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????

95 percent of Wisconsin public school districts meet or exceed expectations in new statewide ‘report card’

Racine Unified School District scored a passing grade in the latest round of state report cards, meaning it won’t face the possibility of area villages breaking off and forming their own districts.

A provision in this year’s state budget would have allowed Mount Pleasant, Sturtevant and Caledonia to leave Racine Unified if the district received a failing grade.

More than 95 percent of Wisconsin public school districts meet or exceed expectations in a new “report card” released Tuesday by the Department of Public Instruction. Private schools accounted for nearly 25% of the schools that failed to meet expectations, and most of those private schools are part of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (the voucher program), according to an analysis of the report cards by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That is a very high percentage of voucher schools making the “failing” list, given the fact that they make up a much lower percentage of schools overall. In addition, 140 private voucher schools were not rated because of insufficient data.

“On one hand, the vast majority of parents choose public schools for their students, and more than 95 percent of districts are meeting or exceeding expectations set forth on the report cards,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “On the other hand, there is a troubling number of voucher schools still unaccountable for performance – even though private school tuition is paid for by taxpayers.

“If Wisconsin is serious about school performance, legislators should focus and invest in the public schools that serve the majority of students instead of siphoning public school funds off to private voucher schools.”


From the Department of Public Instruction:

In the second year of report cards that use legislatively mandated growth and value-added calculations, 82 percent of Wisconsin’s public and private school report cards had three or more stars, meaning the schools met or exceeded expectations for educating students. More than 95 percent of the state’s public school districts earned a three-star rating.

Overall, 361 public and private school report cards earned five-star ratings, 719 had four stars, 643 had three stars, 261 had two stars, and 117 schools earned one star. Another 173 schools achieved satisfactory progress and 21 need improvement through alternate accountability. There were 152 report cards for 140 private choice schools that are not rated because there was insufficient data. This is the second year that choice schools were included in report cards and the second year the schools could opt to have both a choice student and an all student report card.

On district level report cards, 44 districts earned five-star ratings, 190 had four stars, 166 earned three stars, and 20 had two stars. One district, the Herman-Rubicon-Neosho School District, was not rated because of district consolidation. Another district, the Norris School District with enrollment of 14 students in 2016-17, made satisfactory progress through alternate accountability.

Alternate accountability is a district supervised self-evaluation of a school’s performance on raising student achievement in English language arts and mathematics. The alternate accountability process is used for new schools, schools without tested grades, schools exclusively serving at-risk students, and schools with fewer than 20 full academic year students who took state tests.

Accountability ratings are calculated on four priority areas: student achievement in English language arts and mathematics, school growth, closing gaps between student groups, and measures of postsecondary readiness, which includes graduation and attendance rates, third-grade English language arts achievement, and eighth-grade mathematics achievement. Additionally, schools and districts could have point deductions for missing targets for student engagement: absenteeism must be less than 13 percent and dropout rates must be less than 6 percent.

For the 2016-17 report cards, 162 schools and 24 districts had score fluctuations of 10 or more points in both overall and growth scores compared to 2015-16, which is larger variability than expected. Their report cards carry a ^ notation because it is unclear if the score change accurately reflects the amount of change in performance or a symptom of statistical volatility. Report card requirements in Wisconsin Act 55, the 2015-17 budget bill, mandated the use of value-added growth scoring and variable weighting based on the percentage of economically disadvantaged students enrolled in a school or district. Prior to Act 55, overall annual report card score change averaged 3.3 points. Since Act 55, the average score change is 5.8 points. Although volatility in value-added scores may decrease with another year of Forward testing, score fluctuations are likely to continue especially for small schools and districts as well as schools and districts with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students. The Department of Public Instruction is engaging with state policymakers, technical experts, and stakeholders about how best to address these issues. Any changes to school report cards growth or weighting calculations will require legislative action.

