By Sahid Fawaz
Someone has to pay for welfare for corporations and the rich. And teachers are no exception under the House tax plan.
"Every year, Brooke Richardson, who teaches English as a second language to mostly low-income Hispanic students in Atlanta, turns to her own pocketbook to help her students. She has lost track of how many pencils, markers, notebooks and glue sticks she buys a year.
Then there are the marshmallows and cotton balls for hands-on projects. And then there are the extra books so they have something to read on the weekend and during holiday breaks, and peanut butter and jelly so kids who don’t have enough to eat have at least some food at Christmas. Every year she also has had to replace headphones or other classroom technology because something always malfunctions, and there’s rarely enough money in the budget to fix it. She prides herself as a master discount shopper, but so many little purchases add up.
All in, Richardson estimates that she spent $500 of her own money on her students last year. She said it’s worth it — her voice lights up talking about “her kids” and all their 'aha moments,' many of which come when she deviates from the textbook.
But what has also been helpful is that she is able to deduct $250 off her taxable income for the extras she buys for her classroom, a small help that Congress created in 2002 for teachers who “go above and beyond.”
Now, the educator expense deduction has become a sticking point in the Republican tax debate, with the U.S. House and Senate taking it in two wildly different directions.
The House GOP tax bill would scrap that educator deduction entirely.
The Senate GOP tax plan would double it to $500.
'The tax deduction means a lot to teachers,' said Richardson, who is 36 and lives in Atlanta. 'Everything we bring to the classroom, we are doing it for our students. We are doing it because education isn’t always properly funded on the state or local level.'
The education expense deduction is one of many differences between the House and Senate bills that still have to be ironed out before a tax plan can be sent to President Donald Trump’s desk. The House has already passed its version of the bill. The Senate is aiming to vote on its legislation next week.
What politicians decide could greatly affect America’s 3.6 million teachers — and their students.
One of the biggest champions of the teacher deduction is U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is considered a key swing vote on the tax bill. Collins helped create the deduction in 2002 and lead the charge to make it permanent in 2015. Her office did not respond to a request for comment, but Collins has said several times in recent days that she is concerned the tax bill isn’t doing enough for the middle class.
The median salary for an elementary school teacher like Richardson is $55,490, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, an amount most say falls into the middle class. But teachers often start their careers at far lower salaries, and that’s when they typically need to spend the most to build up their base of materials.
'The first few years that I taught I often spent over $500,' said 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 10 years, 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 ninth-grade classes, some students read at a fourth-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 educator expense deduction costs the federal government $210 million a year — or about $2.1 billion over the 10-year time span of the tax bill, according to estimates from the Joint Committee on Taxation and the U.S. Treasury. The educator expense deduction costs less than 0.15 percent of the tax cut going to megacorporations to lower their rates."
For the rest of the story, check out the full story at the Winston-Salem Journal here.