Teachers sound off on potentially losing classroom supply tax deduction

The tax plan approved by the House would eliminate the “educator expense deduction” which allows teachers and administrators to deduct up to $250 for out-of-pocket expenses used in their classrooms and schools: items such as books, school supplies, decorations and computer software. Professional development expenses are also included in the deduction, which was made permanent by Congress in 2015. By contrast, the Senate is considering doubling the education tax deduction to $500, but it’s anyone’s guess how this will come out.

Educators are very concerned about the possibility of losing this tax deduction, especially while the GOP tax plan provides very large deductions for wealthy individuals and corporations. Below is some of the reaction we have seen in recent days. First is a letter from La Crosse teacher Jill Gorell, followed by comments submitted on our Facebook page:

Jill Gorell, 8th Grade Teacher, La Crosse Education Association member:

Being a teacher means spending a lot of personal funds on students and the classroom. I cringe when I see the “end of the year” receipts indicating how much I have spent on my students. It’s overwhelming. Adding to the equation, I’m a single mother, as well as a teacher, who is trying to take care of my own children and their expenses. It’s not easy.

I spend money every day on my 8th grade students. I am constantly providing food for my at-risk and students of poverty who complain on a daily basis how hungry they are. With that, I have a container full of granola bars and other healthy snacks for them to “secretly” grab when their stomachs are growling. In addition to having a bin of snacks, I oftentimes pay off debt on overdue lunch accounts so students can eat lunch. On occasion, I have purchased clothing (such as socks, underwear, and bras) for students who have been at shelters the night before school and are embarrassed because the clothes they are wearing aren’t appropriate or just don’t fit. I provide feminine products to my female students and I’ve been known to give money to students who cannot afford to pay for a school field trip.

Who buys Kleenex, pencils, paper, book bags, notebooks, pens, pencil sharpeners, markers, bus tokens, folders, calculators, and poster boards for the classroom and students? I do. I do this because my students come to school without materials.

These expenses are paid for by me – a hard working single mom who’s a caring and compassionate educator. I cannot imagine “not” helping my students. I do this because it’s the right thing to do.

Eliminating the teacher expense “tax deduction” is beyond hurtful, disappointing, and quite simply a slap in every educator’s face. Educators personally spend hundreds, even thousands, of dollars every year on their students. To eliminate the $250 deduction is yet another attack on the generosity of teachers.

Below are some of the Facebook comments we received when we asked educators how elimination of this tax deduction would affect them and their students (read more here):

Entire comment: It will become the books for my classroom library I won’t buy, the pens and pencils, folders and notebooks I give to my students who can’t buy them. The treats I buy to reward them for reaching their goals. The small tokens of my appreciation that I give them to show that I care that they are reading their goals.

More of this comment: This is another mostly symbolic gesture by those in power to show us how little they value our profession and working people in general. Most of us spend 3-4 times the $250 they allow us to deduct from our income.

Entire comment: I buy the newest popular books for my class. The books I have are older and in order to engage students and help them fall in love with reading. Books aren’t cheap. I have purchased bookshelves, the type from Walmart. I buy art supplies and basic supplies. The deduction makes me feel that at least someone acknowledges it is a necessity. The amount should go up not be eliminated. This tax plan is for the middle class?????????? Really????

Republican tax plan is ‘giveaway to wealthiest paid for by students and working families’

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a multi-trillion dollar tax plan that funds tax breaks for the wealthiest and corporations on the backs of students and working families. The bill, championed by Republican leaders, eliminates a popular tax deduction that allows educators to deduct up to $250 of the money they spend on their classrooms and students. The bill also expands a tax loophole for the wealthiest to pay for private school expenses while cutting tax deductions for the middle class. The elimination of most of the state and local tax deductions would blow a hole in state and local revenue to support public education and risk funding for nearly 250,000 education jobs, including 4,680 in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin’s students lose big with today’s vote,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, an eighth grade teacher. “It’s wholely irresponsible, including a provision eliminating tax deductions for teachers who buy classroom supplies, while allowing corporations to keep their deductions. This is highly hypocritical especially since some Republicans voted to make this deduction permanent in 2015. Now they want to eliminate it.”

