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Professional Development

$250 Teacher Tax Deduction Here to Stay in Final GOP Bill

By Liana Loewus — December 18, 2017 2 min read
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The final tax bill that Congress will soon vote on maintains the $250 tax deduction that teachers can use for classroom supplies—and yet teachers’ unions are finding little consolation in a legislative overhaul they say hurts working families.

The House and Senate versions of the bill took different tacks on the teacher deduction. The House bill called for eliminating it—a move that angered many teachers and brought much public attention to the relatively minor provision. The Senate bill, on the other hand, doubled the tax deduction to $500.

The version put out by the congressional conference committee Friday afternoon, which still needs to be passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by President Donald Trump, offers a compromise, keeping the deduction where it is at $250.

K-12 teachers, principals, counselors, and aides have been able to claim the “educator expense deduction” for about 15 years now. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who is still in office, pushed for the deducation as a way of helping reimburse teachers who spend money of their own on supplies and professional development. According to a 2016 survey from Scholastic, teachers spend about $530 out of their own pockets each year on classroom items.

The $250 is not a credit, though—instead, it is subtracted from a teacher’s total taxable income. The deduction is what’s known as above-the-line, meaning teachers don’t need to itemize their expenses to get it.

The teachers’ unions were glad to see the provision was retained—but not placated by it.

“This bill is rotten to the core. On so many levels, it is clearly a massive giveaway to corporate special interests and the ultra wealthy and paid for on the backs of working families and in many cases, students,” Marc Egan, the director of government relations for the National Education Association, said in an interview.

“We are pleased they heard educators’ voices on [the educator expense deduction], but it doesn’t make up for everything else that’s in this bill,” he said.

Among other things, the bill reduces the amount of state and local taxes people can deduct, which some say would put pressure on states and communities to lower their own taxes. That could take money from public schools. (Head to Politics K-12 for more details on those deductions and provisions aimed at expanding school choice.) The NEA estimates that the tax bill would cost public schools about $150 million over 10 years.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement, "[W]e should be under no illusion; this is still a terrible bill for the middle class that rewards the wealthy and corporations at the expense of families.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.