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Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers

Public Policy and the Federal Budget Public Policy and the Federal Budget — Other Lessons

Dividing the Federal Pie

For a simplified version of the lesson taught by Leslie Martin, visit Here you will find an interactive site that allows students to select from among several predetermined percentages for each of the following expenditure categories: State Department, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security Administration, Interest on the National Debt, and Other. These amounts must add up to 100 percent. Students may then bring up another screen that shows the actual current Federal budget to ascertain how close they came to reality. This can be used as an independent or cooperative learning activity.

Budget Cutting vs. Revenue Generation

Divide students into 14 pairs or small groups, each representing a single department in the executive branch, e.g., Health and Human Services, Defense, Housing and Urban Development, and so forth. Provide time for students to research the work of the department and its current budget via the Internet site noted above. Announce or distribute the following scenario to students:

A recent natural disaster has created a need for a large amount of money for emergency aid that is not in the present federal budget. The aid will go to a wide variety of purposes: housing and feeding families; repairing the infrastructure (roads, bridges, water systems, etc.) of the area; building new local, state, and federal facilities that were lost in the disaster; helping businesses get back on their feet; and so forth. The total amount of the federal budget cannot be changed, unless additional revenue is generated. For the moment, the President has directed each executive department to cut its budget by one percent.

Each pair or small group must decide where in its department budget the cut will be made and why. Provide time for each department to present its solution to the rest of the class and to answer any questions that fellow students may have on their proposed solution.

On the next day, divide students into cooperative learning groups of roughly five students each. Given the same scenario as previously, groups should brainstorm alternatives for federal revenue-generating activities that might be used to fill the funding gap created by the natural disaster. List these solutions on the board as groups report out. Discuss which solution would be the least damaging to the political standing of the President.

For homework, have each student write a one-page essay on which solution they prefer: revenue cutting or revenue generating, and tell why they think it is a better way to solve the problem.

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Making Civics Real: A Workshop for Teachers


Produced by State of the Art, Inc., in collaboration with the National Council for the Social Studies and the Center for Civic Education. 2003.
  • ISBN: 1-57680-679-0