The tax plan would cut up to $4.6 million from Wisconsin schools over 10 years.

“Hypocrisy is at the heart of the tax plan approved today by the U.S. House of Representatives,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “It reveals the ill-conceived and misguided priorities of Republican leaders in Washington. Repeatedly, their plan takes from working families to pay for massive tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthy.”

The House tax bill eliminates the state and local deduction for people but keeps it for corporations. It eliminates the educator tax deduction for school supplies but allows corporations to continue to claim deductions for supplies they purchase. It eliminates the student loan deduction but opens a new loophole for wealthy families to sock away money to pay for private school tuition.

“It is outrageous to expand education tax loopholes for wealthy families to stash away money for private school,” Martin said. “Make no mistake: this poorly veiled and risky voucher program will only benefit those who can already afford private school tuition at the expense of our students and neighborhood public schools – where 9 out of 10 children attend. This is not normal. As with their health care debacle this year, Republican leaders are rushing to pass a massive, partisan bill that impacts every American household, critical public services like education, and our economy without giving it the scrutiny and deliberation it deserves. The American people demand Congress reject this reckless plan.”

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Legislative Update – November 13, 2017

Sparsity Aid. A sparsity aid package designed to help rural schools won’t clear the house in this session, the Assembly Majority Leader told a statehouse insider news publication. The $9.7 million package would have provided rural districts with 745 students or less with $400 per pupil through sparsity aid rather than the current $300. There also would have been a second tier in the program for districts with between 746 and 1,000 pupils of $100 per student. Read the Legislative Reference Bureau Memo. In saying that the proposal wouldn’t move, Representative Robin Vos said the budget has made “historic” investments in schools, and school funding won’t be revisited. Public school advocates counter the “historic” notion – noting that the per-pupil increase in the budget, made outside of the funding formula, doesn’t restore the nearly billion dollars cut from public schools since 2011.

In the Assembly last week:

  • Montessori Teaching License. AB-423 (companion bill SB-299),which would grant an initial teaching license based on completion of a Montessori teacher education program, passed the Assembly.
  • Human Trafficking + Drivers Ed. AB-540 (companion bill SB-444), which would require education instruction on human trafficking in drivers education courses, was placed on the Assembly calendar.
  • Pupil Exam Information. AB-300, which would increase/expedite the information about mandatory pupil examinations available to families, passed the Assembly.
  • Pupil Exam Opt-Out. AB-304, which would allow a pupil’s parent or guardian to opt out of certain statewide examinations, except the civics exam required to graduate, passed the Assembly.

The full Assembly and Senate are now recessed until January, but here are a number of legislative meetings planned this week, including:

Wednesday:

Thursday:

Don’t forget to take action on the proposal to eliminate Wisconsin FMLA!

Nearly 250,000 education jobs at risk if Congress eliminates state and local tax deduction

From the National Education Association

As part of its $5 trillion tax plan giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations, the U.S. House Republican leadership bill eliminates most of the state and local tax deduction (SALT). Its elimination could blow a hole in state and local revenue to support public education and put nearly 250,000 education jobs at risk, according to a detailed analysis of the impact of House Tax Bill (HR 1) on funding for public education conducted by the National Education Association.

In Wisconsin, that would put 4,680 educator jobs in jeopardy and risk the loss of $4.6 million in support of public elementary and secondary schools over the next 10 years.

“The Republican leadership’s tax plan is another example of misguided priorities in Washington,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “The plan is a tax giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations paid for on the backs of working people and students. It would jeopardize the ability of state and local governments to fund public education. That will translate into cuts to public schools, lost jobs to educators, overcrowded classrooms that deprive students of one-on-one attention, and threaten public education.”

