Education News

Future of the educator tax deduction uncertain, once again

By Amanda Litvinov / photo by Steven Depolo

In the coming weeks, educators and students across the country will head back to school. And that means many teachers and support professionals will reach into their own wallets so they can stock their classrooms with essential supplies and instructional materials.

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Those costs can really add up over the course of the year.

“I’ve bought book bags, clothing, groceries, bus passes, musical instruments, standard classroom supplies like pencils, pens, paper, et cetera, and paid college application fees,” says Ohio high school band teacher Michelle White Lessor. “If I wrote it all down, I might go crazy…”

The educator tax deduction—which allows educators to deduct eligible unreimbursed expenses up to $250—was instituted in 2002 in recognition of educators’ generosity, and has long had bipartisan support. Last year, Congress renewed the educator tax deduction but only retroactively for 2014; it then promptly expired.

New bipartisan efforts would both extend and expand the deduction.

The Senate Finance Committee recently approved a bill that extends the educator tax deduction for two years and improves it by indexing it to inflation and including professional development as an eligible expense.

Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) offered an amendment to extend and expand the deduction that committee leaders, Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), worked into the base bill. The designation of professional development as an eligible expense recognizes the importance of teacher quality in maximizing student achievement.

The full Senate is likely to address tax extenders late this year.

Over in the House, NEA supports a bipartisan stand-alone bill that also expands the educator tax deduction and would make it permanent. You can help fight for this bill: Urge your representative to support and co-sponsor the Educator Tax Relief Act of 2015 (H.R. 2950).

“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. “I scour yard sales and search for online deals to stretch my dollars. On average I spend at least $500 a year out-of-pocket.”

Educators across the country routinely buy supplies and materials that help meet students’ basic needs and get them engaged in learning.

The latest survey by the National School Supply and Equipment Association found that 99.5 percent of all public school teachers dip into their own pockets to equip their classrooms.

The same survey found that during the 2012-13 school year, educators spent a total of $1.6 billion of their own money on classroom supplies and instructional materials. 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.”

Ohio teacher Michelle Lessor has a final thought on the issue for lawmakers: “I’d like to ask this: Do elected officials ever have to pay for their own pens and paper and photocopies?”

22 responses to “Future of the educator tax deduction uncertain, once again

  1. As the son of two retired school teachers I understand the need to supply children in need. I currently hold the position of Education Manager for Positive Promotions. Please reach out to me so I can help discount items or send donations to help with this nationwide dilemma. So many children are eager to learn yet lack the tools required. Let’s all try to continuously push legislation and stretch our budgets to the best of their capabilities.

  2. Your idea of tracking personal spending and turning it in en masse is so good and then so daunting. Mr. Foley, who must not have to deduct any business expenses in his tax return, has a good point that our unions should maybe be more involved. To be honest they may have tried in the past, but I don’t remember it during my 36 years in the field of education. I have trouble with the fact that teachers simply can’t deduct expenses tied to their teaching outright when other professions are able to. Albeit those professions are under an umbrella of “independent contractor” that allows them to deduct related expenses.

  3. Folks, this is the reason that the required items needed for our classes have ever growing lists of things each teacher asks for from each pupil at the start of the school year. Our list for 6th grade cost about $50.00. Multiply that by 25 kids in the class….
    My daughter serves as the librarian in an elementary school. She pays for all of the required decor each year from her own funds. As she has no permanent class, but serves the entire school, she has no class to help with her expenses. Teachers have such good hearts, that they help countless families every year. Our legislators are always so ready to give wealthy benefactors anything they want, so they take it out of the hides of their constituents to pay for it. This has to stop!

  4. Seems to me that those posting here would rather complain about using their own money for public education support rather than demanding their school systems support their needs. For those who think teaching is some sort of mystic, avocational activity, well then if its your hobby, don’t complain about spending your own money. If its your job and you are a professional, demand of your system that they support your needs so you can do your job adequately.

    It is incredulous to attempt to understand why people spend their own money on their job, ask the government to give them back their own tax money, and never complain to the organizations that are apparently requiring them to spend their own money. Do you pay union dues? What is the union doing to make your system pay for the supplies that are needed? Are the unions contributing to the progressive socialists in your legislature? How have your legislators responded when you complained to them that your school system won’t provide you with needed supplies? Do you continue to vote for them? Do you continue to contribute monthly to the union who does not help to fix this situation?

