A bill in the Utah Legislature would create an income tax credit to offset educator expenses such as personal funds spent on classroom supplies.
SB69, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, hopes to relieve the financial pressure that teachers face when providing materials for their students.
The issue was brought to Anderegg’s attention when he was attending his son’s baseball game. While sitting in the bleachers, he realized he was sitting amongst six different school teachers. They informed him that they each spent an average of $300 to $500 per year on teaching and classroom supplies.
Anderegg told a legislative committee Feb. 4,“Some teachers may even spend up to $800 to $1,000 out-of-pocket.” This surpasses the $250 federal tax deduction teachers receive.
“Some of the political realities make it difficult for us to step in and raise teacher’s salaries,” Anderegg said. “We are underfunding our teachers. Out-of-pocket expenses are pushing that even further. This is a way to put it back in their pockets.”
Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, pointed out that the bill’s cost to taxpayers may reduce the income tax liability of up to 60,000 teachers by an average of $37. However, the request will possibly be higher than what was presented on the proposed bill. If educators spend about $300 more than what they are currently given for school supplies, then the state of Utah is obligated close to $23 million.
“If it’s closer to $500 or $800 per teacher, then we’re going to have to pay much more,” Fillmore said. “We want to give teachers the money to buy school supplies, I just want to make sure we’re making that decision knowing what it costs.”
Jay Blain, director of the Utah Education Association, spoke in favor of the bill. He clarified that the number of educators statewide in Utah is about 32,000, not 60,000. In addition, it’s unlikely that every teacher is going to take the full amount given. “People teaching different subjects will need more based on the needs of their classroom,” Blain said.
A high school math teacher may spend less than an elementary school teacher, or a beginning teacher may spend more money setting up their classroom in the first couple of years compared to someone who has been running their class for years.
Rusty Cannon, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, urged support of the bill, regardless if the fiscal note is $20 million instead of $2 million. He said he believes this generous tax credit is well deserved. “There is nothing more worthy of our public funds than education,” said Katie Matheson, communications director of Alliance for A Better Utah.
While the committee chair said this bill was a better approach than what the Legislature is currently doing for education expenses, the fiscal note was also deemed inaccurate due to the inclusion of substitute teachers, assistants, and charter school employees in the calculated amount for the tax commission. The bill was amended and passed out to the Senate floor Feb. 7.