The NEA analysis also showed that the bill would lead to cuts of approximately $250 billion in support for public education over the next 10 years. Corporations, by the way, get to keep their state and local tax deductions. A cut of this magnitude is akin to eliminating the Title I and IDEA special education programs overnight. If enacted, the elimination of state and local tax deduction could have a negative, ripple effect on states’ and local communities’ ability to fund public services such as public education.

The impact of eliminating SALT on public education is nearly equal to the education jobs lost during the Great Recession. By most accounts, the country lost about 300,000 education jobs during that time. To cope with the economic crisis our country faced, schools made draconian cuts to public education funding that had a negative impact on students. In addition to losing teachers, school aides, and other key education support professionals, some school districts reduced the number of school days from five to four; and critical education programs (before and after school programs, kindergarten) also took a hit. Class sizes ballooned.

The Republican leadership bill comes as the nation also faces a teacher shortage. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, every state in the country was facing a teacher shortage. In addition, according to the Washington Post, school districts also are struggling to fill positions in math, reading and English language arts, as well as finding substitute teachers.

“It has taken years to recover from the Great Recession, and we’re not out of the woods yet, what with our country facing a national teacher shortage,” continued Eskelsen García. “We must ensure that our students have caring, qualified, and committed educators in order to succeed. Now here come the tax cuts for the rich paid for by students and middle-class families. This bill is terrible for the American people because it is a giveaway for the wealthy and corporations funded on the backs of students and the middle class – and Congress should soundly reject it.”

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WEAC supporting effort by ‘Wisconsin Family Ties’ to oppose student discipline measure

WEAC is supporting an effort by Wisconsin Family Ties to oppose the so-called “Teacher Protection Act,” a pending bill in the Legislature that presents a misguided approach to student discipline.

Wisconsin Family Ties has created a Facebook post encouraging educators, parents and other citizens to contact their legislators expressing concern about this pending measure now known as LRB-0917.

The organization says the measure:

  • Infringes on student privacy rights.
  • Encourages ineffective, punitive responses to disability-related behavior.
  • Creates detrimental linkages between out-of-school incidents and school records.
  • Expands the “school to prison pipeline”.
  • Undermines the administrative chain of command, potentially placing teachers, administrators, and school boards at odds over established policy.
  • Compromises due process rights regarding suspension for students with disabilities.
  • Disproportionately affects students with disabilities and mental health challenges.

WFT action alert is online at: http://tinyurl.com/y8688wvz

WEAC already is on record opposing the measure being advanced by Republican Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt, and has sent him a letter outlining WEAC’s concerns. WEAC instead has proposed implementation of a set of Educator Protection Principles. In addition, the School Administrators Alliance, disability rights groups, and even the WI DPI have weighed in to urge Thiesfeldt not to introduce his bill.

Legislative Update – November 6

WEAC ACTION ALERT! A bill to end Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave coverage would significantly harm Wisconsin families. Senate bill 490 would end the right to use paid sick leave while on family leave to care for a child after birth or adoption, and has many other negative impacts. The bill, which does not have a companion in the Assembly at this time, was referred to Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform. Read more, and then email the bill’s sponsors!

Here are some other bills WEAC is watching:

Character Education. SB-329/AB-419 would require professional development training in character education for teachers, principals, and school district administrators, was forwarded by the Senate Education Committee, and the Assembly version is currently in its Education Committee.

Competitive Bidding for School Districts. The Senate has voted in favor of  SB-236/AB 307, which would require a school board to advertise any project for construction, repair, remodeling or improvement of a public school building or public school facilities or for the furnishing of supplies or materials with an estimated cost greater than $50,000, and let the contract to the lowest responsible bidder. The bill would prohibit a school board from giving preference for where the bidder is located or using criteria other than the lowest responsible bidder. The competitive bidding bill has had a public hearing in the Assembly.

