Tax deduction ensures educators offset for classroom spending, which averages $1,000 per year


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.


Reader Comments

  1. This is wonderful! I know teachers spend a ton of money out of pocket and usually the better the teacher, the more generous they are with the money they have earned. It is great to show these teachers appreciation, but even more important that they are able to deduct these expenses. It’s the least that can be done for our teachers. It is absurd that they have been denied this.

  2. My granddaughter just graded from WSU and will start with 1st grade teaching. $250 is a lot out of pocket to spend when your fresh out of college and living on your own. Yes the schools supplies some things but not enough to everything needed. What about underprivileged kids who don’t have the supplies when school starts. The teachers have to bring extra supplies for those in need. WHY is it not provided to the school? Yes, teachers do not make enough money a year as their underpaid. Teaching let alone these days how unruly children have become this day and time.

    1. Tell her to check out She can ask for people to donate to her classroom. I have had furniture, play-doh and communication devices donated.

  3. I’m with you, Bob. The meek shall NOT inherit the earth. Only the wealthy. I refuse to spend hard earned (little) check.

    I need all my money because of the stupid windfall act. If my husband were to die, I wouldn’t be able to collect his social security. I’d be at the poverty level. Wake up people your being screwed. Half of you don’t even know this.


    1. I would not agree the windfall act is stupid, but it is truly outdated and needs review. At least in Massachusetts, teachers pensions are quite lucrative compared to any other retirement plan, and essentially guaranteed as long at teacher organizations continue to pad the coffers of state politician war chests.

      The Soc Sec aspect does need update, but it always falls off the radar.

  4. Bob
    I agree. No teacher should be required to spend a cent in order to provide the required educational program to their students. That is the purpose of school and state taxes. As an association leader I was emphasizing that ALL the time to some members. I would hear “it’s for the kids”. My response was let their parents, the school board, the community, the state and the federal government provide the money “for the kids”. NEA and the state associations should be encouraging that type of behavior, not lobbying for a tax break.

  5. Bob, it would be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn’t. I think preschool teachers (who are also educators) should be included in this. They make far less and spend their own money as well.

  6. It is absurd to spend your own money on work place supplies. If the school district wants you to have a certain item, it needs to be supplied. Where is the union/association? Fighting for your fair treatment, financially? The more individuals spend and let districts off the hook, the worse it will get. Wake up, show some maturity and say no!

    Let me guess….. 200 thumbs down

    1. I bet you are not an educator. If you are not working in the classroom, you won’t get it. Without spending our own money we cannot teach. The materials we need to make it a successful year must be purchased. It is not a mater of maturity, it is a matter of survival. The advice of an administrator to new teachers one year was “buy lots of pencils, it will make your life much easier.” My immediate thought was why aren’t they available to us? When I ask for pencils in my building, I get one per student. Primary grade students break, sharpen and go through pencils like squirrels eat peanuts (all the time). And believe me, we need to buy much more than just pencils!

      1. Be careful how you place your bets.

        If teachers keep spending their own money on supplies without the districts recognizing the ridiculousness of such practices, the process will only get worse. I see too many teachers acting as martyrs without raising hell about not having needed supplies. When you have parent meetings, hang dollar signs on the walls, go to school committee meetings and share your concerns. Just don’t sit and whine you ‘have to spend your own $$$.’

        Teachers are not Mother Thereasa (sp??) and there is no moral obligation to support the community. If that were the case why do you accept pay?

        Extremes distort the truth but provide perspective for reality.

        Should you chose to buy more than the district requires, that is your choice and you lose the initiative to complain.

      2. Why didn’t the educators ask the administrator : why don’t YOU get us some pencils? What is your job? My approach is a bit rough but others can ask such questions in a more….shall we say… delicate manner.

    2. Bob, I agree with you. I do not spend my own money for supplies essential to lessons. However, my district recently went to a student-based budget model which reduced the amount of money my department has for things like project supplies. We barely have enough to cover Expo markers and copy costs, and already ask parents to donate tissues, which isn’t typical for high schools. Our only hope for fixing this issue is improved funding. In Colorado, that requires eliminating the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. While we collected enough signatures to put that fix on the ballot this year, we didn’t collect enough money. And now we’re back to that pesky financial issue.

      So, since I save my $250 for things that seem questionable in the education purpose (dry spaghetti for lines of best fit, for example), I’ll continue to seek donations, beg and plead for things like tissues and hand sanitizer.

    3. Hi Bob,
      I live and work in Virginia, a “right to work” state which means it is illegal for teachers to strike. I am a member of my local, state and national associations. I have even served as president of my local association — so I am awake, have shown some maturity, and I hear you. The money I spend on my classroom and students is not for items that the school district requires us to use. I agree with you that “it is absurd to spend your own money on workplace supplies”. I would not purchase a specific kind or stapler or tape dispenser or key chain for my classroom key. If the school division had specific requirements for these workplace supplies, I would expect them to provide them.

      The money I spend is on the materials and supplies that used to be supplemented by our school budget for instructional materials, and that now we ask parents to help supplement. Our local school division has had our budget cut for at least the past 8 years — mostly through lack of funding from the federal and state level and through unfunded mandates that add expenses but not income. I can refuse to buy extra notebooks for the kids who do not have one. I can refuse to purchase a few extra binders for the kid whose dad got mad and threw her entire bookbag out of the car window one night. I can refuse to keep extra pens and colored pencils on hand for the children who forget (or lost them or whose parents won’t/can’t buy them) because it’s not my responsibility. However, I cannot ethically or morally let a pencil, a binder, or a 5-subject notebook become an obstacle to a child’s success in my classroom.

      I only have about 10 months with each group students to make a difference. I cannot wait for the school division to figure out how to get more money, for the Governor of Virginia to increase educational spending enough to meet the needs of all students, or for the federal government to reverse unfunded mandates and school choice vouchers and increase funding for public schools. I have to take care of the kids I have in my classroom right now. I respectfully disagree with you that teachers need to “wake up” and “show some maturity” because that is what we are doing by addressing the problem. The people who need to wake up and show some maturity in addressing this lack of funding are the politicians on every level who have created this problem.

      1. I can’t speak to your state as far as the particulars, but in Massachusetts the observations are the same: Unfunded mandates eating up the available $$$. But, the vast majority of teachers, state teacher organizations, local organizations, all continue to support and re-elect the same useless politicians who talk big and act little. Here, they are virtually all democrats.

  7. In the years that I taught in public school, I spent at least $1500 to $2000 per year on notebooks, pencils, pens, room decorations to spur interest (posters, laminating, maps), books for students who couldn’t afford them and/or so students could “own” their books and mark in them (that Post-it system most teachers have to make students use is a nightmare!) , supplies for poetry publications (paper, card stock, binding supplies, printer ink), food, invitations and posters for a Poetry Cafe to celebrate a year of writing poetry, supplies for teaching a creative interdisciplinary class (butcher paper, fabric, cork, buttons, wiggly eyes, etc), side lamps to mitigate harsh effects of overhead (and often flickering) florescent lighting–and many other things I am not listing here. Everything I bought made my teaching easier and my students both more interested in what they were learning and more comfortable while they were doing so.

    1. If the lights are flickering, call the principal, if he does nothing start calling parents. If they don’t care, why should you ?

  8. This is awesome for educators to be able to deduct expenses above the $250 amount coming out of their own pockets so that their students will have what is needed to start the school year off to a good start.

    1. Most teachers where I live don’t earn enough to buy a home and can’t afford the spending required for other deductions in order to make itemizing worthwhile.

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