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Report: Lack of child care in rural Nebraska impacts business, communities, crime, security

First Five Nebraska Director Jason Prokop and Strategic Partnerships Advisor Mike Feeken recently joined a virtual panel with business, law enforcement and military leaders to release a new report by Council for a Strong America (CSA), Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Nebraska’s Rural Communities. The report and film shine a light on the unique challenges Nebraska’s rural communities face in providing access to quality early childhood programs.

The program opened with introductory remarks by Josh Spaulding, national director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a partner organization of CSA. Prokop then offered insights from the perspective of economic opportunity and quality of life in rural Nebraska. “Having quality child care available to families in rural communities is really paramount to a community’s ability to attract and retain families and ultimately create a stable, local workforce,” he said. His comments were followed by a short film on quality early child care in rural Nebraska.

CSA chief researcher Sandra Bishop offered additional context while reviewing research from the report. She noted that about 36% of rural Nebraskans live in a “child care desert,” defined as an area where there are three or more children for every licensed child care slot. This compares to 28% of Nebraskans overall. “It’s vital to families in all of Nebraska’s communities, both rural and urban, that investments in early childhood programs are sustained,” she said.

Following Bishop, FFN’s Mike Feeken led a panel discussion featuring insights from a diverse group of speakers on the connection between quality child care and community development, business, public safety and national security. The panel included Mike Jacobson, president and CEO of NebraskaLand National Bank; Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids member; U.S. Air Force Brigadier General (Ret.) Randolph Scott, Mission: Readiness member; and Marti Beard, Associate V.P., Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.

Jacobson, who chartered NebraskaLand National Bank in 1998 and now operates three branches that manage $800 million in total assets, said the pandemic accelerated and exacerbated the scarcity of quality child care. As a business owner, access to child care is crucial for employee retention, productivity and quality of life. “Our greatest asset is our employees—it always has been—and their greatest asset is their children. If we’re not taking care of their children, then we’re not taking care of them. If we’re not taking care of them, they’re not going to take care of our customers,” he said.

Marti Beard echoed Jacobson’s comments, sharing insights from her work with Communities for Kids, which works with community stakeholders to increase quality child care. “This lack of care is leading our communities to see a decline in young people either moving back to or staying in their hometowns,” she said. “This is impacting our local businesses. People are turning down jobs, they are leaving jobs or they are distracted at work because of a lack of care in their communities.”

Sheriff Miller provided a different perspective about how quality early childhood education can help deter crime. “Research shows that kids who participate in high-quality early learning programs are better prepared to start kindergarten, are more likely to go on to graduate from high school, more likely to have fewer behavioral problems and less likely to become involved in crime later in life. That should be our goal and our priority.”

Brigadier General Randolph Scott added his thoughts on how this issue affects national security: “Today 7.1% of young Nebraskans age 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service because they are too poorly educated, too overweight or have a disqualifying record of criminal or drug abuse. "If we don’t address this trend, there won’t be a sufficient pool of talent recruited to serve in our military in the future.

Watch the presentation and panel discussion: Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Nebraska’s Rural Communities

View the short film: Nebraska Rural Early Care and Education

Download the report: Early Childhood Programs’ Scarcity Undermines Nebraska’s Rural Communities

Council for a Strong America is a national, bipartisan nonprofit that unites five organizations comprised of law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business executives, pastors and prominent coaches and athletes who promote solutions that ensure our next generation of Americans will be successful, productive members of society.

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