Drivers Education. An Assembly committee has forwarded AB540, requiring information on identifying and acting on suspicion of human trafficking in driver education courses. A fiscal estimate has been received for the companion bill, SB-444.

Financial Literacy in Schools. The Senate has passed SB-212/AB-280, which would require public schools to incorporate financial literacy into the curriculum. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards reports that school officials have worked with the authors and believe that most, if not all, districts already meet the criteria.  The bill is on the governor’s desk.

Prohibiting Discrimination. SB-328 adds gender identity or gender expression as a prohibited basis for
discrimination in employment, housing, and the equal enjoyment of a public place of accommodation or amusement; prohibits the UW System, the Technical College System, public elementary and secondary schools, and charter schools from discriminating against a student on the basis of the student’s gender identity or gender expression; and prohibits exclusion of a person from jury duty on the basis
of the person’s gender identity or gender expression.

Pupil Assessment Access. The Assembly Rules Committee moved forward on AB-488, which relates to access to pupil assessments that are required to be administered by school boards, operators of independent charter schools, and private schools participating in a parental choice program and repealing rules related to accessing pupil assessments.

Sanctuary Cities. The Senate Labor & Regulatory Reform forwarded SB-275, which would prohibit local ordinances, resolutions, and policies that prohibit the enforcement of federal or state law relating to illegal aliens or immigration status, authorizing certain elective officeholders to commence an enforcement action, providing a reduction in shared revenue payments, and creating governmental liability for damages caused by illegal aliens.

Supplemental Aid for Large-Area Districts. A bill to provide supplemental aid for school districts with a large area, AB-477, was passed by the Assembly.

Tuberculosis Screening. AB-382 / SB 382 was forwarded by the Assembly Rules Committee. The measure requires screening school district employees for tuberculosis. The Assembly will take up the bill Thursday.

Coming up:

  • The Wisconsin Economic Development Board will meet Wednesday to review the Foxconn contract in closed session.
  • The Assembly will meet Thursday. Among the items it will take up are AB-488, regarding access to pupil assessments that are required to be administered by school boards, operators of independent charter schools, and private schools participating in a parental choice program and repealing rules related to accessing pupil assessments.

Bills Circulating for Co-Sponsorship:

LRB-4670 would restore and improve on school district low revenue limits, something that was vetoed from the final budget. Read the memo.

WEAC continues to monitor legislative activity and the impact on educators and working families. Look for our updates and encourage your colleagues to sign up for them as well. Direct your questions to communications@weac.org.

Legislative Update: October 31

A bill to end Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave coverage would significantly harm Wisconsin families. Senate bill 490 would end the right to use paid sick leave while on family leave to care for a child after birth or adoption, and has many other negative impacts. The bill, which does not have a companion in the Assembly at this time, was referred to the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform. Read more, and then email the bill’s sponsors!

The state Senate returned to the floor today for the first time since approving the budget last month. Here are the items on today’s docket; look for WEAC to report out on the various measures going forward:

  • Competitive Bidding for School Districts. This bill prescribes how school districts conduct competitive bidding. Senate Bill 236/AB 307 would require a school board to advertise any project for construction, repair, remodeling or improvement of a public school building or public school facilities or for the furnishing of supplies or materials with an estimated cost greater than $75,000 (this number may be lowered based on amendments), and let the contract to the lowest responsible bidder. The bill would prohibit a school board from giving preference for where the bidder is located or using criteria other than the lowest responsible bidder.
  • Montessori Teaching License. Senate Bill 299/AB 423 would grant an initial teaching license based on completion of a Montessori teacher education program.
  • School Employee Tuberculosis Screening. SB 382/AB 382 would require screening of school district employees for tuberculosis.
  • Financial Literacy in Schools. Assembly Bill 280/SB 212 would require public schools to incorporate financial literacy into the curriculum.

