Editorial: Keep deduction for teacher supplies in federal budget

This is just one more blow to the profession

School teachers in New York are much maligned for their lofty taxpayer-funded salaries, generous pensions, a perception of short work days, and for having summers off.

But being a teacher is difficult. Ask anyone who’s spent a few hours a day with 20 kids. It can be an all-consuming profession. And these days, with standardized testing and portfolios and assessments, the profession seems to be more demanding and less appreciated than ever.

Now add the Republican-controlled Congress to the list of teacher antagonists.

One of the contributions teachers make that often goes overlooked is that they often purchase school supplies with their own money. That’s because schools either won’t provide them because of tight budgets, or because the kids in their classrooms can’t afford them.

According to a 2013 study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association, 99.5 percent of teachers use their own money to purchase school supplies, spending an average of $485 annually. 

Another survey, conducted in 2015-16 by the nonprofit AdoptAClassroom.org of more than 1,800 public and private school teachers, found that the average American educator spends $600 of his or her own money every year on basic supplies.

In low-income school districts, which don’t have any money for supplies and whose students are too poor to purchase their own, teachers have been known to spend thousands of dollars.

Without the pens, pencils, paper, notebooks and art supplies provided by the teachers, the ability to teach is hampered and the ability of students to learn effectively is stifled.

Besides school supplies, it’s not uncommon for teachers to also purchase clean clothing, food and personal hygiene products like tissues and hand-sanitizer for their neediest students. 

All those great local programs to fill backpacks with supplies and meals for the weekend are an indicator of how real the school supplies problem is in many districts.

The teachers themselves fill a large part of that void.

The federal government has long recognized this contribution and at least tried to provide some compensation for teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses by allowing for a $250 per-year tax credit.

But under the Republican tax plan being bandied about in Congress, that deduction would be eliminated.

Maybe these out-of-touch representatives figure schools get enough funding and that teachers shouldn’t have to bring in their own work materials from home. Maybe they figure that teachers are so overpaid that they should be willing and able to support their own jobs.

Or maybe they just don’t have a clue, and just don’t care, how much personal expense teachers put back into their jobs so that the kids most in need can get a good education.

In the wealthier districts where these congressmen’s kids likely go to school, it might not be a problem.

But in poorer districts, the difference between a child learning and a child not learning might be whether the teacher brings that child something to write with and something to write on.

What supporters of this tax deduction being eliminated figure is that their action probably won’t prevent most teachers from continuing to bring in supplies they purchase themselves. The teachers, they figure, will just eat the expense and class will go on. And they’re probably correct. But is that right?

At a time where fewer people are entering the teaching profession and where schools are struggling to find good teachers willing to work in specialized subject areas or in the poorest neighborhoods, this is just one more blow to the profession — one more expense, one more indignity, one more message that their contribution is not valued.

Among the collateral damage of the Republican federal tax plan are our children and the people we entrust to educate them.

That’s just wrong. If you agree, let your local representative in Congress know and urge them to maintain the deduction.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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