Nebraska’s Unicameral adjourned six days early this year when senators could not reach consensus on a comprehensive property tax relief package or a business tax incentive program. Despite the contentious atmosphere at times, the session concluded with some notable successes for early childhood.
Across-the-board reductions to state agencies to balance the budget last year included cuts to quality early childhood programs throughout Nebraska. Fortunately, legislators restored those cuts this session, including funding for Sixpence (Early Childhood Endowment), the Early Childhood Grant Program and Step Up to Quality (Nebraska’s QRIS) as well as child care scholarships and bonuses.
Workforce availability remains a priority for Nebraska. With a 2.8% unemployment rate and approximately 58,000 vacant jobs across the state, policymakers and employers are seeking ways to attract and retain a qualified workforce. Two bills signed into law this year promote high-quality early childhood programs as key components in communities’ infrastructure that impact their ability to grow.
LB160 allows communities to direct some of their Local Option Municipal Economic Development funds (LB840) to develop or expand early childhood programs. Nebraska is ranked 1st in the U.S. for percentage of single mothers with children under age 6 working outside the home and 2nd in the U.S. for percentage of married couple families with both spouses working outside the home. It’s imperative that communities have flexibility and opportunity to invest in quality early learning programs, and expanding the allowable use of local economic development funds offers a new funding pathway toward this goal.
LB564 revises the definition of facilities eligible to receive funding via the Civic & Community Center Financing Act, which provides grants to grow quality of life in Nebraska. Under LB564, facilities offering services that encourage community growth, such as child care, could be eligible to receive grant funding. Like LB160, this bill offers greater flexibility for using economic development resources to address child care gaps throughout the state.
The legislative session also delivered greater cost and procedural efficiencies for state government agencies and child care providers. In 2017, 23 Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services licensing staff made more than 6,000 visits to child care providers, the majority of which involved manually checking paper copies of training credentials to ensure child care staff met licensure requirements. LB590 streamlines this tedious process by allowing NDHHS staff to access the existing online Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Records System (NECPRS) to verify providers’ credentials. This new option means child care providers now can spend less time manually tracking staff training and education, and more time on the important work of caring for young children.
First Five Nebraska’s Legislation to Watch list for the 2019 legislative session, along with 90+ other bills we identified as having potential to affect early childhood, are on our website’s Nebraska Legislation page.
Becky Veak, Director
First Five Nebraska
(July 11, 2019)