Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tax Day is a Learning Opportunity

Photo by John Morgan

Every year on April 15th, adults in the U.S. file their taxes, and for most students, this deadline passes relatively unnoticed except for the anxiety and stress they may observe from adults in their lives. But tax day is a learning opportunity for students. For example, it’s a way to instill the importance of meeting deadlines or balancing a budget. It also extends into a thoughtful discussion on who pays taxes, how much, and what benefits are received in return.  Tax day lends itself as an occasion in your classroom to talk about the contributions of all immigrants as well as a common immigration myth, namely that “undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, but they get benefits.”

To initiate a conversation with students on tax day, find out what knowledge they have already have about it and draw personal connections.
Ask students:

  • Do you have a budget? How do you earn money? How do you decide to spend it?
  • Do you think you pay taxes? If so, how? 
  • Does the government have a budget? How does it earn money?  How does the government decide to spend it?
  • Who should pay taxes? Should everyone pay the same amount or should it vary according to income?
Be sure to have students explain how they pay taxes through sales tax. It is estimated that immigrant households and businesses pay approximately $300 billion in federal, state, and local taxes and that they pay more taxes than they use services in their lifetimes.

Undocumented immigrants also pay taxes.  They pay sales tax every time they buy clothing, an appliance, gas, or food at a restaurant. What may surprise students is that undocumented immigrants also pay property tax, a main source of public school funding – even if they are renting. In a report on Immigration Myths and Facts, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce states, “more than half of undocumented immigrants have federal and state income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes automatically deducted from their paychecks.” Though undocumented immigrants can receive schooling and emergency medical care, they are not eligible for most benefits such as food stamps, welfare, or health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. You can find out the estimated state and local taxes each state receives from undocumented immigrants by clicking on this interactive map from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).

Conversing with students about the economic contributions immigrants make in taxes extends the conversation beyond the usual, though important, classroom considerations of food, music, and art into a fuller understanding of how immigrants benefit our society.

Additional Tax Day Activities and Resources:

Scholastic: Teaching Taxes on April 15 – This website helps teachers learn about the essentials of taxes and offers lesson plans for grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

National Constitution Center: Dollars and Sense, Tax Day – This resource offers a 20 minute video about the history and significance of tax day with targeted questions for students as well as links to other lesson plans.

EdConLink “Tic Tac Taxes” – This lesson asks students to identify the three main types of taxes (property, sales, and income) and their purposes, with a fun tic-tac-toe game to assess student understanding.

Want to get more involved with our educational work by applying for our community grants, writing immigrant-themed book reviews, contributing to our blog posts or offering lessons learned in the classroom? Let us know about it! Email us at teacher@immcouncil.org and follow us on Twitter @ThnkImmigration #teachimmigration

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