Friday, September 17, 2004

?First responders? who deserve better

Police and firefighters and emergency medical personnel rightfully deserve their place and rewards as the nation?s ?first responders?--the homeland?s frontline solders who deal with crises and catastrophe.

But other ?first responders? don?t fare nearly so well--classroom teachers in U.S. public schools.

Teachers are on the frontlines of educating new generations of children. But in the process they?re criticized, burdened by long hours with students and by grading papers, subjected to overcrowded classes, expected to be absentee parental disciplinarians for children who don?t behave and resist learning.

All this for salaries that lag woefully far behind other professions, often behind school grounds custodians.

And at virtually every school in the nation, teachers must use their own funds to buy classroom supplies that schools don?t provide because of shrunken budgets --glue sticks, crayons, ink cartridges, markers, pencils and pens, paper and the like.

Now comes another slap in the face.

The $250 federal income tax deduction for teachers to cover out-of-pocket spending on classroom supplies is expiring this year. In California, worse: The state is suspending a $1,500 tax credit for teachers who buy classroom supplies.

Only a few states provide tax deductions for teachers on their books. Idaho is one that does not have such a deduction. Arizona?s conservative Legislature refuses to provide a deduction for teachers, claiming such a break is just more spending on education.

A study by the National School Supply and Equipment Association estimates that the average public school teacher spends $458 per year on school supplies, most of it out of their own pockets, sometimes reimbursed by school parent groups.

Meanwhile, the U.S. tax code provides volumes of tax deductions to benefit taxpayers who surely are less deserving than teachers.

In states such as Idaho and Arizona, lawsuits aimed at forcing state government to pay for needed repairs of rundown schools continue to drag on through the courts--and teachers continue to be compelled to teach in less than adequate surroundings.

Why do those who hold the purse strings never hesitate to crow that police, fire and emergency medical services deserve the best, and plead the American military must have proper tools?

Yet, the American classroom teacher continues to be little more than a scapegoat for failings in education and expected to endure whatever is dished out--rarely honored or rewarded in a society that cherishes educated children.

To teachers, a tax deduction for supplies is a minor issue. They willingly provide supplies with their own funds to ensure that students have proper learning environment.

How ironic that those usually so quick to criticize teachers and education don?t have the same instinct of willing sacrifice.

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