Spending Priorities

Educator Toolkit: Peoples Guide to the Federal Budget

Activity Type: Group/Individual
Chapter: 5
Objective: Students will be able to articulate how tax dollars are allocated between different spending categories.

Teacher facilitates an all-class activity primarily focused on individual federal income taxes.

  1. On a very large piece of paper or multiple pieces of paper taped together, the teacher draws 13 vertical bars of equal height.
  2. Label the bars to coincide with NPP's federal spending categories: Social Security, Unemployment & Labor; Medicare & Health; Military; Interest on Debt; Food & Agriculture; Veterans’ Benefits; Transportation; Education; Energy & Environment; Housing & Community; International Affairs; Government; and Science.
  3. As students enter the classroom, hand each one 20 colored stickers or Post-It notes. 
  4. Once assembled, invite the students to pretend that they have just paid one dollar in federal income taxes.
  5. Tell the students that each of their twenty stickers are worth 5 cents of their tax dollar.
  6. Briefly describe the bar chart you have created and explain the contents of each spending category. It is very important that students understand each spending category. (Note: find the contents in Notes and Sources for Tax Day)
  7. Invite students to gather around the bar chart and place their stickers on the empty bars to correspond with where they want the federal government to spend their federal income tax dollar. Students may spend their tax dollar in any way they choose. For example, if a student thinks the Education category deserves 30 cents of her taxes, she should place six stickers on the Education bar.
  8. Once all students have completed this exercise ask them to take their seats.

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