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K-12 Educators Can Deduct Qualified Classroom Expenses

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, Teacher Appreciation Week took place the first full week of May 2020. With most schools closed for the remainder of the school year, students are learning remotely and teachers are continuing to teach in the virtual classroom.

The transition to online learning shows that two things are clear:

1. Teachers remain committed to the success of their students, and

2. They continue to spend their own money on school supplies

With so much uncertainty surrounding the closure of schools, many teachers were left scrambling to quickly learn new software programs, make changes to lesson plans and incur out-of-pocket expenses on additional tools.

In April, station WFSB out of Hartford, Connecticut ran a survey of teachers in the state inquiring about remote learning. One algebra teacher reported spending a whopping $800 on software in order to present equations step-by-step.

I spoke with a teacher who works in Southern Vermont who has also incurred expenses in the transition to online learning. He signed up for a monthly subscription for $10 a month for a student-based discussion board. In order to encourage students to read books that fit within the course curriculum, he has also been buying and reading books to the class. He has purchased between 5 and 6 books with the average cost being $15 per book.

Past studies have shed light on teacher out-of-pocket spending. A 2018 Department of Education survey reported that 94% of public school teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies. In addition, an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute[1] stated that K-12 public school teachers spend an average of $459[2] annually on school supplies for which they will not be reimbursed.

I will not bog you down with more statistics nor will I get into any public policy commentary on this subject. Instead, I will talk about how these expenses can play a role in your tax return.

The Educator Expense Deduction allows eligible educators to deduct up to $250 of unreimbursed qualified expenses as an adjustment to income. For couples that are married and filing jointly, the deduction increases to $500 if both spouses are eligible educators.

Eligible educators are teachers who teach any grade from kindergarten through twelfth. Their titles can include teacher, principal, instructor, counselor, or aide. They must have worked at least 900 hours for the year and work at a school that provides primary or secondary education.

Eligible educators do not include college professors, tutors, or parents who home school.

Qualified expenses are ordinary and necessary expenses incurred for materials used in the classroom. These materials can range from supplies like crayons, paper, markers, or pencils to books and equipment including computer software.

Educators can also deduct the expenses they incur while completing professional development courses.

When undertaking expenses for the classroom, first consider asking your school for reimbursements. Even if the school can only cover a portion of the cost, at least that money can go back into your wallet. Otherwise, remember to keep the receipts from your purchases and provide them to your tax preparer come tax season. Every little bit helps!

Thank you, teachers, for your hard work!

[1] Survey data came from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2011–2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) [2] Adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars

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