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?”