One of the most revealing decisions about education made by the General Assembly in the last few sessions has nothing to do with teacher assistants or class size or charter school funding. It’s in the tax changes made in the last four years.
In the 2011-2012 legislative session when the new Republican leadership assumed control of the General Assembly, they slashed education funding across the board, cutting everything from school buses to textbooks to classroom supplies.
They also created a small tax break for teachers who bought supplies out of their own pockets. It was a startling decision, an admission that lawmakers were simply unwilling to give teachers the materials they needed to do their jobs.
Instead, despite the scandalously low pay teachers received, they would be expected to buy their supplies and would receive a break on their taxes for a small portion of what they had to spend out of their own pockets.
It’s hard to imagine any other workplace operating that way. Imagine a new employee at SAS—or even at the General Assembly—being told the first day on the job that they needed to buy their own desk and computer and that they were welcome to deduct a small percentage of the cost off of next year’s state tax bill.
Then after boasting about how much the absurd tax credit showed they supported teachers, the same legislative leaders abolished the credit in 2013. It was part of the tax package that gave corporations and the wealthy huge tax cuts while allowing the state Earned Income Tax Credit for low-wage workers to expire.
There wasn’t much discussion about ending the tax credit for teachers, but there were more cuts to education, the slashing thousands of teacher assistants, and another reduction in funding for supplies.
Teachers would have to buy even more of the materials they needed to do their jobs and wouldn’t even continue to receive the almost insulting tax credit for part of their purchases.
And to make matters worse, many veteran teachers received barely any pay increase at all.
Then came the 2015 session and another round of tax cuts for corporations and another $1,800 break for millionaires.
Two of the big education “achievements” touted by legislative leaders were not cutting more teacher assistants and funding increased student enrollment. Apparently not cutting more was worthy of a celebration.
They also increased the starting pay for teachers, but more than two-thirds of educators received no raise at all, only a one-time $750 bonus that doesn’t count toward their retirement. It leaves average teacher pay languishing below neighboring states and near the bottom of national rankings, prompting many teachers to consider moving to other states or leaving the professional altogether.
But just to show again they care, General Assembly budget writers are now touting the reinstatement of the small tax credit for teachers who buy the supplies they need to help students learn.
It reimburses teachers for some of their purchases but also reminds them that the folks currently running things in Raleigh have no intention of properly funding the schools. And they are counting on teachers themselves to pick up the slack.
Thanks to cuts in recent sessions, there are now 7,500 fewer teacher assistants in the classroom before the recession.
Taking the philosophy of the tax credit for supplies to its logical conclusion, teachers who don’t like it and need the extra help in the classroom should stop complaining and hire the TAs themselves and pay them personally. Maybe lawmakers will reward them with another tax break worth a few dollars.
That’s what it has come to in our public schools. Adequately funding the classrooms is apparently no longer on the table.