

        1. Another perfect example: I work 180 days a year…the contract says….just like hourly worker thinking. Salaried workers in high performance organizations work until the task is completed. If the pace is too much, quit.. Stop the nonsense about the nobility of this work. If you do not do it, there is a replacement right behind you.

          As long as teachers continue to complain about spending their own money, keep electing morons, philanderers, socialists, and crooks to run the government, nothing will change.

          Rather than whining and wasting money on unions that are ineffective, elect people who support what needs to be done in public education. That might foster change.

          I wish people would read what is written not limit their blundered vision to what they think they want as reality

    5. First of all, most of us are not teaching the children of presidents, senators, or representatives. These students usually go to private or specialized schools that aren’t even required to take the same tests as the public schools. If we were teaching the students of presidents, senators, or representatives, things would be different.

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