When Jason Offutt’s students enter his classroom for back-to-school night, they’re sorted into their houses.

Offutt has a replica sorting hat from the Harry Potter book and movie series, and has each child pick a tile out of the hat that tells each student which “house” he or she will be in for the rest of the year — Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin.

Banners hang above clusters of desks, and each student’s name tag sticks to the front of the desk donning the colors of each house.

These decorations, this experience, these are not things the school system pays for — Offutt buys them with his own money, and he’s not reimbursed for it. Teachers often spend hundreds, sometimes more than $1,000 of their own money on school supplies and instruction materials each year. In the past, teachers have been able to write off $250 of those materials on their taxes — a nice gesture, but one that rarely covers everything a teacher buys.

“We probably don’t have to buy all of this stuff,” Offutt said. “But if you want to give your students a memorable experience and have them look back on their time with fond memories, spending your own money is almost necessary.”

That tax deduction, however, is in danger of being cut as a result of the tax reform bill Congress is working to pass. The bill that the House of Representatives passed Nov. 16 repeals the $250 deduction from teachers, but the reform the Senate passed Dec. 2 actually doubles the amount that teachers can deduct from their taxes.

The two branches of Congress will have to iron out the differences in the respective bills in a conference committee in the coming weeks. The first conference meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

“Would it be nice if they double it?” Offutt said. “Yeah, it would be great. I don’t think it would be enough to put someone into a new tax bracket, but I think it would be helpful to us.”

While the deduction doesn’t cover all of the expenses most teachers spend on school supplies, it does represent a measure of goodwill from the federal government.

Although the deduction doesn’t always make much of a difference in the refund a teacher might get, Karen Yoho, a fourth-grade teacher at Twin Ridge Elementary School, said the larger issue is the message the government is sending.

“It just seems like it’s another message from this administration that they don’t value public education,” Yoho said. “It shows that the government expects teachers to spend money and it’s not the responsibility of the government or taxpayers to properly fund public schools.”

Offutt, who has been with Frederick County Public Schools for more than 20 years, echoed Yoho’s sentiment, saying that putting the expectation on teachers puts new teachers in a tough spot.

“In what other profession do people expect you to spend your own money to provide for 25 kids who are not your birth child?” Offutt said. “And teachers who are just starting out, don’t make that much money. It’s really challenging for them. You’ll see a lot of teachers who kind of just have to go home and kind of craft things themselves for their classrooms to save money.

“A lot of the teachers I’ve spoken to, it’s not so much about the money from the deduction, but just the message that it’s kind of expected of us.”

A study done by Scholastic revealed that teachers spend an average of nearly $500 of their own money on instructional materials each year, and that number increases to roughly $675 if that teacher works in a high-poverty area.

Yoho has backed off on the amount of money she spends on classroom materials over the years. She currently shares her classroom space with another teacher, so she doesn’t need to spend as much money to meet her classroom’s needs. Due to a lack of storage compared with her classroom last year, however, Yoho spent about $120 on bookshelves so that she could have a classroom library for her students to grab a book when they want.

She estimates that she still spent a couple of hundred dollars on other supplies throughout the year, despite scaling back significantly.

Offutt, who teaches fifth grade at Glade Elementary School, couldn’t estimate how much money he spends each year, but knows he quickly goes over the maximum that he can write off. The Harry Potter-related supplies alone add up to the $250 he can write off.

On top of that, there’s a running tab of supplies he purchases throughout the year. Sometimes he’ll buy packages of cookies to use to teach kids about moon phases. Sometimes he has to buy new books to add to the classroom library.

In recent years, as the number of students whose families live at or below the poverty line in the Glade area has increased, Offutt has more frequently found himself having to buy basic school supplies for students who can’t afford them. He will sometimes visit dollar sections of Wal-Mart or Target just to buy notebooks and pencils for students.

“What are we supposed to do?” Offutt said. “They can’t learn without this stuff. They have to have it.”

Should the compromise between the House and Senate result in the permanent repeal of the deduction for teachers, it could be enough to deter younger teachers from spending any money to put into their classroom, which would ultimately hurt the students, Offutt said.

“You can have your classroom look like a laboratory and you can probably deliver the curriculum,” Offutt said. “And younger teachers might end up choosing to go that route just because they have to. But it would be difficult to engage your students on a daily basis.”

Follow Allen Etzler on Twitter: @AllenWEtzler.

(23) comments

Reader1954

everytime you make a deduction for someone that means it has to get made up by coming out of someone else's pocket.

des21

Hmmmm, HOP says 0, Senate says 500. I bet they end up at 250!

