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New educator credit helping teachers, instructors, counselors

According to a Mississippi American Federation of Teachers (MAFT) survey taken several years ago, Mississippi teachers were found to have spent from $500 to as much as $3,500 per year on school supplies.

“Many didn’t realize they were spending this much on school supplies. They just felt this was something that had to be done,” said MAFT executive director Maryann Graczyk,

Teachers had purchased everything from copy machines to books and filing cabinets for their classrooms and everything in between, and all with their own money. With the help of the federal government’s new economic stimulus package, however, teachers are now able to spend a lot less out of pocket. The new law gives K-12 schoolteachers, instructors, counselors, principals and aides in the public or private sector who have worked at least 900 hours during the school year an above-the-line deduction of up to $250 each year for certain expenses.

Those expenses must have been for books, computer equipment including related software and services, supplies with the exception of non-athletic supplies for health or physical education courses and supplementary materials that are used in the classroom.

“It’s called an educator credit for qualified expenses,” explained Angela Beasley, CPA, a senior manager with Horne CPA Group. The new deduction is applicable for taxable years that start after Dec. 31, 2001 and before Jan. 1, 2004. That means teachers can take the deduction for their out-of-pocket expenses for 2002 and 2003.

“Realistically with all the cuts in education budgets in many states this year, this is a great benefit for teachers,” Beasley said. “And while it’s a little early for individual taxpayers to be getting their information in, I’m sure we’ll be getting some feedback.”

David Derrick, executive director of the Mississippi Private School Association, said $250 isn’t a lot, but added, “I guess if teachers know out front that they can deduct certain expenses they may be less reluctant to spend that money.”

Derrick said any perk a teacher can get, regardless of how small, helps. “I’m very pleased to see this,” he said.

Michael Thomas, deputy superintendent for Jackson Public Schools (JPS) said money is allocated each year for supplies and materials for teachers.

“I know they get around $500 from the state ,” Thomas said, speaking of the Educational Enhancement Fund, or EEF, which is taken out of sales taxes collected each year. “On top of that JPS allocates about $20 per child to every school building for class materials. But in the past we’ve found teachers still buy some supplies out of their own funds. We think this (educator credit) is a good thing.”

Barbie Ferguson, the Clinton Public School District Teacher of the Year for 2003, said the new educator credit is a gift to teachers everywhere. Ferguson, who teaches junior and senior vo-tech students at Clinton High School, said she regularly spends $60 and $70 out of pocket on printer ribbons, and spends her money on a number of other expenses each year. Even with EEF money, she said she still spends $500 to $600 each year of her own pocket.

“I’d do it again to help the kids,” Ferguson admitted. “But this (educator credit) is a gift since we don’t make whopping salaries anyway.”

Ron Sellers, deputy superintendent of JPS, said it’s not unusual for his wife Martha, a first grade teacher in JPS, to spend as much as $1,000 out of pocket each year for various classroom items.

“That’s just her nature, and that includes teaching materials and materials that aren’t available through the school,” Sellers said. “We’ve had a puppet theater made and things of that nature. That $250 deduction will certainly be a start in the right direction for her. That would probably be the minimum most teachers would spend.”

Greg Kelly, director of teacher recruitment for JPS, said deductions will give teachers a tax break for something they’re already doing — spending their own money on classroom expenses.

“Mississippi has supplied EEF money but it hasn’t always made it to the classroom,” said Kelly, who spent as much as $500 each year out of pocket when he taught at Jim Hill High School in Jackson.

But however much makes it to the classroom, Kelly said there’s always a gap between what students need and what EEF can supply.

“You often see teachers making that up, whether it’s markers, pens or paper,” Kelly explained.

Dr. Tommye Henderson, Clinton Public Schools superintendent, said neither the EEF funds nor the new educator credit would probably help to recruit or retain teachers. But she believes it is a mechanism of recognizing the fact that teachers go above and beyond the call of duty when they see the needs of their children. And, Henderson said, “I’m always in favor of anything that benefits teachers because they have dedicated their lives to others.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.

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