Helping Students Understand Government Budgets
Our Teach-the-Teachers program, which helps high school teachers create lessons in economics, includes a section on government budgets. In an interactive manner, we look at federal, state, and local budgeting processes, revenues and expenditures. One of the teachers from 2015 program, Kerry Hartley from Canton High School in Connecticut, decided to adapt this lesson to her 12th grade government class by asking her students to look at their school district budget.
This exercise gave the students a chance to learn about the budgeting process, by way of looking at how the school district’s money is spent. Prior to my visit, Ms. Hartley divided her class into five groups, and each group was given a task to identify the top five questions they had for the superintendent, Mr. Case, after two days of researching the district’s budget.
On October 1, 2015, Mr. Case came to class to clarify the budget process and priorities, and to answer questions. Mr. Case answered every question gracefully. Students were attentive and curious.
For instance, students noticed that spending in several areas had declined, including technology, utilities, special education, employee benefits, and capital improvement projects. Mr. Case carefully explained the rationale for every move, every dollar. He said that savings were realized in the area of employee benefits due to recent contract negotiations. Special education savings, he said, were realized due to decreasing enrollment at the elementary level. It was interesting to see how students processed the realization that the demographic and political trends in their town are captured in the budget.
Mr. Case also spent time engaging students in an exploration of the school district budget timeline; showed steps in the budgeting process in their town; and explained other differences between 2014-15 and 2015-16 budgets.
The lesson helped students understand the inner workings of local governments in general and the school district budget in particular. And the lesson also illustrated the importance of civic engagement for every resident in town. As those high school seniors prepare for college, they can carry with them an important application of the role of government, which will hopefully make them more engaged members of society.
Photo: Kerry Hartley of Canton High School, Connecticut.