Look no further than the teacher spending deduction to understand tax-plan differences

The House tax bill, approved this month, would eliminate the teacher spending deduction in its effort to secure bigger tax cuts for all. The Senate bill would double it to $500, and give Democrats the chance to show they support the middle class.

WASHINGTON — For Carrie Uffelman Brake, planning for next school year begins before the current one ends.

The shopping starts as early as April, when she gets the list of students who will be in her third-grade classroom in rural Tennessee the following fall. If boys outnumber girls, she will need extra toys to keep hyperactive hands busy. If it is a group of struggling readers, she will need double the number of books.

Bargain-hunting season comes in early summer, when nobody is shopping for school supplies. That gives way to the blowout sales in late summer, when everybody is. Then there’s tax time, and a $250 tax deduction to offset some of that out-of-pocket spending.

For 15 years, the nation’s tax code has recognized teachers like Uffelman Brake with a small perk that has now come to illustrate a larger philosophical divide as Congress tries to push through a sweeping tax overhaul.

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The House tax bill, approved this month along party lines, would eliminate the teacher spending deduction in its effort to clean up the tax code, close loopholes and secure bigger tax cuts for all.

The Senate bill would double it, to $500.

Voting on the tax measure is scheduled to begin Tuesday, as the Senate Budget Committee plans to take a procedural step that afternoon that would effectively send the tax bill to the Senate floor. If the Senate measure passes — a step that’s by no means guaranteed — lawmakers in both chambers would have to hammer out a compromise between their differing bills.

“The deduction is a small token of appreciation for teachers who make financial sacrifices to benefit their students,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who wrote the law that created the educator tax credit in 2002 and now wants to expand it.

The deduction — which reduces taxable income, rather than providing a dollar-for-dollar credit in a tax bill — does not yield a large return for its recipients. The most a teacher could recoup is $100, and most see a return of about $40, a small fraction of the roughly $600 that teachers are estimated to spend a year.

But for the more than 3 million teachers who claim the…

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