This week, our COO, John Cavanaugh submitted a timely oped to the Lincoln Journal Star about decisions being made in the Nebraska Legislature that could impact early childhood care and education:
Local View: Cutting Child Care Brings High Cost
A proposal in the Nebraska Legislature (LB335) would withhold funding from child care and education programs in Nebraska, their workforce and the children they serve.
For families in Nebraska, the cost of child care can consume the family budget - even greater than rent or a mortgage payment in some cases. A strong majority--71 percent-- of children under 6 years old in Nebraska have all available parents in the workforce. Center-based care on average for an infant costs $9,043 a year and for a 4-year-old $7,935. Families want access to high quality early childhood care and education for their children. For low-income families, access to the child care subsidy program can mean the difference between a job and unemployment.
The Child Care Subsidy program serves more than 30,000 Nebraska children, 10,000 of whom are infants and toddlers. These are children whose parents are working in low-wage jobs or are in school and earning less than $26,00 for a family of three. The child care market rate survey helps ensure these families have access to a range of Nebraska child care and education programs on a sliding fee scale.
If LB 335 passes, the most recent child care market rate survey results will be ignored for over a year. This isn't the first time lawmakers have raided child care funding to save money.
Fifteen years ago, Gov. Mike Johanns reduced the number of families eligible for help with child care costs. During the last budget crunch in 2011, senators looked to child care funding to help plug a budget hole. LB 335 is the latest attempt to withhold early education funding as a short-term solution to a bigger budget problem.
By law, the state of Nebraska has to use the child care market rate survey results in order to ensure children in low-income families have access to a range of child care and education options.
Broader access to high-quality affordable child care is so important that the Legislature's Intergenerational Poverty Task Force included it in its strategic plan recommendations. The first years of a child's life are critical for their long term success. We know the achievement gap is measurable and apparent as early as 18 months. And according to a Buffett Early Childhood Institute/Gallup Survey from March 2016, two-thirds (67 percent) of Nebraskans strongly agree or agree that the state should make early care and eduction a higher priority that it is today.
In recent years, Nebraska has made great strides in improving the quality of early childhood care and education statewide. Recognizing the growing body of evidence that early childhood is key for a strong future workforce and economic success, lawmakers have placed an emphasis on building quality and accountability for the system.
In July of this year, for the first time families will be able to see public quality ratings for child care programs in the state. These small businesses were asked to make an investment to improve the quality of their programs and workforce. They responded. Investments are being made. Now it is up to us to keep our commitment to them and the children they serve. The state should not undermine the progress by failing to meet our statutory funding obligations.
Now is not the time to blindside child care and education programs, the majority of which are small businesses, or risk increasing child care costs for families and reducing wages for the workforce that serves them. Lawmakers should not pass LB 335.