If the President had to prepare his own taxes, I’d bet our tax code would be a lot simpler. If you file your own, you’ve probably run across forms that make you run through complicated “worksheets” that lead you back to the original form and probably the entry of a big fat 0 on your 1040, Schedule A, Form 8829, Worksheet 674x-b12.7, or one of the other gazillion forms. It’s no wonder people take their box of receipts down to H&R Block and hope for the best.
The same thing is true in my classroom—at least kind of—when students prepare their weekly tax report. It’s the heart and soul of The Checkbook Project. At first, kids hate the process, but once they become competent, they simply hate having to pay the tax.
Springtime (or whenever we return to school, assuming you’re shuttered like most of the nation) is a great time to try out The Checkbook Project. The name is a misnomer, by the way. There are no checks, just checkbook registers in which students keep track of their debits and credits. “The class is doing an excellent job at staying at an appropriate noise level; everyone give yourself a $5 quiet credit,” is a typical statement made in my classroom. “Great job on this math test, Julio. You scored an 88%. That’s $88 for your bank account.”
The Checkbook Project is a financial literacy program that creates a real economy in the classroom. As in the real world, everything has value attached to it. What isn’t covered by “taxes” (the public drinking fountain, for example) costs checkbook money. Students get a ton of real-world math experience, the system is its own behavior management program, and the kids get an authentic introduction to economics, including why we pay taxes and how complicated the tax code can be. In our case, students calculate and deduct their income tax simply by listing their income sources for the period and multiplying the total by the current tax rate (I always start at 10%). They divide that by two to derive at their Social Security tax, and then deduct both from their account (before moving on to paying desk rent or their mortgage).
New this year are two complicating forms inspired by my own experience preparing my taxes. The first, Form 219b allows students to deduct from their income charitable donations and contributions to a 403b investment account. I give my students 10 times what they contribute in real money to school charities such as our coin drive raising money for Nepalese students. A $1 donation puts $10 in their own checkbook account. My kids then get to deduct that from their income before paying taxes. I also want to encourage my students to become savers, so not only do they get to deduct contributions to their 403b, I also pay out 10% interest on their total savings every other week. The 219b certainly makes filing class taxes a bit harder (so I don’t let kids do it in the first couple weeks of the project), but it rewards them for being savers and givers.
XP-20 is the second form, which penalizes kids for sloppy, inaccurate, or incomplete tax forms. It’s painful enough that kids usually only have to fill it out one time. To accommodate both forms, I’ve also revamped the Tax Report form.
Anyway, if you haven’t looked over The Checkbook Project, tax season is a good time to do so. It’s completely free on my TpT storefront. All you have to do is download it. No complicated forms to fill out. No taxes to pay.
Happy directing, er, tax filing!