It’s well known that teachers — even those who earn meager salaries — dig deep into their own pockets for supplies to do their jobs, with one study estimating they spend an average of nearly $500 a year on everything from pencils to batteries.
For now, teachers can get a small tax break — deducting up to $250 from their taxes — for what they spend on supplies. But under the GOP tax reform bill, that deduction would go away for teachers and other categories of workers, including certain state and local officials and performing artists.
The proposal to eliminate that deduction and others is part of an effort to simplify the tax code, and proponents say that with an overall cut in tax rates, those who benefit from the deductions may still see their tax bills fall. But it is difficult to gauge how the plan will affect middle- and working-class families.
Still, teacher unions immediately lashed out at the plan to eliminate the deduction, saying it would hurt cash-strapped teachers.
“As educators spend more and more of their own funds each year to buy basic essentials, 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 Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, a teacher union.
Unlike other professionals, teachers are regularly expected to furnish their own supplies. They are often filling in gaps where students are unable to afford supplies — and where districts are unable to furnish them. Teachers in the United States are not paid as well as other similarly educated professionals, studies have found.
“It might be paint and glitter, it might be batteries if we’re talking about science projects, or water bottles for the volcanoes. . . . We’re constantly replenishing and we’re trying to do these things week after week,” Oklahoma teacher Teresa Danks told The Washington Post in July.
Danks made national headlines when she began panhandling to raise money for school supplies. She had been spending $2,000 a year on school supplies, but could no longer do so on her $35,000 annual salary.
“All this stuff, it costs money. I want the proper tools to do my job well. I wouldn’t ask somebody to build my house with a spoon,” Danks added.
Two years ago, Ellen DeGeneres praised a Virginia teacher who was shelling out for school supplies despite living paycheck to paycheck. The TV talk show host gave the teacher a load of prizes to thank her for her good work.
“You go above and beyond, and you pay for things out of your own pocket when you can’t even afford to do things for yourself, which is an amazing thing you’re doing, and we love that about you,” DeGeneres told Megan Bentley in a segment broadcast on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
Bentley, who had taken on a second job to help pay off student loans, later said she had plans for the gift cards DeGeneres had given her: more school supplies.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated how much teachers spend out of pocket on school supplies, according to one report. This story has been updated.