Teachers could get a bigger deduction–or lose it entirely–under tax reform

Students at Claremont High School perform as the Addams family.
Students at Claremont High School perform as the Addams family.
Courtesy of Krista Carson Elhai

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Right now, teachers can deduct up to $250 of classroom related expenses paid out of pocket, but the future of that deduction – called the Educator Expense Deduction – is in flux. 

There are two versions of the proposed tax plan in Congress right now: one in the House of Representatives, and one in the U.S. Senate.

The House plan, which passed last week, would eliminate the $250 deduction. 

Krista Carson Elhai is a theater teacher at Claremont High School. She's also president of the California Educational Theater Association. 

She says she's lucky to work for a school that reimburses her as much as it can when she pays for necessary supplies, like the materials she and her students need to put on a show.

However, when she uses some of her own funds to help students attend field trips, she doesn't always ask for reimbursement. She said she has paid up to $300 of her own money to help send a student to an event they could not afford on their own. 

"Very creative theater teachers are going to still provide opportunities for their students," she said. "But the richness of what they could provide is going to be limited."

The Senate version of the tax plan takes the opposite approach and would actually double the deduction, from $250 to $500.

Elhai said that in her experience, expenses over the year – like professional development, royalties for plays, and props – can still add up to more than that. 

"I'm not sure $250 is going to make a huge difference for how much many educators contribute, but it is certainly helpful for our pocketbooks," she said.

The two chambers of Congress will have to reconcile the differences between the two proposed plans in order to pass a bill. Either way, Elhai said she there's a bigger conversation to be had about what teachers are expected to pay for themselves. 

"It's something that I hope our districts, and our counties, and our states, and our parents and our friends in congress look at," she explained. "If they want to keep a well-educated, dedicated group of educators in the future, I think they need to work a little harder to help us out."