More on Educator Protection Principles
WEAC would like to see principles for protecting all educators on the job, not short-sighted legislation like the proposed bill by Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt. We’re not alone. The School Administrators Alliance, disability rights groups, and even the WI DPI have weighed in to urge Thiesfeldt not to introduce his bill. Read WEAC story.

4-Year-Old Kindergarten. A bill circulating for co-sponsorship would require school boards to make 4-year-old kindergarten available to all eligible pupils beginning in the 2019-20 school year. The bill requires the Department of Public Instruction to provide state aid to each school district for the costs to operate a 4-year-old kindergarten program in the district. The bill adds this state aid for 4-year-old kindergarten to the definition of state aid for revenue limit purposes.

Another bill circulating would change to consider any 4K pupil in a district that requires full-day attendance as one pupil, instead of a half pupil. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce has issued its support for full funding for 4K.

The Assembly will be in session Thursday. Depending on the work it gets done, floor sessions are also scheduled for Tuesday, November 7, and Thursday, November 9. Amid the items on its schedule is AB-477 which would provide supplemental aid for school districts with a large area.

Expanding drivers ed to include information on human trafficking. The Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee will vote next week on AB 540, which would require drivers education programs to include instruction about how to identify human trafficking, and what a driver should do if something is suspected.

Other bills we’re watching:

  • SB 494 School Reports. Publication of school and school district accountability reports. Referred to Senate Education Committee.
  • SB 500 Redistricting. Legislative and congressional redistricting. Referred to Senate Elections and Utilities Committee.
  • AB 589/SB 465 Sign Language Interpreters at School Events. This bill would replace the current licensure program for sign language interpreters. Under this, an individual licensed by DPI and providing sign language interpretation services at a school or school-sponsored event is not required to be licensed by the board. The bill also includes other temporary and permanent exemptions from licensure.

Bills circulating for co-sponsorship:

LRB-0272 Memo Feminine Hygiene Products in Schools. Provision of feminine hygiene products in state and local buildings and school buildings.

Private school voucher enrollment up 8 percent, cost to taxpayers is $270 million

Enrollment in Wisconsin private school vouchers programs increased nearly 8 percent this year and cost state taxpayers $270 million, an increase of $25.5 million over last year, according to figures released Monday by the Department of Public Instruction.

Across the three programs – Milwaukee, Racine and statewide – a total of 36,249 students received a voucher to attend one of the 238 participating private schools. This is an increase of 2,684 students and 29 schools across the three programs compared to the prior school year.

Generally, the vouchers are paid for through a mixture of general purpose state revenue or money taken away from the public school district where the student resides.

There are 3,007 students in the Racine program, 4,540 students in the statewide program and 28,702 in Milwaukee.

For the 2017-18 school year, each participating private school may receive a voucher payment of $7,530 per FTE (full-time equivalent) in grades kindergarten through eight and $8,176 per FTE for students enrolled in grades nine through 12.

Read more from DPI:

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Legislative Update – September 18 – Senate passes budget, sends to governor

The State Senate passed a $76 billion state budget over the weekend, clearing the way for the governor to act – likely this week. The governor has said he will veto some measures, so this is your chance to send a letter asking him to veto bad budget provisions like restrictions on local control of school boards in referendums and the break-apart of the Racine Unified School District.

Email the Governor

The budget is a mixed bag for public schools. It represents a 6 percent increase in state funding for K-12 schools – the first public school increase in six years. That includes a per-pupil increase outside of the school funding formula of $200 and $204 each year of the budget. Increases in categorical aids are also included, in areas such as mental health supports and rural school support.

The budget also continues the state’s practice of siphoning funds from public schools to subsidize private school tuition. Private school vouchers will be increased $217 per pupil each year of the budget, and the income limit is expanded to allow high-earning households to receive tax-funded tuition vouchers. Special needs vouchers are also expanded, and funding is increased substantially.

Teacher licensure is upended in the budget, and performance-based funding for higher education is also implemented.

