A tax bill that flunks the educator test

Photo by Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

There’s no way around it: the House GOP tax bill is bad for Texas teachers. It prevents educators from receiving deductions and support they rely on, and by threatening teachers it also affects Texas students. As an English instructor at Texas State University, I’m especially concerned.

For too long, we’ve been chipping away at our public school funding, making it practically required for teachers to throw down portions of their own paycheck. Certainly they deserve to claim those sacrifices as tax deductions.

If the current tax bill passes, teachers won’t be able to deduct what they spend out-of-pocket on classroom expenses — an unconscionable thought. My sister, who taught for two years at a Del Valle ISD elementary, frequently used her hard-earned money to purchase classroom supplies. She bought pillows, books, pencils, markers, notebooks, containers, heat lamps and more. And she’s not an anomaly: On average, educators spend about $500 per year on their classrooms.

Further, teachers tend to belong to the middle class, and the GOP tax bill would strip away many of the provisions that help this population. While it is true that the bill would nearly double the standard deduction for couples and individuals, it plans to pay for the cut by slashing the corporate tax rate and eradicating tax breaks for essentials like medical bills, moving expenses and student loan interest payments. Those with expenses in these categories that exceed the standard deduction will be financially devastated.

Take medical bills, for instance. As of now, one can only deduct medical costs if they exceed 10 percent of one’s annual income. Usually this break goes to those with a chronically ill or disabled family member. How would dropping this support help teachers, who are often the ones caring for sick family?

Many Republican lawmakers claim the bill would aid “Main Street,” but they are wrong. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, 9 percent of middle class earners would pay more taxes next year and 31 percent would pay more by 2027 under the GOP tax plan. The TPC also found that the bill would be most beneficial for the top 1 percent; considering America’s wealth gap is greater than Russia’s or Iran’s, this makes no sense for “Main Street.” This bill would deepen the unfair wealth divide in our country, disproportionately hurting educators.

The GOP tax bill would have even worse consequences in rural areas where school districts are often the leading employers. I grew up in Burnet, Texas, which has a population of 6,359, according to the 2016 Census. Burnet Consolidated Independent School District employs approximately 450 people. That’s 7 percent of the total population. Many families in Burnet have a member working in the school district; by limiting families’ spending, this bill would choke the local economy.

Yes, our tax system is outdated and unnecessarily complicated, but we cannot let our frustration rush us to make a hasty change that will be even worse for most Americans, particularly educators. Teachers work hard and, in my experience, are usually the most selfless people. They give long hours for little pay. Who are we as Americans, and what kind of future are we inviting, if we allow legislation to pass that will hurt teachers, and thus our country’s future?

[Editor's note: The original version of this column included a reference to U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, without a writer's disclosure that her spouse is running against Williams in next year's elections.] 

Disclosure: The Texas State University System has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Shannon Perri

Instructor, Texas State University