“Rewarding Our Dedicated Teachers”

            America’s teachers are among our most dedicated public servants.  Here in Maine, and throughout the country, our teachers take on the challenge of educating our young people and helping them to realize their full potential.


            A great many teachers go the extra mile and spend their own money in order to purchase classroom supplies to improve the educational experience of their students.  These teachers deserve more than our gratitude for their hard work.  They deserve tax relief.


            The 2001 tax relief package included a provision I authored that included a $250 tax deduction for teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies.  This provision was later extended through the end of this year.


            I have recently introduced legislation, the Teacher Tax Act of 2007, that will improve on this provision in several important ways.  First, it would make this tax relief permanent, removing the year-to-year uncertainty about the continuation of the tax deduction.


            Second, my legislation would increase this above-the-line tax deduction to $400, a level that more accurately reflects the true monetary contributions teachers are making.  In fact, a survey of National Education Association members that found that teachers spend, on average, $443 a year on classroom supplies.  Other surveys show that they are spending even more than that: the National School Supply and Equipment Association found that educators spend an average of $826 of their own money to supplement classroom supplies, plus $926 for instructional materials on top of that -- for a total of more than $1,700.


            In most states, including Maine, teachers are modestly paid for their jobs. I think it is so impressive that despite challenging jobs and modest salaries, teachers care so deeply for their students that they are willing to dig deep into their own pockets to enrich the classroom experience.


            Indeed, I have spoken to dozens of teachers in Maine who tell me they routinely spend far in excess of the $250 deduction limit that is in current law. I enjoy visiting schools all over Maine, and, so far I have had the opportunity to visit more than 160 schools.  At virtually every school, I find teachers who are spending their own money to benefit their students. Year after year, these teachers spend hundreds of dollars on books, bulletin boards, computer software, crayons, construction paper, stamps, inkpads – everything you can think of.


            Here are just a couple of examples. Anita Hopkins and Kathi Toothaker, who teach elementary school in Augusta, purchase books for their students to have as a classroom library, as well as workbooks and sight cards.  They have also purchased special prizes for positive reinforcement for their students.  Mrs. Hopkins estimates that she spends $800 to $1,000 of her own money on extra materials to make learning fun and to create a stimulating classroom environment.  This ongoing commitment by our teachers to improve education must be matched by our ongoing commitment to extend the tax incentive.


            Third, my legislation would expand the deduction to make it available to teachers who incur expenses for professional development.  Whenever the provisions of “No Child Left Behind” are being debated, we hear a lot of discussion about the need for highly-qualified teachers. One of the best ways for teachers to improve their qualifications is through professional development. Yet, in towns throughout Maine, and I suspect throughout the country, school budgets are often very tight, and money for professional development is either very limited or non-existent. For that reason, I believe we should allow this tax deduction to also apply when a teacher takes a course or attends a workshop and has to pay for it out of his or her own pocket.


            In my view, students are the ultimate beneficiaries when teachers receive professional development to sharpen their skills or to learn a new approach to presenting material to their students. Studies have consistently shown that, other than involved parents, the single greatest determinant of classroom success is the presence of a well-qualified teacher. Educators themselves understand just how important professional development is to their ability to make a positive impact in the classroom.


            I am pleased that my legislation has received a strong endorsement from the 3.2 million members of the National Education Association.  In a recent letter of support, the NEA states that increasing the deduction and making it permanent would “make a real difference for many educators, who often must sacrifice other personal needs in order to pay for classroom supplies.”  In addition, the NEA states that including professional-development expenses in the deduction would “ensure that educators stay up-to-date on the skills and knowledge necessary to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century.


            This legislation takes a necessary step toward recognizing the contributions made by our teachers.  It is a step we must take in order to recognize the very real sacrifices they make every day to benefit the children of America.