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Letter on the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act

December 17, 2015

Dear Representative:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association (NEA) and the students they serve, we urge you to Vote Yes on the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 scheduled to be voted on Thursday. While we are pleased to see the inclusion of multiple provisions that will help students, working families, and education, we believe Congress ought to work to find future and ongoing offsets for these and other important tax expenditures. Votes associated with this issue may be included in the NEA Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress.

Educator Tax Deduction

We applaud the recognition of the personal out-of-pocket sacrifices educators make every year for classroom supplies and ongoing professional development. For the first time, the tax extender package permanently extends the educator tax deduction, indexes the deduction cap to inflation, and includes professional development as a deductible expense. This permanent extension will provide relief to educators across the country that spent approximately $1.5 billion of their own money during the 2013-14 school year on classroom supplies and professional development, according to the marketing company SheerID. Indexing the deduction cap to inflation will ensure that this permanently extended provision will have maximum impact for years to come as prices increase on the books, pencils, paper, art materials, and litany of classroom supplies educators purchase. Even when they must sacrifice their own personal needs to cover the cost of materials and supplies, educators do so to ensure their students have what they need to succeed. Ongoing professional development is important for the same reason—it helps ensure each educator has the resources, mentoring, and support every professional needs so they can inspire students’ natural curiosity, imagination, and love of learning.

Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) Program

Too many of today’s students are housed in yesterday’s buildings with out-of-date technology and often unsafe, crumbling infrastructures. The extension of the QZAB provision, with a $400 million issuance of bonds during 2016, will aid in repairing and upgrading our nation’s public schools and classrooms which are more than 40 years old on average and 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. 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, provide teacher training, invest in equipment, and update technology which are all vital to student well-being and success.

Additional Provisions

NEA also supports the inclusion of the child tax credit (CTC), earned income tax credit (EITC), and American opportunity tax credit in the tax extender package, all of which have been made permanent. In addition to the immediate relief low- and moderate-income working families receive, the CTC and EITC have also been linked to benefits at virtually every stage of life. According to a recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, research indicates that children in families receiving the tax credits do better in school, are likelier to attend college, and can be expected to earn more as adults. 

The CTC, which provides taxpayers up to $1,000 for each dependent child under age 17, helps working families, offset the costs of raising children. The CTC provision in this package takes a crucial step in ensuring the families who need this credit the most will have it available to them by permanently extending the threshold amount to an unindexed $3,000.     

The EITC is a tax credit for low- and moderate-income working families and individuals designed to encourage and reward work, offset taxes, and raise living standards. This package makes permanent two EITC provisions which were set to expire in 2017: the increase to the EITC for those with three or more children, and the reduction of the EITC marriage penalty through increasing the income phase-out range by $5,000 and indexing it for inflation. 

While we are pleased with the inclusion of several provisions in this package, we are disappointed that the agreement would essentially create a two-tier tax system, denying newly legalized domestic violence survivors, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, and others the rights enjoyed by other tax filers with identical economic circumstances. The agreement would bar millions of tax-paying immigrants receiving Social Security numbers from access to vital tax credits and would enact additional barriers on those who wish to file taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, making tax compliance for working immigrant families even more difficult.

Moving forward, we encourage Congress to work to find future and ongoing offsets for these and other important tax credits, particularly as the need for additional revenue will continue. We can create a fairer tax system to ensure that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share, and make it easier for working families to have a fair shot.

On behalf of our nation’s students, educators, and working families, we encourage you to Vote Yes on the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 which recognizes the sacrifices educators make, provides needed resources for repairing and updating schools and classrooms, and makes permanent economic relief for low- and moderate-income working families.

Sincerely,

Mary Kusler

Director of Government Relations