Easing the Burden of Classroom Expenses for Teachers

Grade-school teachers — are increasingly footing the bill for their classroom expenses. Drawing on a federal Department of Education survey, a May 2018 New York Times article reported that 94 percent of public school teachers in the United States paid out-of-pocket for their classroom supplies without the benefit of reimbursement.

For most teachers, out-of-pocket expenses for school supplies reached upwards of $500 per school year, with nearly 10 percent shelling out $1,000 for this same period. The Educational Market Association says that school under-funding has resulted in a situation where $1.6 billion in expenses for classroom supplies has been shifted from parents — or from struggling school districts — to teachers.

For the vast majority of public school educators who dip into their personal income to purchase school supplies, the Educator Expense Deduction can help to offset the burden of these unreimbursed classroom expenses.

The Educator Expense Deduction is available to any teacher who meets the following criteria:

  1. They were employed as a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
  2. They were employed for a minimum of 900 hours at a state-certified school to provide elementary or secondary education. (Regardless of whether the school they worked at was public, private or religious.)

Provided an individual meets the prior criteria, items eligible for this include:

  • School supplies such as pencils, pens, paper, rulers, folders, binders, etc.
  • Computer equipment and software.
  • Subject-specific supplies, such as athletic equipment for gym teachers, paints and brushes for art teachers, anatomical models for health teachers, and so forth.

As long as an educator can make a compelling case that particular items are necessary for supporting learning in their classroom, and as long as these items have not been reimbursed, almost any item can qualify for this deduction.

Teachers are permitted to claim the Educator Expense Deduction regardless of whether they choose the standard deduction or to itemize their tax deductions.

  • A teacher filing as single can deduct as much as $250.
  • Married teachers who file a joint return can each claim a deduction for as much as $250, for a total of $500 between them.

Educators should keep in mind they may also be able to claim expenses that exceed this amount as “unreimbursed employee expenses.”

  • For teachers who opt to itemize, they can deduct unreimbursed job expenses that exceed 2 percent of their adjusted gross income.
  • Qualifying expenses aren’t limited to classroom costs — they also apply to unreimbursed costs for school-related travel, union dues, and so forth.

While some teachers may feel overwhelmed by the lack of funding for their classrooms, claiming the Educator Expense Deduction when they file their tax return can help to mitigate their out-of-pocket costs.