Amid Worries About The Tax Bill, Teachers Can Breathe A (Small) Sigh Of Relief

A previous version of the bill eliminated small deductions teachers were allowed to make.

As Congress prepares to pass a historically unpopular tax bill, teachers scored a small win by preserving a deduction for classroom supplies this week.

Initially, the House passed a tax bill that would have eliminated a provision that allows teachers to deduct up to $250 from their taxable income to pay for school supplies that they purchase for students. After an outcry from school teachers across the country, the Senate version did the opposite — doubling the potential deduction to $500. 

But in the latest version of the bill, it appears Congress has shot right down the middle and decided not to change anything about the current deductions. It was a small victory for teachers amidst a bill that is currently polling just 26 percent approval ratings across the country, according to Monmouth. While the $250 might not sound like much, it's a big break for teachers all across the country. Scholastic surveyed teachers in 2016 and found that on average teachers had spent more than $500 on supplies in the previous year. At high-poverty schools, that number was more like $672, according to CNN. 

"Clearly, Congress heard the outcry from educators and parents when House Republicans tried to eliminate the $250 deduction for school supplies," Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, told CNN. "But the overall GOP tax bill is full of giveaways to corporations and the wealthy. It's outrageous that working families will now have to pay that bill."

Representatives like Kristi Noem defended the proposed repeal of the tax credit by saying teachers in her state would save more than $1,000 from other cuts in the tax bill. The $250 deduction comes at a minor cost to the federal government — just $200 million for a bill that's expected to grow the deficit by more than $1 trillion

The bill is running into some other issues, too. A bombshell report from the International Business Times revealed that several Republican lawmakers would be enriched by a provision added to the bill late in the legislative process. Shortly after, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee — one of the wealthiest Congressman in the country and a real estate mogul — switched his "no" vote to a "yes" vote. Sen. Corker was one of the lawmakers IBT pointed to as benefitting from the provision.

Both stories were a lesson not just in powerful journalism, but the way social media can pressure politicians. The outcry from teachers and parents was part of the reason senators like Susan Collins pushed for a larger credit in the Senate version of the tax bill. As for the so-called Corker kickback, by Sunday night, following criticism levied by social media users and activists, Sen. Corker had sent a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch asking for more information about the provision and how it was added to the bill. 

Despite its unpopularity, the bill still has a good chance to pass in Congress. Nevertheless, the attention the bill has gotten — by concerned citizens, thorough journalists and with the help of social media — once again demonstrates that American citizens have plenty of weight to throw around when it comes to legislation in Congress. 

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

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