Our Views: Janesville School Board to teachers: You pay

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

If the Janesville School Board were truly interested in helping teachers pay for classroom supplies, it would rework the budget and tell administrators to pick up the tab.

Instead, the board called a special meeting last week and adopted a toothless resolution calling on Congress to maintain a tax deduction for teacher expenses.

School Board member Cathy Myers claimed her motivation wasn't political, but does anyone honestly believe Myers' vote wasn't about boosting her profile as a Democratic hopeful to run against House Speaker Paul Ryan?

A school board should be focused on one thing: policy related to the school district. Time spent trying to affect Congress' decisions is wasted time, especially when a better solution sits in front of this board.

The tax deduction wouldn't be an issue if the district started budgeting for more school supplies, rather than having teachers shell out their own money, only some of which can be recouped through the tax deduction. At least one elementary school principal has said teachers spend between $500 and $1,000 of their own money on supplies. We interpret the principal's statement as proof the school district isn't giving its teachers the resources they need to run a classroom.

But since the school board brought up tax policy, let's pause to explain the reason for the House proposing to eliminate that $250 deduction. Its elimination isn't about hurting teachers but about reforming the tax code to make it easier for everybody to comply.

From home builders to college graduate students, many interest groups are complaining their favorite deduction is poised to be axed. But tax reform is only possible by eliminating loopholes. While the GOP tax plan falls short in several ways, namely its failure to make permanent tax cuts for the middle class, the bill moves the tax code in the right direction.

Simplicity is preferable to complexity when it comes to taxes, and the proposed reforms would allow many taxpayers to take a standard deduction, rather than having to hire an accountant to itemize deductions.

The $250 deduction for teacher expenses is a good example of how deductions can have unintended consequences. While it may seem like a good deal for teachers, the deduction perversely encourages school districts to contribute less money toward supplies. So long as the deduction exists, administrators can make it their excuse for refusing to take financial responsibility.

But if Congress eliminates the deduction, school boards might finally feel compelled to budget the necessary funds for classroom supplies. Furthermore, if Myers and other board members spent as much time parsing the district's budget as they do complaining about Congress, they probably could find the funds, maybe at their next meeting.

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