Lending a Hand to Teachers

ASHLEY SMITH • Times-News Harrison Elementary School teacher Amy Kenyon works with Zander Rhodes, while he plays a memory game with fellow students at the school on Monday.

ASHLEY SMITH • Times-News

A group of Harrison Elementary School first-graders, led by special education teacher Amy Kenyon, practiced sounding out words Monday and gripped their pencils as they filled out a worksheet.

While basic supplies like pencils may seem like a necessity, some Magic Valley teachers spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets each year on classroom supplies.

Kenyon purchases pens and pencils, as well as cleaning supplies such as antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer.

“I also buy snacks for the kids, too,” she said.

Last year, she spent more than $250 of her own money for the classroom, but could only claim a $250 maximum deduction on her tax return.

Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, recently signed on as one of 33 co-sponsors of a federal bill introduced in May that would address that situation.

The Teacher Tax Relief Act seeks to increase the maximum tax deduction for teachers purchasing classroom materials from $250 to $500 per year. It would also expand the deduction to allow teachers to include professional development expenses.

Nikki Watts, Simpson’s spokeswoman, said the current classroom expense deduction for teachers is set to expire Dec. 31 unless Congress reauthorizes it.

Unlike years past, Idaho school districts no longer receive state funding for classroom supplies. The Legislature eliminated that line item from the state’s budget during the 2010-11 school year.

In Twin Falls and Filer, supply budgets are handled at a school level.

Twin Falls School District spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass said each Twin Falls school principal determines a budget for supplies for their school.

In the Filer School District, supply budgets have increased.

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However, nearly all the teachers still buy supplies out of pocket, Superintendent John Graham said, and they don’t receive enough financial assistance.

“What we provide for — that doesn’t come close to covering what a teacher spends,” he said.

Some school districts, such as Hagerman and Hansen, still have a yearly supply budget for each teacher.

Hagerman School District Superintendent Ron Echols said each teacher in Hagerman receives $250 per year to spend on classroom supplies.

Teachers in the Hansen School District also receive money for classroom supplies, but funding has dwindled over the past few years.

Four years ago, each classroom received $800 per year for supplies. This year, each of Hansen’s 13 classrooms received about $540.

“It’s not covering what teachers need,” Superintendent Dennis Coulter said.

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