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Letter on Senate Finance Committee Markup for Tax Extenders

July 20, 2015

Dear Senator:  

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA) and the students they serve, we would like to express our support for elements of the tax extender package scheduled for markup tomorrow. In particular, we applaud the inclusion in the chairman’s mark of an extension of the educator tax deduction and the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) program. Votes associated with this bill and the amendments mentioned below may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress. 

Under current law, educators can deduct up to $250 annually for purchasing certain unreimbursed expenses, such as school supplies. The $250 per year educator tax deduction helps recognize the financial sacrifices made by educators who often reach into their own pockets to purchase classroom supplies such as books, pencils, paper, and art supplies for their students.  For example, during the 2013-2014 school year, educators spent approximately $1.5 billion of their own money on classroom supplies, instructional materials, books for their classroom and professional development, according the marketing company SheerID.  A study by Education Market, an organization that represents retailers of classroom supplies, found that 99.5 percent of all public school teachers spent some amount of out of pocket money for supplies for their students and classrooms.  

We also applaud the inclusion in the chairman’s mark of a two-year extension of the QZAB program. Too many of today’s students are housed in yesterday’s buildings with out-of-date technology and often unsafe, crumbling infrastructures. More than 40 years old on average, our nation’s public schools could need as much as $197 billion in repairs and upgrades according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  

The QZAB program has proven to be an efficient and cost-effective way to help disadvantaged communities address pressing renovation and repair needs. QZABs assist school districts in rural and urban communities by providing a financing mechanism to renovate buildings and invest in equipment and technology. Investors receive a federal tax credit equal to the amount of interest payable on the bonds, thereby relieving local taxpayers and municipalities of the interest burden. A school that is awarded a QZAB may use the funds to renovate and repair buildings, invest in equipment, and update technology. 

We appreciate efforts by committee members to improve provisions of the educator tax deduction and urge you to Vote Yes on Senators Bennet (D-CO) / Burr (R-NC) / and Brown’s (D-OH) bipartisan amendment #1 to reform and improve the educator expense tax deduction. This amendment would provide a two-year extension of the deduction and index the deduction’s threshold to inflation, while also enabling educators to use the deduction to cover professional development expenses.  

The inclusion of an inflationary adjustment to the educator tax deduction, as the Bennet / Burr / Brown amendment does, will make a real difference for many educators, who often must sacrifice other personal needs to pay for classroom supplies. 

NEA also strongly supports the amendment’s inclusion of coverage for out-of-pocket professional development expenses. Teacher quality is a critical factor in maximizing student achievement.  Ongoing professional development is essential to ensure that educators stay up-to-date on the skills and knowledge necessary to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century.  This amendment will help educators access the ongoing quality training they need.  

We also urge your support of any amendment that may be offered to enhance the QZAB program by decreasing from 10 percent to 5 percent the private match currently required. 

We are pleased with the inclusion of these provisions in the chairman’s mark and we encourage you to strengthen them by voting Yes on the Bennet / Burr / Brown bipartisan amendment in recognition of the sacrifices educators make on behalf of their students and Yes in the event an amendment is offered to enhance the QZAB program.  

Sincerely,    

Mary Kusler
Director of Government Relations