February 5, 2017

Taxes: Homeschool Curriculum?

Taxes: Homeschool Curriculum?
It's tax season and with that comes the question: Can I claim my homeschool curriculum, resources, etc on my taxes?

The short answer: No for federal taxes. Maybe on state taxes. 

Just like homeschool laws, tax laws vary per state. What can and cannot be deducted, what credits you get, etc. all depend on the state. Some states let you, others do not. You will have to talk to a tax advisor to find out what your state allows.

The long answer: Even if your state allows it you should never take it.
“Why? Why shouldn't I take it? It's my money. I should take advantage of every credit I can to maximize my return”.
Those are common questions and statements. So, before you start filling out those papers please let me explain to you why I and many others tell homeschoolers not to even bother with trying to get the tax credits and breaks for your homeschooling curriculum, supplies, co-op fees, etc.

The government does not see it as your money. They see it as their money, it's their revenue stream and frankly, they do not like to give it back. They want to keep as much as of it as possible and when they do give it back, even on a tax credit/break/refund, it often comes with strings attached.

These strings might not be visible right away and might not even apply right now, but they have potential to make things problematic down the road in terms of changing your state's homeschool laws. This is especially true if you live in a low regulated state.

For example: I am in Illinois. Illinois taxes does have a line where homeschoolers can make a claim. It's the same line that teachers use. The state gets a copy of my husband's W2. They know he's not a teacher. They know from my lack of a W2 that I am not a teacher. Illinois is a low-regulated state: no registration, no letter of intent, etc. So I just increased our risk of being audited by using the credit. Also, using the credit just increased the potential for lawmakers to use that as ammo on WHY homeschoolers should, at the very least, be registered. Lawmakers will start to say:
How can we be sure they are really homeschooling if we don't make them register? How can we be sure they are not scamming us? We have all these homeschoolers claiming this credit, but no way to verify it. No way to be sure. We need registration.
Illinois homeschoolers already went to bat to once to help prevent registration a few years back. I know because I was there. The senator that wanted the bill is retired now, and there might not be anything current on the books, but the tone that brought that bill is still there in Springfield.
“Nikki, you are paranoid! You are running on could happen scenarios. That's Illinois, not my state."
I have legitimate reasons for feeling this way. I have heard the testimonies from others in other states were taking government handouts have back fired. Where government money most defiantly came with a price and sometimes that price wasn't clear or known in the beginning.

Case 1:  The government told the family they could spend the money on anything, anything they wanted. No rules. For years the family took the government's money and bought Christian homeschooling curriculum. There was never a rule saying they couldn't. The government never asked the family was clearly told they could use it on whatever they wanted.  This arrangement went on for years. The family every year asked for the money, they spent it on what they wanted, and after several years thousands of dollars was given to the family to spend on homeschooling needs.

 One year there was a new form to fill out to get the money. This form asked them what they planned on using the money for and what they had used the money on in the PASS! The family filled out this new form. They didn't think anything of it, after all they had been doing this for years. What could giving them that bit of info do to them?

Well after filling out that paperwork the government denied them the money that year. It was denied because they were using Christian curriculum. Not only was it denied, but because they used PASS money for Christian curriculum (remember there as no rule saying they couldn't) they now OWE the government money. Every penny the government gave them had to be paid back. Thousands of dollars!  This family has paid back all of the money AND MORE!  -- governmental red tape is why they are still paying the government. They are still trying to fight it.

Case 2: The passing or attempting to pass various Tebow type Laws across the country. Some homeschoolers might want the passing of those types of laws because it allows homeschoolers to play on (public school) sports teams. I pay taxes to the (public) schools so my child should be able to play on the team. 

These laws come with the price of giving up some freedoms that homeschoolers enjoyed -- especially if that state is a low-regulated state. The most recent example of how these type of laws come with more regulations for homeschoolers is what's going on in Texas.

Currently, Texas, like Illinois, is a low regulated state, no registration, no letter of intent, no standardized tests.  The passing of a Tebow type Law there will mean those that choose to take advantage of it will have to do standardized testing. Something that is not required now.  It might be just those that want to play public school sports today, but that's how it snowballs. Lawmakers later down the road will say we got homeschoolers that play sports to take standardized testing -- so all homeschoolers should take standardized tests.

I have heard about these cases and others when talking with other homeschoolers. Taking a tax credit could truly mean more regulations for you or other homeschoolers in your state. With homeschooling becoming more mainstream we forget the battles that families a generation ago had to fight just to be able to homeschool. We should be doing things to preserve those rights and loosen the government regulations. All states should truly be low regulated states; we should be pushing to make them that way -- not claiming tax credits, taking government money,  or pushing for laws that could cause more regulations.

EDIT ADD:  Vouchers and HR 610 also relates to all of this and yet another example we, as homeschoolers, should be pushing back and NOT be taking tax credits, deductions, or vouchers. You can read my thoughts here: Vouchers and Homeschooling and Tina's thoughts here: More on the (Ugly) Trojan Horse Named Vouchers.

Photo Credit: John Morgan

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