Report cards are intended to help schools and districts use performance data to target improvement efforts to ensure students are ready for their next educational step, including the next grade level, graduation, college, and careers. The 2016-17 report cards use data from a variety of sources, including information reported through WISEdash and two years of Forward and one year of Badger testing as well as three years ACT Plus Writing and Dynamic Learning Maps testing for growth calculations. At least three and up to five years of data are used for the gaps priority area and four years of data is needed to calculate a graduation rate. Schools and districts have access to a number of accountability resources on the department website to support report card discussions with parents, school staff, and the public.

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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7 out of 10 school referendums pass

Voters on Tuesday approved seven out of 10 school referendums throughout Wisconsin. Referendums were approved in Barneveld (2), Cochrane-Fountain City, Florence, Princeton, Three Lakes and Union Grove. Referendums lost in Freedom (2) and Milton.

The Milton and Freedom referendums were the largest in the state this year, each at about $70 million. The Milton money would have been used to build a new high school and swimming pool, convert the existing high school to a middle school and the middle school to an intermediate school. Last year, voters rejected an $87 million plan. The Freedom district had sought funds mainly for a new high school and renovations of the current high school, middle school and elementary school.

Officials in the Three Lakes district had said that if the $15.5 million referendum failed the school district may have been forced to shut down. It passed 750-294, allowing the district to exceed revenue limits by just over $3 million per year for five years.

Barneveld’s two approved referendums amounted to $16.3 million. Work will include demolition of the oldest portion of the existing school building; construction of an addition for a new elementary school, music rooms and art rooms; construction of a new secure entrance, cafeteria, commons and kitchen; upgrades to restrooms, HVAC and plumbing and electrical systems.

Other amounts approved include: $7 million in Cochrane-Fountain City, $3.7 million in Florence, $2.4 million in Princeton, and $7.9 million in Union Grove.

 

Charts detail financial impact of private school vouchers on state’s public school districts

School Funding Reform For Wisconsin has created charts like this for every Senate district in the state. Click chart to view them.

An organization called School Funding Reform For Wisconsin has compiled a series of informative charts that summarize the financial impact of taxpayer-funded private school voucher programs on public school districts throughout the state. The charts are grouped by Senate district.

It is important to note, the organization says, that school boards are being placed in the difficult position of either:

  1. Losing this funding from their budgets permanently, resulting in loss of opportunities and programs for students, or
  2. Replacing lost aid by raising local property taxes.

In effect, it says, state legislators are forcing local taxpayers to pay for vouchers in their school districts.

A recent WEAC Research Brief concludes that there is little evidence to substantiate the expansion of private voucher schools on the grounds that they are intended to help student achievement:

“Research in Wisconsin and other states consistently shows little to no voucher school advantage, and in fact often documents significant ill-effects on students including: school closings, high rates of student attrition for lower-performing students, and decreased assessment scores in math and reading.”

View all the charts.

Find out more about the impact of taxpayer-funded private school vouchers on Wisconsin’s public school districts and students.

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Study recommends positive alternatives to school closings

School closures across the country have nearly doubled since the mid-1990s, with thousands of students being displaced every year, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by CREDO (read about the group), examined school closure data from 1,522 low-performing schools that were closed across 26 states between 2006 and 2013. To date, this has been the most comprehensive data set ever compiled regarding school closures.

Read the Review

The study points out important facts about the fallout of school closings, such as how students of color and low-income students are disproportionately affected and how less than half of displaced students end up in better performing schools following school closure. One thing the report doesn’t do, however, is point out the moral dilemma of closing schools for low-performance.

When low-performing schools close, students and families are displaced, and tremendous stress occurs within that community. Instead of closing schools, policymakers and education leaders need to work with communities to find solutions that ensure all students have access to a quality and equitable education.  More importantly, students, parents, local communities, district and state policymakers may be better off investing in persistently low-performing schools rather than closing them.

Here are a couple of the top research conclusions:

  • Considerations of school closures should take demographics or economic composition into consideration to ensure communities are not disproportionately affected by school closures.
  • There needs to be enough higher performing schools nearby to educate displaced students.

