By Amanda Litvinov
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It’s back-to-school time, and for most educators that means dipping into their own bank accounts to buy supplies and instructional materials for their students.
“I have spent over $650 already,” commented Philadelphia teacher Meg McGettigan. “Mostly on organizational things and writing supplies, including pencils, dry erase and other markers, book baskets, and paper sorting racks.”
Like nearly all public school educators, McGettigan routinely buys supplies and materials to help engage students in lessons and ensure that all of them have the essentials they need to participate in class.
The most recent survey by the National School Supply and Equipment Association found that 99.5 percent of all public school teachers dip into their own pockets, spending a collective $1.6 billion to stock their classrooms.
At least now educators are ensured a modest offset for that spending. Last year, Congress expanded and made permanent a federal tax deduction for educators’ qualifying out-of-pocket expenses.
Lawmakers first established the educator tax deduction in 2001 in recognition of educators’ generosity in spending on their students. But it was a temporary provision that was renewed six times
Finally, shortly before they adjourned last December, Congress made the made the deduction permanent after hearing from hundreds of educators about the degree of need in their districts and their communities.
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.
In addition to making the deduction permanent, lawmakers improved the above-the-line deduction in two ways: Educators may now include some forms of professional development, and the deduction was indexed to inflation.
That should be welcome news for educators, since they spend an average total of $945 on school supplies and instructional materials each year, according to the same NSSEA survey.
As always, an educator can also itemize classroom expenses that exceed $250. Either way, educators are encouraged to keep their receipts to substantiate any deduction.
Mike Grant, a middle school science teacher from the Detroit area, spends hundreds every year on “everything from pencils and art supplies to items needed for projects and activities.”
“It has been over a decade since my district made any reasonable additions to my classroom, so it falls 100 percent on my shoulders if I am to do anything beyond paper and pencil work,” Grant said, who also received a pay cut this year.
The National Education Association has long understood the importance of the deduction for educators.
Al Campos fought for the educator tax deduction for 13 years in his work as a federal lobbyist at NEA.
He says it was essential that members of Congress heard from educators sharing their stories about classroom spending when the Educator Tax Relief bill was under consideration last year.
“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,” Campos said.