An Apple and a Tax Break for the Teacher

October 26, 2005

It’s a rare person who doesn’t care about children’s education. Parents and legislators will go to great lengths to find and keep competent teachers. Some attempts are well intentioned but misguided; some are even detrimental to a state’s tax system.

Case in point: Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne is asking the state legislature to give all public and private schoolteachers, school librarians, school psychologists, and nurses a $2,500 tax credit to attract qualified educators to Arizona. For the average teacher, $2,500 would be the equivalent of a six percent raise. (Read the full story here.)

Some teachers and a few legislators support this proposal, but critics believe Home is simply trying to curry political favor for his 2006 re-election bid. Regardless of his sincerity, this proposal is bad tax policy. Arizona does not currently give tax credits based solely on occupation, and it shouldn’t start now.

Tax credits that benefit a small segment of the population narrow the tax base and make the tax code more complex and less neutral. Taxes should be used to collect revenue—not to implement social policy. Arizonans may value education highly and believe their children are worth the extra money, but the best—and easiest—way to implement that belief is simply to raise teachers’ salaries.

John Wright, president of the Arizona Education Association, has the right idea: “If paying teachers is a priority, put this in the budget.”

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A tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities.