The bill would give educators, librarians a tax credit for school supplies

A bill that would establish a state income tax credit for educators and librarians, which previously stalled in this year’s legislative session, has been revived and unanimously passed the Hawaiʻi State Senate’s important Ways and Means Committee Wednesday.

House Bill 1327 faced an uncertain future since being introduced in this year’s legislative session. Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz on Tuesday asked for the proposal to be re-referred to his committee and Senate President Ron Kouchi fast-tracked the bill, allowing it to be heard in Ways and Means on Wednesday, following advocacy by teachers from around the islands on HSTA Lobby Day on Monday.

After Wednesday’s vote on the tax credit bill, Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association President Osa Tui, Jr., said, “At one point it didn’t look like it was going to survive the Senate. But thanks to Senator Dela Cruz and Senator (Michelle) Kidani (chair of the Senate Education Committee), they were able to revive it and bring it back, and we’re so happy that the Senate Ways and Means Committee passed it today.

“So many of our teachers dig into their pockets time and time again for the students that don’t have anything. And it’s not the student’s fault. To just keep digging into your pockets for these students, it really takes a toll. And recognizing that teachers do pay out of pocket for so many things, with a tax credit, it really shows respect to teachers and what they do,” Tui added.

According to the latest draft of the measure passed at Wednesday’s decision-making meeting, the tax credit would apply to tax years after December 31, 2022. The precise dollar amount of the tax credit is still to be determined.

At another Ways and Means Committee hearing Monday, Laverne Moore, a special education teacher at McKinley High School and HSTA’s teacher lobbyist, testified about the importance of the tax credit.

“We (teachers) are the ones that use our money to support our students when they do not have the supplies. When the CTE (career and technical education) teachers, when one of the machines breaks down, you don’t have time to do a budget. You don’t have time to write a purchase order. That teacher takes it out of their personal pocket, to pay for broken machines that are going on in the schools.

“Teachers truly need this tax credit…. So please remember your 13,600 teachers when it comes to vote on this bill, we truly need it. $500 in our pocket is $500,” Moore added, referring to the original bill which called for a $500 tax credit.

The bill was originally introduced by Gov. Josh Green as an incentive to help burdened teachers in the classrooms who pay out-of-pocket for school supplies. The measure establishes a state income tax credit for qualified expenses incurred by certain individuals employed by HIDOE, the Hawaiʻi state public library system, or as part of a head start program in a school.

“We’re very grateful for Governor Green who got the ball started on teacher tax credits,” said Tui, HSTA’s president.

An HSTA survey answered by more than 530 educators across the islands in January found the respondents reported spending an average of $953 of their own money a year on various classroom supplies. Educators who answered the HSTA survey said they spent anywhere from $75 to $4,000 annually out of their own funds on various classroom supplies, conferences and many other expenses.

‘Treat this like the emergency this is,’ Maui teacher says

HSTA members participated in Teacher Lobby Day Monday, visiting with their lawmakers to discuss important issues, including how the tax credit would greatly benefit teachers.

Several neighbor island teachers testified live before the Senate Ways and Means Committee Monday on the bill and its potential impact.

Keaʻau Middle School teacher Tiffany Edwards Hunt told lawmakers, “I would really benefit from a $500 tax credit… I’m constantly paying out of pocket in order to provide for our students out in Puna, whether it’s a cup of noodles, or pencils or pens that you can’t anticipate at the beginning of the school year. You cannot say no to a child. And that’s the mindset that I have.

“A little bit of an incentive like a $500 tax credit goes a long way towards keeping the morale lifted, and it keeps highly qualified people in the room. I can’t tell you how many people we need in Puna to be our teachers. And the more that we give incentives for the profession, the better,” she added.

John Fitzpatrick, a science teacher at Maui-Waena Intermediate School said, “The $500 teacher tax credit would help me pay for spaghetti and marshmallows to make earthquake-proof towers (with his science classes) next week. Also, I’ve spent money on Donors Choose to fill the holes that my community didn’t fill up so I could get microscopes for my students. So it really helps all of our teachers afford the things that we paid for our school.

Fitzpatrick continued about how incentives like the teacher tax credit could help alleviate the state’s teacher shortage crisis.

“I really hope that the Senate and the House treat this like the emergency it is,” Fitzpatrick said. “Treat it like it’s COVID and make sure that we end the teacher shortage crisis. I’ve been doing this for about eight to 10 years and we were talking about the teacher shortage crisis in 2016. And it’s getting worse and worse and worse.”

The bill will next go to the House and Senate conference committees for hearings before going to their respective floors for a vote. All bills are subject to amendment and change, and the final outcome will not be clear unless and until lawmakers pass the bill in some form and it becomes law with or without the governor’s signature.