Teachers often spend their own money to provide students with books, pens and pencils, but they can get a tax deduction of $250 for their expenses — but not under Republican tax legislation.
Both House and Senate tax bills would end the break.
Gary Arzamendi, president of the Merced City Teachers Association, said ending the tax break was “bad for educators.”
Our politicians need to go back to the drawing board on this one,” Arzamendi told the Sun-Star in an interview Tuesday. “We can do better than this proposed bill.”
The National Education Association, under the hashtag #outofmypocket, is asking teachers to share via social media pictures of the sticky notes, pens and scissors that they purchase for their students.
Republicans are increasingly anxious to deliver President Donald Trump a rare legislative victory before the end of the year, while special interest groups seek furiously to protect their favorite breaks.
Senate Republicans on Monday began writing their tax bill and the full House is expected later this week to vote on its own blueprint. Although the two versions are markedly different and will be reconciled by a special House and Senate committee, both call for scrapping the $250 tax deduction as lawmakers seek to simplify the tax code.
Republicans argue that the code will be easier to use and that most taxpayers will benefit from a doubling of the standard deduction.
Democrats argue that the tax bill wouldn’t help every middle-class family. And teachers counter the $250 deduction is an important recognition of the work they do. And for some teachers, especially in low-income areas, it can mean the difference between a student equipped for school and one who is not.
Jason Walsh, president of the Los Banos Teachers Association, both said teachers commonly reach into their own pockets to help their students in a variety ways.
Walsh, who has taught history in Los Banos for 12 years, said one of his colleagues used her own money to buy a jacket for a student during a recent winter.
“That’s maybe not directly related to learning, it’s not a pencil, for example, but how is a student supposed to learn if it’s January and they don’t have a jacket.”
Walsh, who said he didn’t want to speak on the tax plan as a whole, said ending the small tax break showed “a lack of recognition of the sacrifices teachers make.” He estimated spending about $500 a year of his own money on school-related supplies and said his wife, who teaches second grade, spends about an additional $1,000 on her students each year.
Walsh said such sacrifices are “very common” among teachers.
“Republican leaders chose to ignore the sacrifice made by those who work in our nation’s public schools to make sure students have adequate books, pencils, paper and art supplies,” said NEA president Lily Eskelsen García.
The credit was created in 2002 by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who in 2016 secured a provision to make it permanent. She noted at the time that despite “tight budgets and their own modest salaries” teachers were spending their own money to purchase supplies and deserved to be reimbursed for “a small part of what they invest in our children's futures.”
Although Democrats have been rebuffed in efforts to shape the tax legislation, they’ve seized on the elimination of the teacher credit in a bid to portray the Republican plan as skewed to the rich.
“If you’re a teacher and you bring supplies to school because your school isn’t able to supply everything in the classroom, you no longer can deduct that,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Why? So they give the president’s cabinet tax deductions or eliminate the estate tax or (give the wealthy) any other tax advantages. There’s a cruelty to it.”
Republicans rejected those arguments, urging a look at the entire tax bill and how it would help people.
Both local union leaders said they hope legislators would scrap that part of the tax plan proposal, but also said it was unlikely to change how teachers approach their work.
“I am disappointed that, once again, teachers are left with the bill but, truth be told, this won’t stop what we do and how we pay out-of-pocket because our students and their success are at the center of everything we do,” Arzamendi said. “Educators don’t do what they do for a tax credit — but it’s a sad proposal.”
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482