Last time you went to work, did you visit a supply room for your pens and sticky notes, or did you buy them out of your own pocket? When you needed paper towels in the break room, or your cubicle needed a repair, did you pony up the cash yourself?
Although we’d never dream of funding office supplies ourselves, strangely, we expect public school teachers — statistically, a low-salary group — to stock their classrooms on their own dimes.
According to a school supply organization, nationwide teachers spend an average of $500 annually on crayons, construction paper, cleaners, and other needs in their classrooms.
In an act of goodwill towards educators, last month Congress passed a spending bill that would make permanent a tax deduction for teachers who spend money on class supplies. Even better, lawmakers indexed the deduction to inflation, meaning it should increase over time.
The less-great news? The deduction is for only $250.
But this means teachers will not be taxed on at least the first $250 they use on school supplies or for professional development. Some might call it a drop in the bucket, but for a group whose pay and benefits are constantly under attack, almost anything helps.
In North Carolina, changes to the tax code last year meant some teachers saw a pay decrease. The legislature enacted pay raises for less experienced teachers, but those with a longer tenure didn’t benefit from the General Assembly’s largesse. This year, all state employees received a $750 one-time bonus, but teacher pay remained mostly stagnant again.
The $250 deduction does not apply to state income tax, which means teachers are on the hook for taxes even for money they spend in the classroom. But for most, federal income tax is a much higher burden, and any decrease in liabilities there will come in handy.
The tax deduction is a start, but communities must find better ways to support their educators. It’s clear state and local government isn’t prioritizing classroom spending, so it’s time to mobilize at the ground level. Join or donate to your local PTA today. Call a local school and see what you can donate, or ask your child’s teacher about their needs.
It’s insane to expect low paid workers to subsidize our children’s education. Our teachers deserve more than that, and deserve more than even a $250 tax credit. They shouldn’t have to spend money out of pocket at all, but if they do, it should be 100% tax-deductible.