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OR Teachers Cover Classroom Supplies, Student Needs

December 21, 2009

SALEM, Ore. - It is not uncommon for Oregon teachers to dip into their own pockets to purchase school supplies for a special project, or to meet a student's individual need - for a coat, socks, even eyeglasses. At year's end, a tax rule that would allow teachers to write off some of their supply purchases awaits action in Congress; and a program to help needy students in Oregon is swamped with requests.

Hanna Vaandering, vice president and chair of the Oregon Education Foundation, supports the proposed tax rule change, and says some schools can't afford such basics as art supplies. She thinks teachers who buy their own should be able to deduct the cost.

"This bill will extend that, and we're hoping that it will be increased from the $250 to $500, because studies show that educators are spending over a thousand dollars out-of-pocket, on average, a year."

Most teachers pay for at least some of their classroom supplies, says Vaandering, although opponents of the Teacher Tax Relief Act see it as another tax break that reduces federal income. The bill is in a House committee in Congress; no action has been taken on it yet. Of the 55 co-sponsors, only one, Cong. Greg Walden, is from Oregon.

At the same time, teachers are also seeing more need among students, according to Vaandering. The Oregon Education Foundation is the charitable arm of the teachers' union. She says they've been swamped with teachers' requests for grants of up to $100, which are used for a variety of personal items for kids.

"Glasses for students, warm jackets, tennis shoes, socks; because they don't have them. We've helped students with dental work; almost any item you can think of, to assure that basic needs of a student is met."

The Foundation has made $106,000-worth of grants this year, sending out about $5,000 a week recently. Teachers primarily donate to the fund, but anyone may do so.

The bill is HR 3758. Link to the Oregon Education Foundation from the OEA Web site at www.oregoned.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR