Grade 6-8, 9-12

Constitution Costs

Updated: January 14 2021,

This lesson helps students understand the basic services provided for Americans in the United States Constitution and the necessity of a system of taxation to fund those services. Students will debate the pros and cons of having governments fund and provide particular services.


We the People“We the People…” The Preamble to the United States Constitution starts with that phrase. What does it mean? It is a phrase we hear often, but what does it mean? How do “We, the people” actually do anything together with one another, in a country as large and diverse as our country is? How do we maintain a sense of union over time? One way is through exercising shared responsibility for certain services the government provides.

These services are paid for through a system of taxation. What are the services that the federal government provides, and why should everyone in the country pay for them? This lesson will help you understand the government’s role in providing some protections and services to all our country’s citizens, and the reason we pay taxes to fund those protections and services.

Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the role of the government in providing services that otherwise would not be profitable.
  • Describe the justification for taxing citizens to provide these services.
  • Identify examples of services that are provided by the federal government and debate the appropriateness of federal taxes providing those services.

Resource List

  • Budget of the United States Government: This site provides information on federal funding allocations for specific programs in the 2015 budget.


It might be helpful if you present and discuss the concepts of private property and free rider with your students before they begin this lesson.)

Activity One

The students will listen to the . They will define the main phrases used (e.g. establish justice; ensure domestic tranquility) and discuss the services those phrases refer to in our society. They will also discuss how these services are supported. Who benefits from them? How? The students may work with a partner or alone and use Charting the Constitution to record their thoughts.

Activity: Charting the Constitution

Activity Sheet: Charting the Constitution

Activity Two

TaxesThe students will use page to identify additional examples of government services and to learn why these services are provided by the government. Where does each of the services fit in the list of Preamble statements you described? The students will make a list or discuss in a group the reasons for providing these services through taxes. Why should they be provided by the government, rather than private companies? What arguments can you make either in favor of or against the federal government providing them?

Activity Three

The students will work with a partner to research one of the federal programs listed below. They will use the referenced fact sheets from the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance to summarize the services provided by the program.

The students will find the program they selected on the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Budget Information for States page and use the spreadsheet provided in that document to find out how much money is provided for their state to manage the program.

  • How do you think this program benefits people in your state?
  • Who benefits from this program?
  • Who pays for this program?
  • Why should we use federal taxes — which are paid by all citizens of the nation — to fund the program you’ve selected?

Programs students can look at:


The students will choose a format to present their arguments to the class. They can host a debate, write a speech, prepare a short presentation or create a poster or brochure arguing for or against federal funding for the programs they have selected. The students need to keep in mind the issues they discussed in this lesson: is it appropriate for the government to provide the service or protection they researched? If so, how should the government get the funds for it? If not, why not? Where would funds come from if not provided by government? Can/should these services be provided by a private firm?

Extension Activity

Free Ride:
This is another wonderful EconEdLink lesson that helps students identify goods and services provided by the government and evaluate the cost of government provided goods and services.


The students will discuss the following questions with the class:

  • Why should the government provide services like the ones you researched today?
  • Why can’t or don’t private businesses provide them?
  • Why should all citizens of the country pay for services that are provided to states in different amounts?
  • In your opinion does the government provide services that should be provided by private business? Explain your answer.