According to senators who held up a vote based on their objections, the governor has already agreed to use his veto pen to:

  • Remove an option for school districts to hold a special election in November of odd-numbered years. The measure is part of referendum restrictions contained in the budget requiring districts to conduct referendums only on regularly scheduled primary and general election days.
  • Eliminate the energy efficiency exemption to the school district revenue limit. Districts currently are allowed to undertake cost-saving efficiency measures outside of the revenue limit, but this puts an end to that option starting in the first year of the budget.
  • Repeal prevailing wage on state projects immediately, instead of the in September 2018.

The Senate voted 19-14 to pass the budget, with all Republicans except Sen. David Craig, from the Town of Vernon, in favor and all Democrats against. Craig objected to overall spending increases.

To see key components of the budget bill, go to www.weac.org/budget.

Key amendments for schools voted down
Senate Democrats introduced budget amendments allowing Wisconsinites to refinance student loans through a new state authority, accepting the Medicaid expansion, boosting funding for broadband expansion grants and putting more money toward K-12. All were voted down. Senator Janet Bewley of Ashland said Republicans approved a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn while underfunding rural schools. “We shouldn’t pay Foxconn first and our kids later. This is not fair. I am not proud of this budget.”

Coming up in the Legislature
Late Friday, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety scheduled a vote for Tuesday on a bill (SB 169) to repeal Wisconsin’s state “gun-free school zones” statute. The bill was met with heated debate at a public hearing in May and many news outlets have editorialized against it.

The Assembly Education Committee has scheduled a vote on several education-related bills for Thursday, including AB 423 to expand teacher licenses for Montessori programs; AB 477 to incorporate into law a supplemental aid program for a school district having 500 or fewer pupils and that is at least 200 square miles; and AB 488 to require the Department of Public Instruction to make available, upon request, practice examinations or sample items related to knowledge and concept examinations required to be administered under state law. Under current law, DPI must allow a person to view a knowledge and concepts examination if the person submits a written request within 90 days after the examination is administered.

WEAC continues to monitor legislative activity and the impact on educators and working families. Look for our updates and encourage your colleagues to sign up for them as well. Direct your questions to communications@weac.org.

 

Martin says Walker is ‘out of touch’ after governor objects to coalition’s education accountability plan

Governor Walker objected Wednesday to Wisconsin’s education accountability plan drafted by a broad-ranging coalition of education stakeholders and with tremendous input from teachers and education support professionals. The governor called the expansive plan to guarantee opportunities for all Wisconsin students too bureaucratic and said it didn’t go far enough.

“The governor is out of touch with the people of the state,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, an eighth grade teacher who served on Wisconsin’s Equity Council comprised of state residents, parents, educators and public school leaders. The group met for 18 months to create a state education plan that crosses ideological lines and does what’s best for students. Over six months, expansive outreach was conducted to collect input from current educators and families about what works – and what doesn’t.

“I’m not aware of any other state that has such a high level council dedicated to the new federal education law,” Martin said. “It’s time for Wisconsin to move past partisan politics when it comes to our students, and instead expand opportunities for them to succeed.”

The deadline to submit the plan to the federal government is Monday, at which time it will be made public. The governor does not have veto authority over the state plan, and had representatives on the council that developed it. Wisconsin’s plan was created over several months based on feedback from Walker and a wide array of groups, including those representing K-12 school districts, parents, teachers, voucher schools, non-white students, the disabled, gay, lesbian and transgender children, the Legislature, the University of Wisconsin and technical colleges.

Approval of the plan is not up to Walker, but to Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos. WEAC and other representatives on the Equity Council plan to draft letters of support for the plan, challenging the governor’s statements.

All 50 states must submit accountability plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to continue receiving federal education funding. Wisconsin gets more than $500 million per year in such funding.

In opposing the plan and calling for a new proposal, the governor held up other states, like Tennessee, for their approaches to “drive improvement through bold reforms.”