Educators Get a Tax Break on Pandemic Supplies

A teacher wearing a N95 Face masks teaches mathematics at an High School
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The IRS already gives a tax break to educators who spend their own money for classroom and school supplies, but it’s expanding the deduction to include money spent on COVID-19 protective gear during the pandemic, including face masks, disinfectant, hand soap, and more. 

Under the new rule, educators can include money spent on COVID-19 protective supplies after March 12, 2020, as part of the existing educator expense deduction, which allows eligible K-12 teachers, counselors, aides, instructors, and principals to write off up to $250 a year on their taxes for classroom supplies they buy that are not reimbursed by their employers.

Teaching is among the few jobs where employees can take tax deductions for work-related expenses, but the tax break doesn’t cover all teachers: the educator expense deduction does not apply to higher education professionals, so college professors are out of luck. 

While it doesn’t apply to all educators, there is good reason for teachers to get an income tax write-off: Even before the pandemic, 94% of all K-12 teachers were using their own money to buy classroom supplies, results from a 2016 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics showed. Another analysis even found that teachers were shelling out an average of $459 per year on school supplies. When the pandemic hit and items such as masks and hand sanitizer became part of the back-to-school shopping list, some teachers even turned to crowdfunding to pay for the extra expenses.

The update to the educator expense deduction was part of the COVID-19 relief bill passed at the end of 2020.