Lesson Plan June 15, 2021

Empowering students to shape pandemic budgets


This unit was created by Jackson Potter, an 11th and 12th grade social studies teacher in Chicago, IL, as part of the spring 2021 Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellowship program on Journalism and Justice. It is designed for facilitation across approximately five 60 minute live or virtual class periods.

For more units created by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellows in this cohort, click here.

Unit Objectives

  • Empower CPS students and families to influence and shape how the schools and city prioritize the more than $2 billion in federal stimulus funds the Chicago Board of Education has received to address COVID-related impacts. 
  • Create democratized space to use support a student led budgeting prioritization activity and crowd source / build out citywide student priorities and advocacy 
  • Surface how racial and economic inequities have worsened during the COVID crisis to identify key issues and areas that require budgetary action and intervention. 
  • Work and plan across school communities to expand and fortify shared demands / campaigns and tactics to increase their influence over the CPS (and potentially the city)  budget process 
  • Compare and contrast the traditional role that schools play in supporting students and their families and challenge how that role must change in extreme circumstances like COVID-19, and determine whether CPS has  adapted enough to support their the needs and interests of our most under-resourced students and families, given the additional funds they have received.

Essential Questions

  • Should you, your family and communities have influence over federal stimulus money designed to help the most at-risk communities harmed by Covid? 
  • What would you want to do with $2 billion for the schools?

Unit Overview:

The Chicago Public Schools typically operate with a $7.7 billion annual budget that now has over $2.3 billion in federal stimulus funding to address inequities, COVID-related impacts and gaping needs. That is a 30% increase beyond a typical CPS budget that normally has very little room to address historic inequities. However, there is no participatory budget process in place to allow students or CPS families to have their voices heard in the process. This unit plan is designed to change that and provide opportunities for students to directly influence the budget process at this critical moment when historic inequities have widened.

Scope and Sequence:

  1. Lesson Zero: Students will be able to surface the issues and interests that elicit the greatest concern in this moment of COVID-19 — from housing scarcity, vaccine disparities, food deserts, etc. Students will start the process by selecting a news story about how the pandemic has impacted Chicago. This will give classes a baseline of issues to address in their advocacy. 
  1. Lesson 1:  Students will begin to wonder about how much money $2 billion is and what they would do with it by dreaming big. 
  1. Lessons 2 and 3: Students will review their class’ top 3 priorities (teachers, use a graph from the google form summary tool), noticing the patterns and discrepancies from their own preferences. Then, they will build a budget (make a copy for each student and review each of the 3 tabs for completion). Students will share their budgets and pie charts and reflect on their priorities.
  1. Lessons 4 and 5:  Bellringer: After reviewing Alderman Jeanette Taylor’s critique of Mayor Lightfoot’s budget, students will consider how they can make their voices heard in the process for the CPS stimulus money. They will select a preferred form of advocacy and form teams to pool together their collective talents and interests to influence the CPS budget process. 
  2. While in Groups, students should fill out their campaign document and then begin creating their action materials. Once students are finished with their plans, they can put them into action with this Think Tac Toe assessment tool.

Performance Task

How can you make your own voice heard in this process for the CPS stimulus money? After students consider their budget priorities and sketch out their campaign plans, they are ready to take action by designing advocacy tools to publicize their positions. 

Students select a preferred form of advocacy (they can pick one or add their own)

  1. Social Media posts 
  2. Office Hours with a member of the Board of Education
  3. Speak out at a Board of Education Meeting or City Council Meeting 
  4. Action or Protest 
  5. Opinion Editorial to a local newspaper

Students will use their social networks to amplify their voice and gain traction towards their preferred outcomes.

A big thank you and shout out to the Chicago Teachers Union Human Rights Committee for helping inspire this curriculum. Thank you to Hannah Nolan-Spohn at Pulaski International School for inspiring the budget activity which is loosely based on the one she teaches to her middle school students about the city budget

Please help us understand your needs better by filling out this brief survey!

Will you use this lesson plan in a class you teach?
By sharing your email address, you are opting in to receive updates from the Pulitzer Center Education team.


navy halftone illustration of a covid virus



teal halftone illustration of two children, one holding up a teddy bear


Children and Youth

Children and Youth