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Four Things Educators Should Know About the Tax Bill Trump Just Signed


President Donald Trump just signed a major tax bill into law. It took two votes in the House to finally get it done, and the holdup was related to education. (More on that below.) So what does it mean for education? Here's a short list.

1) School funding in states and districts might get shaken up

That's because the tax bill changes how deductions for state and local tax work. In short, it imposes a new, $10,000 cap on those deductions—taxpayers can choose to deduct that amount in either property or sales taxes they pay, or property and income taxes. 

Supporters of such a move argue it will rein in improperly high state and local tax rates. But by the same token, critics charge decreasing these federal deductions could ultimately lead to stagnant or reduced state and local funding for K-12. Click here to read more about the potential impact of this change on schools.

2) The teacher tax-deduction rollercoaster ended where it started

The initial tax reform bill, introduced by the House, would have eliminated the $250 deduction educators can currently take for spending their own money on classroom supplies. Teachers and principals cried foul. They argued that it was an unfair benefit to take away, even though it wasn't a particularly big one in the grand scheme of things. The deduction will cost an estimated $210 million in federal revenue in 2017. The Senate's version of the tax bill, however, doubled that deduction to $500.

So how did it end? The final version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act keeps this deduction at $250.

3) Saving for private school choice just got easier—at least for some

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act creates a new wrinkle for 529 college savings plans, which are tax advantaged. The bill would allow parents to use them for K-12 expenses, including private school choice, as well as postsecondary costs. The bill puts a $10,000 cap on the money people can set aside for K-12 in these plans. 

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and others have applauded the move, although DeVos said Tuesday the move has limitations. But others argue it will mainly help wealthier parents who can afford to set money aside, and those already sending their children to private schools

In a last-minute twist, the Senate parliamentarian on Tuesday ruled that the slice of this provision that allowed 529 plan dollars to be spent on home schooling violated the chamber's rule. The Senate and then the House voted to approve the bill without this provision covering home schooling costs. 

4) There are new rules for school debt and construction

The final bill headed to Trump would end what are known as qualified school construction bonds and Qualified Zone Academy Bonds, which are tax-advantaged tools that can help reduce total capital costs for schools—the latter are particularly important to charter schools. However, charter advocates have praised the bill for preserving Private Activity Bonds, which provide special finacing for certain projects.

Also, the bill would end advance refunding bonds, which are used to pay down long-term debt at reduced costs. K-12 business officials say getting rid of these would rob them of a helpful fiscal tool.

Photo: President Donald Trump displays the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul package he had just signed on Dec. 22 in the Oval Office of the White House. Trump touted the size of the tax cut, declaring to reporters in the Oval Office before he signed it that "the numbers will speak." Evan Vucci/AP

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