September 14, 2021

What Is Fiscal Policy? Interactive Teaching Tools

Fiscal policy refers to the decisions made about government revenue collection and government expenditures. But many Americans may be confused by the complex set of issues that comprise how the government raises revenues and allocates them.

What is fiscal policy? And what does it mean for you? Below are interactive tools that can help you answer these questions, and make complex fiscal policies more accessible, understandable, and relevant to your daily life.

  1. The Economic Policy Institute has developed an interactive tool that leads viewers through the key elements of the federal budget while showing them how households with their level of income compare to others. Similarly, the United States Treasury has created an in-depth interactive explorer that allows users to take a deep dive into how spending is allocated by program or by agency.

  1. The Fiscal Ship, developed by the Hutchins Center at the Brookings Institution and the Wilson Center, makes the federal budget more accessible and engaging by challenging players to put the budget — the ship, as it were — on a sustainable course. Brookings has developed a teaching tool for using the game in classrooms, and the Council for Economic Education has developed a module for using the Fiscal Ship in the context of analyzing political platforms.

  1. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) and the Bipartisan Policy Center have also developed tools that illustrate the tough budget trade-offs that policy makers are faced with. Both the Debt Fixer and Balancing Act allow users to make adjustments to the Federal Budget and see the potential impact of their changes.

  1. The Understanding Fiscal Responsibility curriculum helps high school students to think critically about public policy issues including Social Security, Medicare, national defense, and the federal debt. First developed by Teachers College, Columbia University, and now disseminated by the Council for Economic Education, the curriculum includes professional development tools for teachers as well as group activities and interactives to engage students in discussions and help them articulate their own views.

  1. Many tools are available to show how federal funds to mitigate the effects of COVID have been spent. The Treasury’s site explains how funds move from Congress to the American people, CRFB provides breakdowns by recipient types and industries, and the Foundation’s own tracker breaks down spending by state.

    The Council for Economic Education has also developed a series of lessons aimed at Teaching Fiscal Policy in the COVID Era. The series explores how events like the pandemic can put extraordinary pressure on the nation’s economy and the financial well-being of citizens while teaching students about the tools governments can use to respond to such challenges.

  1. Social Security’s finances are not on solid footing. The Reformer, from CRFB, allows users to select policies to make Social Security more financially stable by modifying benefits and changing taxation rates.

Related: How Much Do You Know About The Federal Budget?


What Does the Debt Mean for Our Future?

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