Today was the first day of school for my son. His schedule was packed with math, foreign languages, English, science—but not economics or financial literacy. Many schools don’t offer those kinds of classes. Just about half of states require either a personal finance or economics course to graduate high school, which might explain why, as of 2021, 73% of teens reported wanting more personal finance education.
The South Carolina Department of Revenue (SCDOR) hopes to change those attitudes in the Palmetto State—starting with taxes. This year, the SCDOR is offering a new resource, Teacher’s Guide to SC Individual Income Tax, to help teach students about the basics of state individual income tax. The guide, written by SCDOR experts, is intended to introduce students to state income taxes and offers information they’ll need to know long after school is over.
“We are proud to present the new Teacher’s Guide for Individual Income Tax,” said SCDOR Director Hartley Powell. “This wonderful resource for teachers helps to educate today’s students in learning the basics of South Carolina’s Individual Income Tax, so they better understand their tax responsibilities.”
The guide is aimed at middle and high school students and can be customized to specific grade levels. It’s free for South Carolina educators, and includes lesson plans, links to relevant SCDOR-produced videos on YouTube, exercises, and quizzes, with answers and notes for the teachers. It also includes lists of state education standards that may be met using the lessons and exercises.
The guide, which was developed and designed in-house through a collaborative effort between several divisions in the agency, has been in the works for about a year.
Inspiration and Feedback
According to Rob Walden, Content & Messaging Manager for the SCDOR, the inspiration was simple. “We wanted to help young students understand South Carolina’s Income Tax laws and know how to file an income tax return,” he explained. “High school students are not far away from needing to file for the first time, but we know that nobody wakes up one day and suddenly knows how to file their tax return. It’s very difficult for anyone to learn about their tax obligations at the same time they’re filing their first return. We saw an opportunity to create situations where young people can learn about taxes for the first time in an environment where they can ask questions, have time for research and practice real-world scenarios.”
While it’s still early, the responses from the teachers have been positive. They’ve told the SCDOR that they appreciate the information and think it will be helpful in their classrooms.
The SCDOR has been tracking how often the guide is downloaded and has been soliciting feedback. The hope is that teachers view it as a helpful resource and can blend it in with their curriculum as appropriate. Walden says that teachers have the flexibility to incorporate it as they can—he believes it would easily fit into a business or math class.
As for the public’s feedback? The general tone from those who will use the guide is that this is a positive step toward helping young adults prepare to file their taxes.
Why South Carolina?
It’s a great idea, but I couldn’t help but wonder: why South Carolina? There are bigger states with more resources, yet this is the first time this kind of resource has landed in my inbox (the IRS does have a teachers’ site with lessons focused on federal income taxes).
So I asked. “I would say that it is a direct correlation to the people that we have [here],” says Walden. He specifically called out Ashley Thomas, SCDOR Deputy Director of Communications & Strategic Solutions, as having “a passion for educating our taxpayers as much as possible.”
The department has long had a robust communications department, sending newsletters and daily social media updates (including on Twitter—I’ve followed them for years). But this is the first time they’ve created a resource for a younger audience. However, Walden stresses that while they have “no specific guide geared towards older taxpayers, we do have a 24/7-365 ongoing educational initiative.”
Walden adds, “You realize how much more there is to do.”
The agency has been very fortunate, he says, to continue to “bring in really awesome people who are really very capable.” He explains that they are happy to think outside of the box, pulling folks from other sectors like athletics, newsletters, and graphic design shops. While their mission is focused on public service, Walden says that they can bring what they’ve learned from the private sector and apply it to state government—specifically, the revenue department.
They’re still figuring out what comes next. For now, Walden says, they’re excited about being able to help the next generation become better prepared as taxpayers.