Let me see if I have this right. Our government can give tax breaks to revenue-rich corporations whose executives often earn more in one month than some of us do in our lifetimes, but we seem to have a hard time giving a puny $250 tax break for teachers who spend their own money to buy classroom supplies.
In 2002, Congress passed and President Bush signed a bill that gave eligible educators a $250 federal tax deduction. The tax break was available to teachers in public or private elementary and secondary schools.
So why am I using past tense in referring to the teacher tax break?
Well, Congress hasn't yet seen fit to make it permanent. This well-deserved bit of tax relief expired at the end of 2003. This is a tax break teachers have earned and deserve.
"The $250 tax deduction was not a huge amount of money, but at least it was an acknowledgment that teachers are spending their own money in the classroom," said Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Association. "By allowing it to go away, it just shows that teachers are not respected."
The House has passed a bill that would make the deduction permanent and increase the amount to $400. A similar piece of legislation has been introduced in the Senate. That version increases the deduction to $500 and also makes it permanent. Both bills would also cover professional development expenses.
"Educators are digging deep into their pockets, and they are doing it every year," said Anjetta McQueen, spokeswoman for the National Education Association (NEA), which supports the legislation.
Kerr said, based on several studies the union has done, that teachers in California spend anywhere from $500 to more than $1,000 to supplement what they get for their classrooms.
"There was a time when teachers just bought extras," Kerr said. "Now they buy necessities. They buy paper, pencils and glue. They have to go places to get copies made because there isn't enough money to duplicate the materials they need."
Laura Lebron, who teaches English at Dana Middle School in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles, says she spends about $250 to $500 per year on school supplies and would probably spend more, but she has three kids of her own.