    Stop and think of the possibilities beyond opening your own wallet. Get parents involved but don’t just complain. That is a waste of energy and makes the general public consider teachers to be complainers.

    Sorry to offend people but that is the way it is. And until you straighten out your backbone, close your wallet, stop the martyr routine dramatics, and open your mouth, nothing will change.

    1. Many teachers put in requests for supplies each year. Some districts are able to support requests but usually not to the fullest because the government support of the education process is so low. Others are so cash strapped that all they can do cost-wise is keep the buildings heated/maybe cooled and somewhat cleaned – and by the time that is done, very little is left to enhance the classrooms supply-wise or for any other upgrades.
      Your comment to stand up and demand things to change does occur, but when costs of anything rises and the public shuts down any request for added funds through voting down referendums, there leaves one way to get done what needs to get done. Buy it yourself.

      1. Or you can say I am not spending my money on work related items. Tell the parents to have their taxes raised, have the mostly useless unions support the teachers they get lots of dollars from, and do not complain about your personal choice. Or believe you are a financial martyr and some sort of hero.

  5. This misiva is directed to Bob Foley and all like-minded individuals. Most of us who are in teaching after more than a decade and truly view teaching as a VOCATION as oponed to a JOB ha e accepted that we have to provide the supplies and so forte that the kids need but are unable to acquire. I don’t know if you have any kids in any public school but regardless of that, we who are already adults should be willing to investí in the suture of our kids and grandkids…AND THAT MEANS MONEY. I, for one, am disgusted with your employing terms such as “socialist” to buttress the argument of a shallow-minded parrot who supports a discriminatory agenda currently being used to destruyo the middle class by eliminating public education.
    To quite a refrán that you need to take to heart, “Pueblo idiota es refugio del tirano.”

    1. Spelling corrections: misiva-missive, oponed-opposed, ha e-have, investí-invest, suture-future, destruyo-destroy and refrán-refrain. Please excuse the “typos”

  6. Another reason not to get into teaching.
    After 37 years, I retired last year and was rewarded with a $5 gift card to Starbucks by the school system. I had to use my own money once again to pay for a LARGE coffee.

  7. Here is a revolutionary idea: don’t spend ‘private’ dollars on public education. Simplify the tax code. Everyone pays 10% . There would be so much tax revenue even the socialists couldn’t spend the money fast enough. It is insanity to spend your own money and then complain about it. Either don’t spend y our money or do not complain and ask the government to give you back your own money

    1. Hey, Bob: People pay for all sorts of things with which they disagree through taxes. For example, I can’t stand the fact that my wife and I pay enough in Federal income tax each year to purchase a decent new car, yet I know a lot of the money is actually going towards complete garbage like the grossly overpriced F-35 “pilot killer.”

      And the flat tax is a right-wing pipe dream that will not happen and which has been discredited by many credible economists.

      1. Many ‘ceditable’ economists think O’Bummer’s ideas of spending are useful and have merit. How’s that working out for you ?

        If every earner paid 10%, no deductions, no exemptions, there would be plenty of tax money to go around for most every social activity. And think of the money that would be saved by reducing the IRS by about 99%, H&R Block would need a new venture and so on. A flat tax won’t work because no matter how much or how little high earners pay, the socialists in this country will want more handouts for those who do not contribute. The result will be new exemptions and deductions for having kids you can’t afford, housing you can’t pay for, supplies you should be demanding your school should be paying for.

    2. Predictable…eliminate the $250 deduction from the lowest paid professionals so the top 1% can get increased deductions for the millions they don’t have to pay on.

      1. Bottom line,Mr Foley, the teachers who spend their own money, do it because they CARE about the children ( which apparently their school districts do not)!!!

  8. If this legislation does NOT get renewed thus will be the straw that broke the camel’s back and I WILL leave education after 16 years of dedicating my time, money and resources to my students and their community.

  9. This should be the year that all teachers track all of their spending for their classroom and then present this total to congress and see if this does not change their mind about how underfunded education really is. Just send your Congressmen and Senators a copy of your receipts and total and also send one to the newspaper in your area.

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