April 1996 // Volume 34 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW1

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Tax Dollars Support Levels Are Strong for Family Living Programs

Who is unaware that we are in a time of serious budget constraints? We can be proactive in providing our funding decision makers with quantifiable evidence of taxpayers' support for our research-based educational programs. In a recent four-state study of almost 1,000 Cooperative Extension family living program participants, 92 per cent said, "Yes, I want my tax dollars to continue supporting this type of effort." By incorporating the Tax Dollars Support question into our program evaluation questionnaires, we can help our decision makers ask the right question as they make difficult funding decisions.

Robert J. Fetsch
Extension Specialist
Human Development & Family Studies
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
Fort Collins, Colorado
Internet address: fetsch@cahs.colostate.edu

We are in a time of serious budget constraints, prompting legislators and our publics to closely scrutinize what they are getting for the tax dollars invested in Cooperative Extension. Our state and national stakeholders need quantifiable evidence of taxpayers' support for our research-based educational programs.

The Chinese say that a crisis is both a threat and an opportunity. I believe that the current budgetary constraints many of us are experiencing present us with an opportunity that may help us fare better than some of our competitors not linked with land-grant universities.

An idea that has worked for us for 16 years is to ask our program participants afterwards about their support for continued funding (Fetsch, 1995b): "Your tax dollars support this Cooperative Extension Program either totally or in part. Do you want your tax dollars to continue supporting this type of effort? Yes No."

Family living specialists and agents have used the Tax Dollars Support Question in a number of states. In a recent study (Fetsch, 1995a), results were reported from almost 1,000 participants in more than 24 family life programs in Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska between 1989 and 1995.

Tax dollars support levels were consistently high for family living programs (Table 1): 91.9% (n = 842/916) said, "Yes"; 1.7% (n = 16/916) said, "No"; 6.3% (n = 58/916) did not respond. When only completed responses were considered, 98.1% said "Yes" (n = 842/858) and 1.9% said, "No."

Table 1
Tax Dollars Support (N = 916)
YesNoNo Response
91.9% 1.7% 6.3%

Journal of Extension readers are invited to incorporate the Tax Dollars Support Question into their program evaluation surveys. It is quick and easy to collect important quantifiable, aggregatable data for our decision makers and funders. We have found consistently high support levels with program pretests, post tests, and follow-ups up to six months after participating in our programs. The Tax Dollars Support Question can be used equally well by Cooperative Extension professionals in agriculture, 4-H, consumer and family education, issues-based programming, national initiatives, etc.

To those who are afraid of what they might learn by asking the Tax Dollars Support Question, we ask: When would you rather hear the bad news? At the end of your program when you can still modify or drop the program? Or during the next funding cycle when your County Commissioner or other elected official votes against continued funding for Cooperative Extension with a remark about folks saying that Cooperative Extension programs are not worth tax dollars support?

Let's see these budgetary constraint times as opportunities to be proactive with funding decision makers. Let's ask the Tax Dollars Support Question following many of our Cooperative Extension programs. Let's see if we can get even better than the 92% benchmark norm results reported in this article. Let's help our funding decision makers be wise stewards of limited revenues. Maybe they would want to follow Cooperative Extension's lead by asking the Tax Dollars Support Question of other agencies they fund. Finally, let's be proactive and let folks know that it is appropriate to scrutinize what they are getting for their tax dollars. Who knows--they might even want to ask the same question of our competitors.


Fetsch, R. J. (1995a, November 14). Cooperative Extension norms with 916 family life program participants. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Council on Family Relations Cooperative Extension Pre-Conference, Portland, OR

Fetsch, R. J. (1995b). Cooperative Extension program evaluation surveys: Pretest and post test (CEPES). (Unpublished surveys available to Extension faculty from author, Department of Human Development & Family Studies, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523.)

Author Notes: Appreciation is expressed to Deb Gebeke (North Dakota State University), Lynette Olson (South Dakota State University), Elaine Sturges (Colorado State University), Jacque Miller (Colorado State University), and Pat Steffens (University of Nebraska) for contributing CEPES data to this study.