Teachers are about to get a tax break; how to claim it

school supplies
Photo credit Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

For the first time in 20 years, the IRS is increasing the amount of money teachers can deduct for classroom expenses, school supplies and everything else students need to learn, including COVID-19 protective items.

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The tax deduction increase is one of the not-so-negative side effects of recent and historic inflation rates, though some argue the bump is still not enough to offset the high amount teachers are spending out-of-pocket to keep their classrooms stocked all year.

For 2022, an eligible educator can deduct up to $300 of qualifying expenses.

"As the new school year begins, the Internal Revenue Service reminds teachers and other educators that they'll be able to deduct up to $300 of out-of-pocket classroom expenses for 2022 when they file their federal income tax return next year," the agency said in a statement.

This is the first time the annual limit has increased since the special educator expense deduction was enacted in 2002. For tax years 2002 through 2021, the limit was $250 per year.

"The limit will rise in $50 increments in future years based on inflation adjustments," the IRS added.

Eligible educators include anyone who is a kindergarten through grade 12 teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide in a school for at least 900 hours during the school year. Both public and private school educators qualify. Educators who do standard deductions also qualify.

Educators can deduct the unreimbursed cost of books, supplies and other materials used in the classroom; equipment, including computers, software and services; COVID-19 protective items including masks, hand sanitizer and air purifiers, to stop the spread of the disease in the classroom; and professional development courses related to the curriculum they teach or the students they teach.

As with all deductions and credits, the IRS reminds educators to keep good records, including receipts and other documentation.

The $300 tax credit can be claimed on your 2022 tax return. For educators who received a tax filing extension or still need to file a 2021 tax return, the deduction limit is $250.

While the tax break is appreciated, some argue that it doesn't go far enough. The National Education Association said, quite simply, educators need to be paid more.

"Fully fundings our schools means fully funding school supplies. Teachers should not have to pay out of pocket for paper, books, pencils, and everything else students need to learn," the organization said on Twitter.

Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, who has a daughter starting her first year teaching at a public school in Maryland, said educators will be spending more this school year as the parents of their students are still feeling the financial pinch of high prices for everything from chicken to used cars.

"Teachers will end up buying notebooks, paper and pens for students whose families can’t afford to purchase what they need. Teacher salaries continue to supplement the budgets of school districts that can't afford to stock or restock classrooms with all the needed supplies," Singletary wrote. "This shouldn't be necessary. Our schools need better funding. Our teachers need to be paid better."

Singletary pointed to a 2018 report by National Center for Education Statistics that shows 94% of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies, on average about $478 a year -- $529 for teachers at city schools. Meantime, teachers are bringing home on average $2,150 less per year than they did a decade ago when adjusted for inflation, according to the National Education Association.

"The tax-deductible amount for educators was and still is absurdly low," said Singletary. "If Congress can allow wealthy Wall Street executives to get a generous tax break, then every penny that our teachers spend for their students should be deductible."

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images