Posted in SchoolFunding, Teaching Career

Teachers Subsidize Schools

The Indiana State Teachers Association posted a review of the new education laws effective July 1, 2015. Included in the list is this one…

New State Education Laws Effective July 1

Educator Tax Credit (HEA 1001)
The state’s budget includes a new state income tax credit for teachers who spend their own money to pay for classroom supplies currently deductible under federal tax laws. The credit, a direct dollar-for-dollar offset of your state income tax liability, is capped at the lesser amount of what you spend on qualifying supplies or $100 each taxable year. Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, members should retain appropriate receipts for tax purposes.

This Indiana tax credit goes along with the Federal Income Tax deduction of $250 (note that a credit is better than a deduction since the former reduces your actual tax while the latter just reduces your taxable income).

This new law is good news for Indiana’s teachers, right?

Well…yes and no. We all know that teachers spend money on their classes during the school year. The National School Supply and Equipment Association (NSSEA) (an organization of school supply retailers) found that nearly all teachers spend money on their classrooms and the average amount spent nationally is just under $500 per teacher.

The study found that 99.5 percent of all public school teachers spent some amount of money out of pocket, with the national average for 2013-2013 [sic] coming in at $485 among those surveyed.

Getting a $100 credit on one’s state income tax, as well as the $250 deduction on federal income tax is nice for teachers. Most, if not all, teachers would continue to spend money on their classes for needed supplies or for their students whether or not they got a credit or deduction, but every little bit helps.

Two things, however, bother me about this.

I agree that tax money, in this case in the form of credits and deductions, ought to be spent on schools, supplies for public schools, and, when necessary, food, clothing, and supplies for children. We all benefit from public schools so we all are responsible for adequately funding them. However, there are two main reasons why public school teachers spend money for school.

  • Schools are underfunded and supplies like paper, markers, books, and toilet paper are not always available. Since teachers need these things to do their job, they buy them with their own money.
  • Low income students often don’t have winter coats, shoes, book bags, or meals (aside from breakfast and lunch at school). Teachers support students with these sorts of gifts.

Teachers pay for these because the appropriate source of funding — school budgets or parent income — isn’t always available, especially in underfunded schools with a preponderance of students from low-income families.

In a recently republished 2005 letter to Reading Today, Stephen Krashen wrote

Teachers face a serious moral dilemma. If they don’t spend their own money on books, equipment, and even toilet paper, the students suffer, especially students from low-income families who often attend seriously underfunded schools and have little access to books outside of school. If teachers do spend their own money, there is no pressure on the system to supply these essentials…

School districts know that teachers will “pick up the slack” to help their students, and because of tight, reduced, or low funding they, often reluctantly, rely on the generosity of their teachers to provide what the system cannot. States, especially those run by “reformers” in the legislature or governor’s office, continue to cut the budgets for public schools (many choosing, instead, to fund vouchers and charter schools), so school districts are finding themselves with less and less money for supplies.

The problem is not that teachers buy things for their classrooms…or that they are only partially reimbursed for supplies and necessities purchased…

The problem is that teachers are placed in the position of having to subsidize their employer because federal, state, and local funding is inadequate.

Children in America are just not a high priority.

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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Retired after 35 years in public education.