Thursday, August 27, 2015

Generous teachers deserve tax credits

With a brand new school year upon us, parents need to reflect on – and be thankful for -- the generosity of teachers. The professionals with whom we entrust the intellectual and social development of our children give more than self, time and patience to get the job done in the best way possible – they also give a great deal of their money.

Since the dawning days of the Great Recession, almost everything has been at one time or another on the chopping block of school boards and administrators. Due to economic losses that had harmed their communities, the tax cap of law and a self-imposed tax cap (you can’t increase property taxes on financially-stressed families in today’s job market), schools had to strike from their budgets sports, the arts, teachers’ aides and more.

One of the necessary line items that has faced such cutbacks and constant scrutiny is “supplies”, the little things and big things that each classroom needs to operate and inspire. In order to achieve their personal and professional goals, and ensure that their pupils are not cheated of the educational experience they deserve, teachers find themselves digging deep to keep their room and students supplied. The average teacher spends a tad under $500 of his or her money to do that every year.

Although one might consider it a job-related expense, it’s much more than that. They are giving to the children as a whole and also to individual children and the children’s families (teachers often find themselves giving rudimentary personal supplies to the poorest of their students).  Such generosity needs to be properly rewarded with tax deductions, just as all donations are.

As reasonable as that sounds, it hasn’t been properly administered, if even at all, at the federal and state levels.

When it comes to their federal tax returns, kindergarten-through-grade-12 teachers are allowed to deduct up to $250 of what they paid for books, supplies, equipment, and other materials used in the classroom.

That deduction amount is much too small. It’s only half of the average annual expenditure. The deduction should not have a cap, or if it must be capped, it should be as high as $1,000. Remember, $500 is only the average, so there are many teachers spending far more than that, and it is not unreasonable to assume that in a poor rural or inner-city district, some teachers are spending close to $1,000 per year.

The $250 limit is not the only flaw with the federal tax break. It’s not permanent; the original law had a 10 year life. In every year since, it has received a one-year extension. It was one of more than 50 tax breaks that got an extension in December of last year with the Tax Increase Prevention Act. That allowed teachers to claim the expenditures on their 2014 filings. But, when it comes to 2015, it’s not guaranteed to be there. It really needs permanency and certainty.

As for state income taxes, teachers cannot claim supply purchases in New York. The Governor tried to address this earlier this year when he floated the idea of a $200 tax credit, but he tied it in with reforms concerning donation to private schools, which didn’t fly with legislators. Once again, $200 doesn’t come close to the real amount that’s spent, nor is it even in the territory of the proposal that has been offered by Assembly Republicans the past 3 years, which would provide up to $500 in annual tax credits.

It’s time that we afforded teachers some recognition and public reward for their generosity which they have always been doing without any expectation of tax credits or reimbursement. If you gave to a church or non-profit you would expect a deduction (some folks actually won’t give unless they are guaranteed a tax credit), so the charity of teachers to your children should be given its due, especially when one considers that a young teacher just starting out makes well under $40,000, has assumed thousands of dollars of college debt and is trying to do what he or she can to make our kids – and our community -- better.     

From the 31 August 2015 Lockport Union Sun & Journal

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