THE BUSH TAX CUT PLAN
Background: When students hear/see/read about something that is happening in the news like proposed tax cuts, they rarely get all the data to help them make informed decisions. This is particularly true when the topic at hand has to do with numbers and calculations.
All too often, people accept what they see/hear/read without checking the numbers themselves. This lesson was designed to get students to first question what they read, second investigate it, and third, analyze the results of their investigations to develop an informed opinion.
Objective: Students will be able to calculate income tax rates, interpret data tables and tax tables, critically analyze articles detailing the tax cut plan, and write intelligently about how their own calculations and research led them to their opinions on important topics.
Time: 2 class periods of approximately 1 hour each (without considering the lesson extensions.) Plus a possible homework assignment.
CLASS PERIOD #1 (Approximately 55-65 minutes)
PART 1 - Understanding the Topic
A. Activate students' prior knowledge about taxes (5 minutes) by asking them what they have heard about President Bush's tax cut plan and what they know about taxes in general. Listen and correct any major misperceptions.
B. Assign the students to read the Online NewsHour update and the two NewsHour transcripts (15-20 minutes). Each student should read it and underline/highlight important things and write little notes and questions in the margins.
C. Then break the students into three groups corresponding to each article and give each group a large sheet of paper (size of a poster board), and instruct them to make a "web" to help them brainstorm questions about one of the three articles. Give each group a marker to use, and remind them that there are no wrong answers or "stupid" ideas in a brainstorm. Draw an example on the board of an Ideas Chart.
D. Come back together as a class and share ideas and questions. (10-15 min). Ask the class: What did you learn from your articles? What questions do you have about what the articles mean, about taxes in general, about the proposed tax cut?
Write some of the ideas and questions on the board. Also prompt them and try to
include variations on the following questions.
PART 2 - Checking Our Sources (40 minutes)
Some forms of taxes are considered progressive. Progressive taxes take more from those able to pay more. Because this method is based on the ability to pay, it is considered the fairest means of taxation. People with higher incomes pay larger amounts of tax because their taxable income is larger. Thus, a greater portion of their income is paid to taxes; the tax rate increases as the taxable income increases.
The progressive principle, applied to our federal system of taxation, imposes a tax on wealth and income. Wealth includes assets such as houses, cars, stocks, bonds, and savings accounts. Income refers to wages, interest and dividends, or other payments. States, too, use progressive tax rates to tax the income of their residents. Inheritance taxes also use this progressive principle.
A. Explain that in this lesson we will try to answer several of the questions discussed in Part 1 and thereby get a better understanding of the proposed tax cuts. To do so, we will use some tools widely available to the public to verify the accuracy of the information we have read. Ask students why they think some of the news material they read/see/hear may not be completely accurate and objective? (Interest in swaying public opinion to one point of view or the other; putting a certain "spin" on it; "spin doctoring").
B. Tell the class, that first, we'll consider what the tax brackets are all about. In the article "Feeling the Tax Cut," May 28, 2001, there is a quote pertaining to tax brackets. Put up Overhead #1 (Clint Stretch Quote.)
C. Put up Overhead #2 (Tax Brackets-2002 Taxable Income.) Tell students, this table may help flesh out the details of the tax brackets.
Tell the class, that this table shows the tax rate for people with various amounts of "taxable income," which isn't quite the same as how much money people make each year. That would be called their gross income. Taxable income means the amount left after you subtract all the exemptions and deductions that you use the tax forms to figure out. So, for example, a person with a yearly gross income of $40,000 may end up with a taxable income of $20,000 after all of their deductions and exemptions are subtracted.
D. Pass out the modified table Worksheet #1 (Tax Brackets-2002 Taxable Income). Tell the class: now let's calculate what amount of money in taxes (called "tax liability") each of these brackets would pay. Elicit from the students how one calculates this (answer: take the percent, change it into a decimal and multiply it by the amount of money.)
E. Pass out Tax Table 2002 and have it on the overhead as well to model using it. Tell the class, let's check these numbers against the standard tax table from the same year to see if the information in the Tax Brackets table and our calculations on it match up with the Tax Table.
Say to class: notice that this bracket doesn't quite match up to 15% even at the top end of the range, but it gets to 14%, which is close. Also notice that the more money you have, the higher percentage you pay in taxes. This is how it normally works.
CLASS PERIOD #2 - Creating Our Own Tax Bracket Table
A. Pass out a blank copy of Worksheet #2 (Tax Brackets: Before and After) and a complete copy, which you can use as the answer key. This table shows where people at various income levels would fall in the tax bracket now, and where they would fall if Pres. Bush' tax plan were to become law. (You may also want to put up an overhead of it.)
B. Show students how to fill it in using data we've already calculated in Worksheet #1. (If necessary, model for the class how to fill in the data, then have students finish filling it in.
(Note: Refer to Overhead #1 again, and explain that based on the 2001 Clint Stretch quote, there were only 5 tax brackets initially. Note that by the next year, there were 6 tax brackets (according to the 2002 Tax Brackets Table in Overhead #2), due to the addition of a 10% bracket, which Clint Stretch mentioned as part of the tax cut. Therefore, when we do a comparison of the tax brackets before and after the proposed tax plan, we will consider only 5 tax brackets in the "before" column, with 15% as the lowest. And then in the "after" column we will add in the 10% tax bracket.)
C. Answer the following questions in essay form, with references to the sources used in class and any outside sources. Sources must be cited in a bibliography. (Students may begin this lesson in class and finish for homework.)
Assessment note: Worksheet #2 (Tax Brackets: Before and After), and the writing assignment can serve as the final assessment. Also, group work and class participation may be included in the grade.
OF CLASS PERIOD #2
Select the best essays/edit essays, help improve them if necessary and send them
to state representatives/senators along with the table of numbers we calculated.
You can find the names and addresses of your local representative at Congress.org.
C. Explore the demographics of the United States to see how many people are in each tax bracket. Using the Annual Demographic Survey form found on the Census Web site, create a pie chart showing how many people are in each bracket.
ADDITIONAL TEACHER RESOURCES
Taxes for Teachers
Author Amy Lein teaches Special Education and Math at Newton North High School in Newton, MA. She has a Master's Degree in Special Education from Lesley University, and a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from Carleton College.
To find out more about opportunities to contribute to this site, contact Leah Clapman at firstname.lastname@example.org.