February 25, 2021

Panelists Release a New Report about the Scarcity of Early Childhood Programs in Nebraska's Rural Communities

A new research report reveals that investments to enhance access to early childhood education and care in Nebraska can improve the state significantly

Families in rural communities in Nebraska face major challenges on a daily basis. One of those persisting challenges is access to high-quality and affordable early childhood education and care. The lack of access to quality care impacts the ability of those communities to thrive. It hinders parents’ ability to find work which, in turn, can cause families to look elsewhere for employment and quality programs for their kids, impacting the entire community. Greater access to high-quality early childhood care and education will lead to better outcomes for Nebraska’s children, allow small, rural communities to thrive, while also reducing crime, strengthening national security, and building a better workforce today and tomorrow.

This was the top-line message of yesterday’s event to release a new Council for a Strong America report entitled, “Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Nebraska’s Rural Communities.” The report and a short film shone a much-needed light on the challenges that rural communities in Nebraska face due to a lack of high-quality early childhood programs.

The panel included the following speakers: Jason Prokop, Director, First Five Nebraska; Mike Jacobson, President of Nebraska Land Bank; Sheriff Neil Miller, Buffalo Co. Sheriff’s Office; Fight Crime: Invest in Kids Member; Brigadier General (Ret.) Randolph Scott, U.S. Air Force; Mission: Readiness Member; Marti Beard, Associate VP, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation; and Sandra Bishop, Ph.D., Chief Research Officer for Council for a Strong America. Each speaker underscored the report’s findings and offered their professional and personal perspectives on the subject. Mike Feeken, Strategic Partnerships Advisor, First Five Nebraska, moderated, and Josh Spaulding, National Director, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, facilitated the discussion.

After introductory remarks from Spaulding, Prokop offered insights pertaining to how the issue affects economic opportunity and quality of life in rural Nebraska. “I don’t think you can emphasize enough the impact on a rural community when the businesses you rely upon—especially child care—are unavailable, forcing residents to look elsewhere for the services they need,” he said. “It truly does change how we live our lives.” His comments were followed by a short film about the importance of high-quality early education in Nebraska.

Sandra Bishop spoke next, providing some important context and reviewing some research from the report. “Quality ECE [early childhood education] can ultimately help strengthen the current and future workforce, contribute to a strong state economy and public safety, and enhance national security,” she explained.

Mike Jacobson detailed how early childhood education can set children up for future professional success. “Enhancing early childhood care and education programs for children in rural areas will be essential to making sure that all of Nebraska’s kids have a better shot at rewarding careers down the road, as well as a better shot at pursuing the American Dream,” he said.

To provide a different perspective, Sheriff Miller talked about how high-quality early childhood education can help deter crime in Nebraska. “Making our communities safer is my top priority, and I want to make sure that we do that in a way that gives kids in rural communities their best opportunity to succeed. To do that, we must invest in high-quality early childhood education and care, particularly in rural areas,” he said.

After Sheriff Miller, Brigadier General Randolph Scott added his thoughts on how this issue affects national security. “Given the long-term benefits of high-quality education and care to children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development, state, and federal policymakers should continue to promote quality, access and affordability of child care and increasing options for and access to high-quality early learning,” he said. “Support for these programs is an investment in our future national security.”

Finally, Marti Beard offered insightful comments about the child care sector and how important child care workers are to Nebraskan neighborhoods. “Communities need to value their local child care providers,” she said. “They’re not babysitters, but local business owners, CEOs, and early childhood educators.”

Read the report here, and watch the short film and a video of the event below.