State Journal

Out-of-Pocket Expenses

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California Teachers Lose State Tax Credit for Supply Costs

It’s a fact of life that teachers open their own wallets to buy some of the supplies they need for their classrooms.

California was one of the few states where they could get a break: tax credits of as much as $1,500 annually for the money they spent on pens, paper, books, or anything else they might need for their classes.

But because of an ongoing financial crisis, the state has suspended that tax break for the next two years to help balance its budget. It’s a double whammy for teachers, because a $250 federal tax deduction to help teachers defray personal costs for school supplies is scheduled to expire this year and might not be renewed.

The $180 million California program, which went into effect in 2000, offered teachers with four to 11 years of classroom experience tax credits worth from $250 to $500. More experienced teachers received tax credits of up to $1,500.

Many teachers bought supplies for the start of this school year and will now see their tax burden increase, said Barbara Kerr, the president of the California Teachers Association.

“It’s very frustrating that this tax credit, which was an acknowledgment that the state is not paying its share, was taken away in the middle of the year,” she said.

Quality Education Data, a Denver-based research company owned by education publisher Scholastic Inc., released a report last year that found that teachers nationwide in grades K-8 spent more than $1 billion of their own money on school supplies. First-year K-8 teachers dug the deepest, spending an average of $701 for supplies, while the average for K-8 teachers nationally was $520.

The study found that the teachers who were more likely to spend above the average were teachers in predominantly Hispanic schools, low-income schools, and schools in Western states.

“It used to be that they bought extras—some fun books for the classroom, or a CD,” Ms. Kerr said. “Now they’re going and buying paper and pencils and the basics.”

PHOTO: Los Angeles teacher Doreen Seelig holds schoolbooks she purchased.
—Reed Saxon/AP

Vol. 24, Issue 05, Page 16

Published in Print: September 29, 2004, as Out-of-Pocket Expenses

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