I don't know anyone at my school who spends there own money for supplies without being reimbursed by the administration or the PTA. Its not difficult. You just have to ask (at least where I work.)

jerseygrl42

Allen; first of all you make no mention of the fact that parents and grandparents are put upon throughout the school year to contribute as well and they get NO deduction and before you panic ,remember there are two versions of the tax proposals one of which will double the tax break. Furthermore think about how ridiculous this is in the first place, if these supplies are absolutely needed in order to conduct class why are they not part of the budget process just as every other necessity is; we even found the money to pay for breakfast and lunch where it is deemed by whomever to be necessary, thereby creating some sort of a 2nd home for at least some of the children.....why not pencils and paper and why isn't the teachers union speaking up on this issue???

Jleftwich

All good questions. Maybe instead of asking the reporter of the FNP news article, you should instead direct these questions to the Board of Ed and/or the superintendent. I can tell you with almost 100-percent certainty that the reporter won't pass along your questions.

User1

Exactly!!! We're are not looking at the main issue.....that is WHY are the teachers spending their own money for school supplies and not that the deductions may be deleted. And a good point about now serving breakfast. My tax money should not be used for day care services but to teach these kids.

Frayou

My daughter is a teacher. From the time of her initial first year she had been spending her own money to supply basic needs for her students. When I learned of this I expressed my objections. Her response, but Dad I have too because their parents did or could not. Some county systems provide for some individual allowances which teachers can submit for reimbursement, but it is restrictive to general classroom needs and is minor costs. Her expenses were more. Should they do away with the tax credit? I’m not sure eliminating would have substantial effect on one income tax return when you consider other tax deductions, which is the bigger concern. What other deductions will be eliminated?

jthompson

The headline (presumably written by the FNP editorial folks, not by Mr. Etzler) is misleading. The contemplated elimination of the income tax deduction will not " . . . keep local teachers from buying their own supplies . . ." Teachers may continue to buy their own supplies whether or not doing so creates an income tax deduction. As the product of two (2) Frederick County teachers, I can assure you that the overwhelming majority of teachers who buy their own supplies do so for reasons other than an income tax deduction.

Frayou

👍👍My daughter being one of them.

DickD

No doubt that is right, jt, but that does not mean it should not be allowed. Teachers work hard, they shouldn't have to supply those they teach. Now you may say they don't have to, but a quality teacher would feel the need. It is like some of my teachers would meet me on the street and ask me questions. It all helps and makes for a quality teacher.

Jleftwich

Here is the FY2018 requested budget. Worth a read...

http://www.fcps.org/about/fy2018-budget

teapartier

What a feeble attempt by Mr. Etzler to spin a cheap Frederick County school board into a political rant against Congress. Teachers should not spend ANY out-of- pocket expenses to educated your children. According to their website the proposed budget for FY 2018 is $578,515,531 with just over 47% of their funding coming from the county government. Also, there are 2,940 teachers within the system. If each teacher was given a $500.00 stipend to pay for classroom costs the cost would $1.4M. here is another idea, pay them want they are worth. If the school board cannot put teachers and children first then we need a new school board

sevenstones1000

First thing, let’s raise YOUR taxes to pay them what they are worth, and buy all the supplies they need.

User1

How about starting to make all the parents pay whose kids are going to school without them paying one cent of school tax? If a federal law says "no child left behind" to include those that don't pay taxes then maybe the Feds should "donate" a little more!

Thewheelone

Yes Tea, they should not but unless education budgets are either reallocated or implemented differently, teachers will always need to pay for stuff out of pocket. This happens everywhere; my career was in MCPS. Thanks for the "pay them what they are worth" comment! [beam]

thevoiceoffrederick

The bigger questions is why is this an issue and maybe the school system needs to be overhauled and figure out why the school system is not purchasing the proper supplies. Of course some will say there is not enough money, there ust be based on these amazing buildings being built, there must be money to be found or reallocated. Lets ask the superintendent, the same system pays her 164000.00 to figure out these types of problems.

Yankee

Oh those stories we read about teachers buying items out of the goodness of their heart for their students was BS. They wanted the tax deduction. What a bunch of parasites.

ma23464

How is getting a deduction make them a parasite? They spend 500 on items and deduct it to save maybe 150 on taxes. They are still out the money.

TinaS

They can only deduct $250, their tax savings is more like $50.00 or less.

Thewheelone

What a hateful comment, Yankee. They are not "stories." The amount of personal money I spent in every year of my 33 years as a public educator far exceeded any tax deduction I received.

Samanthapowers

you're a bitter and angry old man.

public-redux

Yankee, displaying your ignorance on tax deductions wasn't the smartest move.

DickD

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

KAYoho

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