“We’re close to graduating, and I feel like a lot of kids still don’t really know about taxes once they turn 18,” said junior Mahki Tippins. “I just feel like we should be ready for it before we become adults.”

A discussion of taxes—and specifically how to file them—is absent from the M-A curriculum. Some students see this as a major shortcoming in their education. As a key responsibility of adulthood, taxes are important to understand, yet seem overwhelming and masked in financial jargon.

If taxes are so important, why aren’t they in the school curriculum?

Education Content Standards

Schools do teach about taxes, just not how to file them. Besides historical events involving taxation taught in elementary school, California State Board of Education’s current content standards for History-Social Science require twelfth grade Government and Economics classes to discuss the “obligations as democratic citizens” to pay taxes and “the aims of government fiscal policies,” including taxation. 

Sophomore Saray Sainz argued that Life Skills would be a good class to learn about taxes as well. “The school should teach us about the real world, you know?” she said. “As we get older, taxes are going to affect us more.”

Sequoia Union High School District’s 9th Grade Program Planning Handbook describes the Life Skills curriculum as covering health and substance abuse—not financial skills. And with such limited time in this quarter-long course, and the semester-long Economics and Government classes required for seniors, it would be difficult to add optional content to the curriculum.

Since California content standards limit what economics teacher Stephanie Cuff-Alvarado can teach in her class, she believes the best way to teach taxes is by creating an elective. She said, “It was sort of a dream of another teacher and I to create an elective course where one semester would be personal finance and the second semester would be street law.” This course would answer questions like, “How do you budget?” and, “What rights do you have when your backpack is searched on campus?” This plan has been put on hold since distance learning, although it may come to fruition in the future.

Until then, there are plenty of resources for learning about filing tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website provides instruction documents with most forms, and many tax preparation companies that help file your taxes, such as H&R Block, TurboTax, and Jackson Hewitt, have articles with tips or explanations for filing taxes. You can also ask a taxpaying adult how filing taxes works or which forms to fill out.

The Tax Filing Process: A Rigged System

Chart B under Filing Requirements, 2022 Instructions 1040

While filing tax returns can be difficult, it’s not necessarily because of a steep learning curve—take the 2022 Instructions 1040 provided by the IRS. Filing taxes is less about skill, and more about following instructions: if you “Have any adjustments to income, such as student loan interest, self-employment tax, or educator expenses,” then use Schedule 1, Part II; “Add the amounts shown as federal income tax withheld on your Form(s) W-2. Enter the total on line 25a.”

The difficulty is that there is so much information; even though the 1040 form is only two pages long, the instructions are 113 pages. More of these instructions become applicable when filing gets more complicated—financial situations such as having multiple jobs, owning property, or owning a business.

“Annual Lobbying by H&R Block,” Open Secrets

“The reality is that the tax code is written to be difficult on purpose,” economics teacher Christopher Saunders explained. “Tax companies like H&R Block and TurboTax, they lobby our government to keep the tax code complicated so that they get business.” This lobbying seems to be working: according to the IRS 2022 Filing Season Statistics, electronic tax returns from tax professionals reached 85 million returns, while self-prepared returns were just short of 67 million—and the gap between these numbers has been growing for the past few years now. Saunder adds, “I don’t know a single person in my life that has ever filed out their own taxes.”

Knowing how to file tax returns is not as necessary as some may believe. Taxes are an important responsibility of adulthood, but not always a very involved part.

While a case can still be made for education in financial literacy and filing taxes, adding it to the school curriculum simply doesn’t seem worth the trouble. Students would certainly benefit from a finance elective, but the bare minimum level of understanding can be picked up on the fly, from an adult, or from the internet, up until you can afford—and need—to pay a tax preparer.

Olivia Hom (she/her) is a senior at M-A in her first year of journalism. She enjoys writing about events and developments within the local community. In her free time, Olivia likes to spend time with friends, visit her local library, and draw digital artwork.

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