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Nebraska parents, businesses asked to weigh in on early childhood education issues

Nebraska parents, businesses asked to weigh in on early childhood education issues

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Dimensions

Preschoolers and their teachers gather for music time at Dimensions Education Programs in 2018.

State Sen. John Stinner of Gering, who plans an interim study on the economic impacts of the pandemic on early childhood education, wants parents and business owners to weigh in.

Stinner is asking parents and business leaders to fill out an online survey, the results of which he will share with the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee as part of the interim study, which will not only look at the impact of the pandemic, but the overall cost of financing a high-quality early child care workforce. 

“Ninety-one percent of counties in Nebraska do not have sufficient child care capacity to meet the current demand,” Stinner said in a prepared statement. “Eleven counties do not even have a single licensed child care provider. So there are significant challenges.”

Sam Meisels, executive director of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, said one of the main goals of the interim study is to help the Legislature better understand the issue and the importance of creating a “fully functioning system of care over the first five years of life.”

That’s also among the goals of the third “Thriving Children, Families and Communities” conference, a virtual event that drew nearly 700 civic, business and education leaders from 99 communities in Nebraska and 16 states Monday.

“The central purpose is to highlight the relationship between early care and education and community vitality — economic vitality,” Meisels said.

Attendance at this year’s conference is triple what it was when it began two years ago and community leaders will discuss the economic impact of quality early childhood education and how the pandemic has widened what was already a significant gap in availability of quality care.

A recent report by First Five Nebraska and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Bureau of Business Research showed that gaps in child care availability cost Nebraska families up to $489 million a year in household income from missed work, reduced hours and in some cases parents forgoing higher-paying positions or quitting their jobs.

The study also concluded that the lack of child care options for families reduced state tax revenues by $21 million a year.

Child care workers are underpaid, exploited and extremely important, Meisels said.

“I think what we are trying to do is to say that we are not going in the right direction,” he said. “At the very best, pre-COVID, we were fairly static.”

The good news: people are beginning to recognize the issues and get behind changes that could, in the long run, provide dramatic change, he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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