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First test question. Fill in the blank:

Balancing the federal budget is _______________.

  1. honorable
  2. impossible
  3. unnecessary
  4. imperative
  5. all of the above
  6. none of the above
  7. Ah, forget it and let’s just go home.

Balancing the federal budget has been a major headache for decades. Liberals and conservatives argue about the best way to accomplish a balanced budget—“Raise taxes and reduce spending.” “No, don’t raise taxes…it will kill job creation. Cut spending!” “Where do you cut? Defense? Not in these dangerous times!” “Cut the entitlement programs. They’re unsustainable.” “And what?  Go back on promises to seniors? You don’t want to get those people angry!”

 As we move closer to the 2012 general election, the call for balancing the budget grows louder, the issues grow cloudier, and as the federal debt continues to… well, grow.

To see how much the debt has grown since I wrote this article, click here.


Scary, huh?  Imagine having to cover this subject with your students. There are so many parts to the puzzle: How does the federal budget work? What are the different priorities of Americans? What are the beliefs of liberals and conservatives, and how do these beliefs translate into public policy?

This month, INTERACT is introducing a unique classroom simulation entitled The Better Budget. In this unit, students serve on a focus group for a congresswoman interested in knowing what her constituents would cut from the current federal budget to save the federal government $1 billion. To provide a balanced solution, they study liberal and conservative ideas about the appropriate role of government, learn about the various categories of federal spending, and then make hard choices about which programs and services to end—which to relegate to state and local government, and which to shift to the private sector. Sound familiar? The simulation is very realistic with up-to-date instructional materials that can be upgraded though the years.

The Better Budget is based on the instructional method of project-based learning (PBL). The unit is part of a larger set of government simulations developed by the Buck Institute for Education out of Novato, California. They have also developed PBL units on Economics. Students engage in rigorous, extended inquiry that is focused on complex, authentic questions and problems.  They create high-quality products and performances and present them to a public audience. As a result, the students learn 21st-century skills such as collaboration, presentation, and critical thinking/problem-solving under authentic conditions.

  •  For teachers, The Better Budget unit provides step-by-step instructions to help guide you and your students through the process. The unit is full of accurate and comprehensive content materials to help students understand the complexities of the federal budget, budget management, and the politics of taxing and spending.
  •  For students, The Better Budget provides an engaging, true-to-life experience where they face complex issues, have to make difficult choices, and produce recommendations that will affect people’s lives, for better or worse.

The Better Budget is a great teaching tool for preparing students to better understand the politics of the federal budget process, the influence of constituent groups, and the tough choices that sometimes have to be made. Conducting the unit in your class this fall will provide students with a better understanding of the issues that surround the upcoming election and will help build a greater long-term understanding of taxing, spending, and managing the “people’s money.”



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