Read the original study, Lights Off: Practice and Impact of Closing Low-Performing Schools.

The review was commissioned by NEPC with funding from the Great Lakes Center.

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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Expansion of unproven, unaccountable private school vouchers harms public schools and raises taxes, analysis finds

School voucher programs – including the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) – divert much-needed funding away from public schools when they are expanded, according to a new policy memo by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The peer-reviewed memo, Assessing the Fiscal Impact of Wisconsin’s Statewide Voucher Program, examines the fiscal impact of the WPCP and how it affects public schools.

The analysis found that if WPCP were expanded, public school funding would decline and taxpayers would be burdened with extra costs. This report is timely because Wisconsin policymakers are looking at expanding WPCP to more students in the state of Wisconsin.

“This national research is worth paying attention to, and cautions other states not to go down the same road as Wisconsin in terms of unaccountable private school vouchers,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “If policymakers are really interested in improving education, they should invest in the public schools that serve all students.”

The research outlines the sad reality: as the statewide program expands, the reduction to local school districts increase. The statewide program is already distributing tens of millions of dollars for private school tuition. The research expressly recommends Wisconsin not increase the income limit on the program to allow wealthier families to receive tuition subsidies – however that’s just what the governor’s budget signed in late September did.

“The available evidence suggests that policymakers across the country should think carefully before emulating Wisconsin’s statewide voucher program in their own states,” the author says.

While the policy memo acknowledges there is still more research that is needed, the memo urges policymakers to consider the repercussions of further transferring public school funding to private schools. There is limited evidence on the effectiveness of voucher programs. Despite the lack of proven results, voucher and voucher-like programs across the country continue to expand and grow.

The new policy memo found expanding the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) could worsen disparities in public school funding. It concludes:

  • Policymakers should think cautiously about whether the limited benefits of voucher programs outweigh the unintended consequences to our public schools.
  • Voucher and voucher-like programs divert much-needed funding from public schools and redirect it to private schools where, in some cases, there is little accountability or evidence to support expansion.
  • If state policymakers expand voucher programs, this could increase the tax burden of citizens, especially those living in rural communities and small school districts with fewer students.
  • Policymakers should focus on what already works, which is strengthening public schools and ensuring school districts have the resources they need to adequately prepare students for the future.
    • There is no clear evidence that demonstrates students who receive vouchers and attend private schools perform better than students who attend public schools.
    • Voucher programs, in most cases, do not empower low-income families to choose schools that they would not otherwise attend, since many voucher recipients have already attended private schools prior to receiving vouchers.
    • Many private schools do not provide special education or other services that public schools are required to provide, which is a significant cost for public schools.
  • To promote high-quality education and funding equity, the policy memo urges policymakers to carefully rethink expanding or replicating the WPCP.
    • The author of the policy memo recommends that Wisconsin policymakers maintain the income threshold for voucher program participation at 185 percent of the federal poverty level, instead of increasing it to the proposed 300 percent income limit.
    • To protect funding for public school districts, the author recommends keeping the enrollment cap at one percent in each district and using a lottery to determine participation.
    • Finally, the author recommends funding the WPCP through the state’s general-purpose revenue, paying for statewide school vouchers through state taxes instead of placing the burden on taxpayers living in communities where students receive vouchers.

“More than ever,” the analysis concludes, “many public schools struggle with inadequate funding. As voucher programs expand, this could mean less money for public schools in communities where students receive school vouchers to attend private schools.”

There are currently 33,775 students enrolled in Wisconsin’s school voucher programs. Two percent of students in each district could enroll in WPCP and the enrollment cap will expand by one percent through 2026 when the cap is eliminated. The memo found if the program expands, it could shift millions of dollars in public school funding to the WPCP and private schools.

Find the report on the Great Lakes Center website: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

This report can also found on the NEPC website: http://nepc.colorado.edu/