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Lesson 6: The Budget Process: Who Can We Contact About It?


Name the governor of Massachusetts and elected state legislators from students' own district, give their contact information, and state how they (the governor and legislators) can influence state tax and budget decisions.


Preparation and materials


Review: Quickly review concepts from previous lessons, asking students to remind you of the types of taxes there are and who pays them and what the people get in return. Ask them to think for a minute about if they have a problem with the taxes they pay and/or the services they get in return, what do they do about it? Who can they contact?

Tell students: In this lesson we are going to find out which people in government can help us when we have problems with government services. We are also going to study how these people make a difference in what service we get.

As you recall from Lesson 1, the United States has a form of government called a democracy and this means that we can all "advocate" for ourselves. We discussed how to advocate in the previous lesson. One of the first steps of advocacy is finding out who we need to contact.


Have students brainstorm about the names and titles of state government officials. They may say something like president or leader. Agree with them that the president is a leader but the leader of the state is called the governor. They are probably less likely to know the titles of representative and senator; in this case, supply them, including that the term “legislator” can be used interchangeably with these terms. These can be written on the board. If any students give the titles of governor, representative or senator, ask them if they know the names of the people who hold those offices. Example: Yes, the governor is the leader of the state. Do you know his/her name? etc. Let the students know that you will be finding out the names and contact information of these people later in the activity.

Activity 1

1. Post the pictorial signs Governor, Representatives, and Senators beside each other on the board.

2. Ask students:
· Do these people have the same jobs? Do we vote for or elect all of them?
· Who leads the others? Representatives? Senators? The Governor?
· How can we organize these signs to show how these people work together?

3. Ask a student volunteer or volunteers to come to the board to rearrange the pictures, showing first the working relationship, then the authority between the governor and the two groups. Have the student making the change explain to the class why he/she moved the signs the way they did. If other students agree or disagree, encourage them to elaborate. If they have trouble with the activity after they've tried for a few minutes, arrange the pictures in the following ways, explaining each relationship:

Ask students: How many governors are there? They may know that there is only one governor, but probably will not know how many representatives and senators there are. Let them know that it's not important to know exactly how many there are in total, but that based on the amount of people living in a certain area, there are certain numbers of representatives. At the state level, each person is represented by one senator and one representative. Big cities have more than one representative--they have one representative for each district of the city. Remind students of the three levels of government. List the following grid on the board without the government leaders' titles. Ask students to help you complete the grid.

Government Government Leaders
Local (city, town) Mayor, selectmen
State (Massachusetts) Governor, representatives senators (legislators)]
Federal (U.S.A.) President, representatives, senators (legislators)]

Discuss briefly who the current government leaders are at the different levels and how they think they affect tax and budget decisions at those levels. Solicit students to give the names of the government leaders at each level.

Tell students: We've learned that there are many representatives and senators working for us all over the state. Now let's find out who your representatives and senators are based on where you live. The ones who can help you best are the ones who represent the area where you live (your entire city or town, or the neighborhood in your city or town).

1. Group students by town and/or city. Distribute the printouts of the state representatives and senators who represent the cities and or town of students in the group, and of the governor. (See the precinct note regarding precincts in the Preparation and materials section above.) Have students locate the names and contact information.

2. Distribute printouts of the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate President. Tell students: These two people are the leaders of all the representatives and all the senators. They have special powers with all the legislators and the governor. Have students note who these people are and locate their contact information.

3. Have students take out the handout from Lesson 5, Suggestions for Speaking to and Writing the Governor and Legislators, and copy the names of their Senator, Representative, the Speaker of the House, the Senate President and the Governor onto the handout. Tell students: You will need their addresses, telephone numbers or email addresses later if you choose to advocate.

Note: Some of the legislators have more than one address and telephone number. Have students choose the state house address and telephone, unless one of the local addresses is more convenient for them to use.

Activity 2

Tell students: Now we will study specifically how these people decide what services are provided to the people who live in Massachusetts.

1. Ask students: What is a budget? Some students may know this word and can give you at least a partial answer. Write students responses on the board. Words given may include money, low budget, cheap, not enough money, save, etc. Allow students to offer a definition of the word. Ask for a student volunteer to look the word up in the dictionary and read the definition aloud to the class. Finally, write the following definition on the board, asking students to write it in their notebooks:

Budget: A plan of how to spend money. (Longman Basic Dictionary of American English. Pearson Education, 1999.) Ask students if they have a budget for personal use. Ask students who say they do why they have one, if it helps them, and how.

Tell students that the governor, representatives, and senators help decide what services are provided to the people by taking part in the budget process.

2. Distribute the Massachusetts State Budget Process worksheet. Have volunteers read each paragraph. Ask students to discuss the following questions in small groups, and then have the whole class share what their groups said:

Enrichment/extension activities

Beginning ESOL/Literacy students:

1. Copy the Legislator Contact Cards onto colored paper with different colors representing the governor, representatives, and senators and cut the cards to separate them. Give students the printouts of the governor and legislators' contact information. Have students locate the information needed to complete the contact cards Have them transfer the contact information to the contact cards. Ask them to also write their names on the cards so they can identify them easily later. Place the pictures of the legislators and the governor on a table accessible to the entire class. Invite one group up at a time to match the cut-up pictures to the pictures on the printouts of their legislators on their handouts. Tell them to take the pictures back to their seats. (Note that some of the legislators' pictures are not available on the website, hence not on printouts or on the table. Tell the students that if there is no picture on their printout, then there is no picture available on the table.) Tell students to glue the picture to the back of their contact cards.

2. Find (on the Internet or elsewhere) and make copies of photos of the governor (enough for all students), and of the legislators representing each student, cut apart. (These can be copied right from the contact sheets and cut out, or when you go to the sites indicated above, right mouse click on the photo and save the photo as a file, then insert the picture into a word document. See handout for a photo of the governor as an example.) Place the pictorial signs for governor, senators, and representatives in the hierarchical position on the board. Ask one member of each group to come to the board and tape their contact cards under the appropriate pictorial sign. They can choose to display it with the contact information showing or with the picture showing. The result should be a somewhat balanced graphic display of state government. Have students look at the completed display. Ask them: Does the display look democratic? Invite students to elaborate on the concepts of representation and democracy. What does the display tell you about who decides what services the government will provide? If students have difficulty responding, tell them that this means that many legislators who speak for the people who they represent in their towns, cities, districts and/or and precincts decide what services the government provides. Have student collect their cards and tell them that they can keep them in their wallets for reference when/if they decide to advocate for themselves.

3. Post a large Massachusetts map on the wall and have students post their contact cards on the map. Add some of the others from different parts of the state to show students visually that different state representatives and senators represent different areas of the Commonwealth.

4. Cut up the Massachusetts State Budget Process paragraphs and have students work in pairs to order the steps. Have them look for words signaling time and/or order words to help them.

Intermediate/higher ESOL, ASE/high ABE/GED students:

1. Have students go on the Internet and go to http://www.state.ma.us/legis/member/, entering in their address and getting the information about their senators and representatives on their own. They can fill out the legislators contact cards right there at the computer.

2. Extend Activity 3 by having students also identify the party, profession, organizations, and public offices held by their senators and representatives. Have them write short biographies of these people in their own words.

3. Extend Activity 1 by defining/having students research the differences between the Democratic/Republican parties.*

4. Extend Activity 1 by having students research where their legislators stand on the issues that currently exist.*

5. Have students write at least a paragraph about how they personally can influence the budget process.

6. Have students either discuss or write about how a cut in adult basic education services will affect their program.

*Consider linking extension activities 3 and 4 above with Lesson 3, Activity 1 on Taxation methods.