Opinion

Teacher Commentary: The House Tax Cut Will Force Educators Out of the Classroom

By Idalmi Acosta | November 27, 2017

Photo: Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

One of the reasons many of my students don’t read is that they cannot find books with characters and experiences they can relate to. When I brought Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything — whose young, female character is African American and looks like many of the girls I teach — into my classroom for a book talk, 10 girls wanted to read it. Students fought over the book. I’ve just bought Yoon’s new book, The Sun Is Also a Star, and multiple students are already clamoring to borrow it.

Every weekend, I shop at bookstores like Half Priced Books and Barnes & Noble for titles to return to my students. During my two and a half years of teaching, I’ve bought close to 200 books for my classroom. My goal is to turn my students into lifelong readers. I will do everything I can to make that happen, even if it makes a dent in my pocket. I spend over $500 a year on classroom supplies, most of it on books. I know I must keep doing it. The parents of many of my students don’t get books for them to read at home. What has helped me to continue my efforts is the tax break I get at the beginning of the year to help cover expenses.

But this month, the House passed a sweeping tax cut that, among other things, would do away with the deduction teachers use to defray the cost of classroom supplies. This doesn’t make sense. Why take away a teacher’s ability to get a tax break for something they shouldn’t have to pay for in the first place? As a teacher in an urban school, I struggle with a lack of resources. Parents don’t have nearly enough money to provide their children with what they need. I’ve bought deodorant and book bags for my students. I’ve bought pens, pencils, notebooks, glue, tool boxes, scissors, crayons, markers, and folders for students whose families can’t afford school supplies.

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One reason teachers leave the profession is the strain that comes with not only providing our students with the best possible education, but also having to make financial investments to ensure they have basic classroom necessities. The House GOP tax plan would make teachers like me think even harder about staying in the profession.

Imagine if doctors had to pay for their patients’ robes, syringes, or medicine. We would think that’s outrageous. What makes teachers different? I love my students and am committed to them. But I also need financial stability, and the ability to claim even a small amount of my classroom expenses on my taxes is a way to do that.

We need more, not fewer, incentives to encourage young professionals to become teachers. Making the job even less financially sustainable will only deter college graduates from going into the profession. As teachers, we are tasked with educating future leaders and change-makers. Congress needs to prioritize keeping, not taking away, teachers’ tax deductions. In the meantime, as lawmakers in Washington deliberate what to keep and what to jettison in their tax plans, I will continue to buy books so my students can keep on reading.

Idalmi Acosta teaches eighth-grade ELA at Harshman Magnet Middle School in Indianapolis. She is a Teach Plus Indianapolis Teaching Policy Fellow.

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