State Senate to take vote on education tax credit today


HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers are deciding whether to give teachers, school librarians and counselors a tax credit for buying classroom supplies.

Both the House and the Senate have approved versions of the proposal. The Senate is deciding today whether to agree or disagree with the House draft. Lawmakers will most likely send the bill to a committee made up of both House and Senate lawmakers for further debate.

Lynn Hammonds, executive director of the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board, said the bill would help dedicated teachers who often spend out-of-pocket to make sure their classrooms have enough supplies.

Kris Coffield from IMUAlliance, a nonpartisan political advocacy organization, said teachers in the U.S. spent an average of $356 on school supplies in 2009-2010.

Coffield said Hawaii’s high cost of living could make this figure higher.

But the state Department of Taxation has criticized the proposal as too broad and duplicative of an existing federal tax deduction.

The department estimates that the state could lose about $3.5 million a year if the bill is approved.

The Tax Foundation of Hawaii also criticized the bill and suggested giving teachers debit cards with predetermined amounts to cover the cost of school supplies.

“Instead of just throwing money at a problem, which in this case uses a tax credit, lawmakers should demand that the department fix the problem with the money that is there,” the organization said in a statement.

But supporters of the bill say there are additional benefits to creating the tax credit.

Coffield said that the credit could serve as an incentive to retain teachers. The organization says Hawaii has the highest teacher turnover rate in the nation.