Math in the real world: from education to tax policy

During my interview with the League, Gilda Jacobs asked why it seems like so many teachers go into public policy. It’s a funny question, but she’s not wrong to wonder. 

Many of my former teaching colleagues have pursued masters degrees in public affairs or public administration, and some have even run for office or plan to. While I don’t think many new teachers anticipate such a transition, it is easy to see how a career in education would spark an interest in any number of policy areas impacting the lives of students.

When I was graduating college, it seemed obvious that I should become a teacher. As a student, I spent a year teaching pre-literacy as an AmeriCorps volunteer and three summers teaching middle school math and history. 

I was excited to start my career as a high school math teacher at a small school in rural Kentucky, but it was immediately challenging. Across six classes, ranging from algebra to calculus, I found it difficult to create engaging materials for students who were often behind academically, changed schools frequently, and had their own struggles due to financial situations at home. 

As a teacher, it was impossible not to see how the poor economic landscape in the region was impacting my students and community. Yet there was and continues to be promise for the future. Many state economic development agencies are working tirelessly to support revitalization efforts in the Appalachian region of Kentucky. 

I was inspired by these efforts, and was lucky to find teachers too had a role in supporting the initiatives thanks to a region-wide Race to the Top Grant. Through this initiative, I had the opportunity to partner with the Appalachian Technology Institute to begin offering courses in Python, JavaScript, and website development, preparing students for careers in technology. 

The great thing about teaching is how it allows you to reflect on your own goals. As I was encouraging students to explore new ideas and consider different career paths, I was also thinking about my own. While not all of my students were drawn to computer science, I was immediately taken by the excitement offered by coding and data analysis. I began to think about a career in public policy where I could influence some of the social and economic challenges that made teaching so difficult to begin with.

I returned to school in 2018 to study economics and public policy, an opportunity that expanded my understanding of the structural issues contributing to poverty as well as many of the policy efforts proposed to create a more equitable society. At the heart of every topic I studied, from the economics of inequality to household debt, I saw how important it was to create more fairness in our systems—especially as it pertains to tax policy.

I am joining the League to work on tax policy at a time when many Americans are realizing just how unfair our tax systems have become. As global leaders are working to ensure the largest multinational corporations pay as much as small domestic businesses and U.S. policymakers are calling for reforms following the revelation that the 25 wealthiest Americans are paying a lower tax rate than the average family, I am excited to be working with the League to support tax policy changes that will benefit families, like making permanent the American Rescue Plan Act’s changes to the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, and communities across Michigan.

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