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Wednesday, 29 November 2017 06:21

Teachers Spending Personal Cash on Classrooms Could Lose Tax Deduction

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teacherdeductionThe House wants to take a pittance from self-sacrificing teachers and give it to the rich. (Photo: firedoglakecom)

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The Senate and the House tax bills are being called "tax reform" by many media outlets. The bills, which will be headed to conference committee once a bill passes the Senate, differ, but neither could be called "reform" in any positive sense. In this way, they reflect the politics of "welfare reform" -- a "reform" that made the US fundamentally more inequitable. In essence, they are both legislative vehicles to restructure the tax formula to put more money in the pockets of the nation's wealthiest individuals and families. In USA Today, op-ed columnist Andy Slavitt argues that both bills are also aimed squarely at cutting government expenditures on health care, thus increasing individual medical costs.

In addition, the plans will impact education on multiple fronts. Just one example: Currently, according to the HuffPost, K-12 teachers can deduct up to $250 a year off their gross income for personal expenses on classroom material. Due to the underfunding of many schools, a large number of teachers spend out-of-pocket money for the benefit of their students. The House bill budgets the savings of providing this small tax credit at around $210 million a year. That's not a lot to the federal government, but rescinding it effectively transfers the saved money into the hands of the richest Americans.

The Washington Post provides an example of just one teacher who benefits from the small tax savings targeted in the House bill:

“The first few years that I taught I often spent over $500,” says Darcie Schoeps, a 39-year-old who teaches social studies at a high school in the Bronx, one of America's poorest neighborhoods. “The textbooks I was given my first year were so outdated they still had the Soviet Union listed as a country.”

Schoeps, who has taught for more than a decade, used her own money to buy new maps and workbooks with Russia (and other nations) listed appropriately. Now she teaches general education, special education and English as a second language students, requiring her to buy workbooks and games that can suit a wide range of abilities. In her 9th grade classes, some students read at a 4th grade level.

Any full-time instructor at a public or private K-12 school is currently eligible for the $250 deduction. It's an “above-the-line” deduction, meaning teachers don't have to itemize to claim it. It's listed on the part of the tax form alongside deductions for moving expenses, student loan interest and health savings accounts. The House GOP bill does away with those popular deductions, as well.

The Post estimates that the current tax code gives the average teacher "an extra $40 to $50 in their pocket." This is after adjustments for the tax bracket of the filer.

The House bill's attempt to end the small tax deduction for teachers coincides with the release of a report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities entitled, "A Punishing Decade for School Funding." The report noted:

Public investment in K-12 schools -- crucial for communities to thrive and the U.S. economy to offer broad opportunity -- has declined dramatically in a number of states over the last decade.  Worse, some of the deepest-cutting states have also cut income tax rates, weakening their main revenue source for supporting schools. 

Most states cut school funding after the recession hit, and it took years for states to restore their funding to pre-recession levels. In 2015, the latest year for which comprehensive spending data are available from the U.S. Census Bureau, 29 states were still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008.   

Although the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities analysis shows that some states have begun returning to 2008 or above funding levels, the general outlook is still discouraging for public schools. The study found that 29 "states provided less overall state funding per student in the 2015 school year (the most recent year available) than in the 2008 school year, before the recession took hold." Compounding the challenge, in 19 of these states, local funding was also decreased.

The House bill's betrayal of teachers who devote their hard-earned money to compensating for inadequate school funding is indicative of a legislative environment that undervalues education. The House is also further undercutting the financial fabric of public schools at a time when educational privatization is a hallmark of the Trump administration, Republican Congress and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Whether teachers will lose their small tax deduction for supplementing the education of their students, as outlined in the House bill, remains to be seen. The Senate tax bill, ironically, would increase the deduction. The different approaches would be worked out in a Republican congressional conference committee. However, the intent of the House is clear: Tax savings for millionaires are more important to the country than lower taxes for dedicated teachers.