If you happen to be a teacher at a public school, then you know what the “Teacher’s Choice” tax break is. If you aren’t a teacher, or don’t work at a public school, then you may not know how important the tax break is for both educators and pupils. The tax break, which was slashed from the House version of the GOP tax bill, is designed to reimburse teachers for up to $250 dollars school supplies (think: pencils, pens, paper, and books) purchased to enhance the experience of their students. It was created in acknowledgment of the fact that these purchases are extraordinarily common among engaged and earnest teachers, specifically in cash-strapped school districts (of which there are likely to be many more if the bill passes). Christina Parthena, a teacher who works in New York City, is one of the teachers currently taking advantage of the program.
I’m working in a Title I school. We need to provide students with as many supplies as we can. If a teacher doesn’t buy students that stuff, then they won’t have it. Yes, the school does supply them with some things, but in the classroom you need to create an environment for the kids. That could be giving every student a highlighter to make them feel like, “Hey, I’m giving this to you so you can do better.”
To get the “Teacher’s Choice” tax break, which actually just comes in our last paycheck, we have to print out a sheet and fill it out and demonstrate with receipts where that $250 was spent. In my case, I bought a lot of highlighters, folders, notebooks, pencils, and pens for the kids. I always spend more than $250. Last year, I spent around $350 or $400 of my own money.
Truth is, students need us to buy more things, not less. For instance, we are given books, but they’re actually too high of a reading level for our students. So, this money allows us to get books for independent reading that are on a student’s actual reading level. A teacher could go and buy books for one student in particular. That could be really helpful. A teacher knows what’s going on in their classroom.
But how much are you willing to spend of your own money? That’s the question. It’s really not fair for us to be spending our own money, but then it’s also not fair to the kids to not get what they need. So I get the supplies myself.
I think the government is trying to cut corners. I hope that the school itself doesn’t lose funding, especially because we’re Title I. Most of our kids get free lunch and breakfast and they need that. If that were to go away or even if it was a limited number of students who were able to receive that, that would really not be good for them. They go home and they don’t have those things. If music and art get cut, that will be the end of the only creative outlet that many of these kids have. That wouldn’t be fair.
The day after the presidential election, I talked to the kids about how they were feeling. A lot of them wondered what could happen to schools. And they don’t realize how much goes into the supplies that they have. In my school, at least, some teachers are asking for funding on such websites as Donors Choose. That will probably increase. I’m actually doing it now.
The new tax bill is pretty scary because we barely get any money as it is. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is trying at least to give teachers in the city more money. But we’re not sure if he’s going to keep doing that, and then there’s going to be a tax cut again. It’s just not good for teachers here.