Nebraska Policymakers Again Recognize Importance of Children’s Earliest Years

Balancing a wide variety of public interests and with great bipartisan support, the Nebraska Legislature again recognized the critical importance of children’s early years prior to adjourning Sine Die on May 29.

Of preeminent importance to First Five Nebraska is public policy that recognizes the development of the brain in the early years literally shapes the learning capacity for the rest of a child’s life. We know that by the time children arrive at their first day of kindergarten, the nature and quality of their earliest learning experiences have already done much to determine their degree of linguistic competence, ability to interact with others and healthy curiosity about the world around them.

Here’s a look at First Five Nebraska’s highest priority bills from the 2015 legislative session.

  • LB547 uses child care providers to close the achievement gap in the early years by allowing them to partner with school districts to receive Sixpence Early Learning Fund grants. Sixpence grants are a new funding source for child care providers, who are supported and rewarded for improving the quality of environments they offer children in their care by participating in Nebraska’s Step Up to Quality accountability system. LB547 passed with strong support from the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Nebraska Early Childhood Business Roundtable, and other partners committed to building Nebraska’s future workforce and ensuring the strongest return on public investments.
  • LB656, the state’s mainline budget bill, includes stable funding for high-quality early childhood investments in the Sixpence Early Learning Fund and the Nebraska Department of Education preschool grant program. Previously, $1 million in funding for the Sixpence Early Learning Fund and $1.95 million in funding for the NDE preschool grant program was scheduled to sunset July 1, 2016. Those amounts will now be funded annually by state general funds, rather than with lottery appropriations that would have expired again in five years.
  • LB525 clarifies that all early childhood providers can participate in the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System, and makes it easier for school districts serving large concentrations of children in poverty to receive education aid for students served in early childhood education programs.
  • LB81 eliminates the child care cliff effect by allowing families who receive child care assistance to move up in the workplace through small pay increases and promotions without losing their ability to afford child care. It allows families a 24-month window to accept small pay raises while working their way off assistance.

Other early childhood-related bills will be addressed when the second session of the biennium Legislature convenes next year, including:

  • LB322, which increases the amount of child care and dependent care tax credits for low income families, allowing parents greater opportunity to choose quality child care settings that provide stimulating experiences for their young learners.
  • LB443, which redefines ‘support services’ to include mental health services offered either at school or elsewhere, helping children succeed in school by addressing certain challenging behaviors and ensuring positive behavioral support.
  • LB557, the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act in Child Care, which broadens the definition of ‘place of employment’ to include private residences if the residence is licensed to provide child care, and motor vehicles used to transport children for a licensed day care provider.
  • LB645, which creates a nonrefundable tax credit for contributions to a nationally licensed organization that provides early childhood education and retention incentives for early childhood professionals.

Please visit our website’s Legislation page for a comprehensive list of all early childhood bills introduced this year.

-Jen Goettemoeller
Senior Policy Associate
First Five Nebraska
(July 15, 2015)