Local educators fear House tax bill will cut money for school supplies

Teachers and taxes

CEDAR SPRINGS, MICH. - The item in the House of Representatives tax reform bill that would eliminate a deduction that teachers use to buy school supplies for students, will hurt West Michigan classrooms, local educators said Tuesday. 

The  Republican-backed legislation, which passed with a 227-205 vote, would overhaul the country's tax code. Part of that overhaul includes the educator expense deduction, which allows teachers to receive up to $250 in reimbursements for classroom supplies. Congress made the provision permanent in December 2015.

The deduction is a point of validation for teachers, which is being taken away, said Michelle Upham, a first-grade teacher at Cedar Trails Elementary in Cedar Springs.

"The GOP is saying that what I do isn't valuable anymore," Upham said. "[They're saying] what I do isn't important anymore to have that small amount taken out."

Teachers often spend even more on classroom supplies than the deduction reimburses. A 2013 study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association found that teachers spend an average of $485 of their own money on supplies each year. Another 2016 report said the figure is closer to $600 per year. 

"A light year might be $500," Upham said. "An avarage year, I spend between $500-$3,000."

The NSSEA study found that 99.5 percent of teachers use the deduction. While the House bill would eliminate it, the outline of the Senate bill would increase the deduction from $250 to $500. 

The cut will be more harmful to urban districts, and it has racial undertones, said Mary Bouwense, president of the Grand Rapids Education Association.

"The teachers with the poorest students, [and] the teachers that have the least income are the ones who are going to get more hit with the expenses," Bouwense said. 

Upham said the cut may prompt many disheartened teachers to spend less on their students, but she will try to maintain her spending. 

"I want my students to read," she said. "I'll still look for the books, and I'll look for the deals. But it's a blow to my heart that I don't feel valued."

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