Together, and only together, Nebraskans can rebuild the state’s struggling child care system, which is reeling during COVID-19. We can do it in a way that makes age-old problems, like a statewide shortage of quality child care, largely disappear. And we can do it in a way that benefits families, companies, communities, and our state economy.
That was the message Nebraskans delivered to the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee at a recent hearing. Child care providers, the University of Nebraska’s president, business leaders, and experts made the case to state senators that solving this child care dilemma is crucial, while showing them solutions are already being developed.
The group of allies was joined by Sen. John Stinner, Republican from Gering and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, who argued that doing nothing is already costing the state a staggering amount.
During the hearing, Stinner asked for Nebraskans’ help. He wants business owners and parents from each of the state’s 93 counties to fill out a survey at http://bit.ly/SenStinnersurvey as the Legislature tries to understand just how much COVID-19 has damaged child care.
“This conversation is not about prioritizing the child care industry over any other industry,” Stinner said. “It’s about knowing how foundational child care is to everything else this state depends on economically.”
This fall, the pandemic is threatening the very existence of many Nebraska child care providers. In the past six months, 63 licensed child cares have closed permanently, according to state officials. Another 224 are closed temporarily, and it’s unclear how many will reopen. That’s nearly 10% of the state’s licensed child care centers and in-home providers.
Kathleen Gallagher, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute’s director of research and evaluation, told senators that a statewide survey showed that one out of every four providers has lost at least half their revenue this year.
Simply making it past the pandemic will not cure what ails Nebraska’s child care system, experts told lawmakers. Because of a lack of funding in the system, early childhood teachers are poorly paid and child care owners often struggle. Even when middle-class parents can find child care—no easy feat since there’s a shortage in almost every Nebraska county—they often can’t afford to pay for it at prices that sometimes zoom past the cost of college tuition.
The state loses $745 million annually because parents drop out of the workforce, miss work, turn down a promotion, or move because of a lack of child care. The goal: Close the gap by 2030, using money from federal and state government, philanthropists, and private sources. During the hearing, Stinner expressed support for closing that funding gap. After the hearing, he pointed out the Legislature just passed a $125 million property tax relief bill, and compared that to the $110 million in state money that may be needed for early childhood education in the next decade.
“Is this something, priority-wise, that resonates with people across this state? Is this something we need to get done?” he asked.
For the Nebraskans testifying at the recent hearing, the answer to that question is simple. Yes.