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teacher tax deductions


Teachers now get a higher tax deduction for supplies they buy. It's still totally insulting.

The new amount still doesn't come close to covering what teachers pay out of pocket.

Photo by Monica Sedra on Unsplash

The IRS raised the tax deduction limit for teachers from $250 to $300.

When I first saw the headline that the IRS was raising the tax deduction limit for teachers buying classroom supplies with their own money—you know, the necessary items to do their jobs well—I was thrilled. The previous deduction of $250 was laughable, a virtual slap in the face to professionals who regularly spend two, three or four times that amount per year buying supplies for their students out of their own pocket.

But when I saw the amount the deduction was raised to, I rage laughed. $300? Are you kidding me?

It sounds great to say, "We're raising the tax deduction for teachers by 20%" until you realize that the teacher deduction hasn't been raised since 2002 and that 20% increase is a measly $50.

Fifty bucks spread over 20 years is $2.50 a year. Whoop dee frickin' do. That doesn't even come close to keeping up with inflation, for the love. Just to keep up with inflation, that $250 deduction from two decades ago should be over $400 now.

And again, even that amount wouldn't be close to enough. An AdoptaClassroom survey of 5,400 PreK-12 teachers at public, private and charter schools across the U.S. found that teachers spent an average of $750 out of their own pockets for school supplies during the 2020-21 school year. About 30% spent more than $1,000.

In the face of that reality, raising the deduction limit from $250 to $300 is ridiculous, gross, rude, disrespectful and insulting. Teachers are professionals who are already paid less than what they're worth. The fact that they have to buy supplies out of their own pockets at all is a travesty. The least we can do is let them deduct whatever they spend out of their taxes.

I've been a teacher and I've also been a business owner. The number of things a business owner can legally deduct is bonkers. You can deduct so many things from your business income that you pay zero taxes on it, and we're putting this painfully low limit on out-of-pocket teacher supplies? Why? Who wins here?

Honestly, why do we even have a deduction limit for teachers at all? It feels like whoever makes these decisions either doesn't fully trust teachers or thinks they aren't deserving of reasonable compensation. I mean, how much do they really think teachers are going to be able to deduct here even if there were no limit? Newsflash: Teachers aren't rolling in extra dough. They're not looking for ways to game the tax system to avoid tax liability. They're literally spending their own money on their jobs—which is ridiculous—and hoping to get some back from the very same government that employs and pays them.

In recent years, some teachers have shared that they're simply refusing to buy classroom supplies out of their own pocket anymore, pointing out that it doesn't solve the problem, but masks it. It's also simply not doable for many. The teaching profession tends to draw people who are willing to make sacrifices for kids, which is admirable, but financial sacrifice should not be an expectation inherent in the job.

When I say teachers aren't paid what they are worth, I mean it literally. People who haven't worked in a classroom have no idea. The energy it entails, the responsibility it requires, the emotional toll it takes and the time outside of school hours dedicated to the work are beyond any other job I've ever had. Yes, the work can be rewarding, but a lot of times it isn't. In no other profession do we expect people to do so much for so little.

It's not just that teachers deserve to be paid well. (Not merely adequately, but well.) Our kids also deserve teachers who are valued by everyone around them. They deserve teachers who have all the resources they need to educate to the best of their ability. They deserve beautiful learning environments and classrooms full of learning materials that their teachers didn't have to dip into their wallets to pay for. They deserve to live in a society that prioritizes education above everything else, a society that understands quality education is the root of solutions to most problems.

Teachers are quitting in droves and many of those who are staying are barely hanging on. We can't afford to keep losing good teachers. Money isn't the only reason teachers are quitting, but it doesn't help. Let's drop the tax deduction limit altogether. It's quite literally the least we can do.