The State of Nebraska is well-positioned to continue to invest in our children and grow our economy. Our state weathered the “Great Recession” better than most of our neighbors through strong fiscal discipline and strategic investments by the Nebraska Legislature.
The Nebraska Legislature holds the responsibility of balancing the needs and obligations of the state—like funding P-12 education, infrastructure, public safety and health care for the vulnerable—with the limited revenue available to meet that goal. Similar to a family’s household budget, the balance in our state savings account has been a major factor in our ability to weather economic recessions. Our current fiscal policy of maintaining roughly 16% of state revenues in our “Rainy Day” fund is critical for Nebraska’s long-term economic stability.
Our recent Fiscal Year 2015-2017 state biennial budget ensures the State of Nebraska will maintain a strong “Rainy Day” fund, will see more strategic investments for continued economic growth and is balanced in accordance with the Nebraska Constitution.
Investing in Our Children
There continues to be tremendous opportunity for policymakers to improve the lives of Nebraska children and families, while continuing to build on our state’s overall economic momentum.
This past session, the Appropriations Committee made several strategic investments for Nebraska’s children.
Most notably, over $10 million in funding for several programs that affect children was set to “sunset” or expire at the end of this fiscal year. The Appropriations Committee took action to not only ensure valuable programs stayed in place, but also utilize a more permanent funding source for them. The budget includes $1 million toward Sixpence, an increase in the Step Up to Quality child care bonuses, and critical dollars for the Nebraska Department of Education Early Childhood Grant Program.
In addition to ensuring these programs stayed afloat, the biennial budget includes several unique additional investments for our children. The committee secured a $3.6 million earmark for pediatric cancer research and an additional $200,000 for the Nebraska Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative. We know lead paint found in older homes can harm the health of young children in our community. The City of Omaha has a program that works to reduce and eliminate lead paint in homes with young children. We allocated $300,000 in state dollars toward these efforts to maximize Omaha’s federal funding and make a bigger impact for children at risk of lead poisoning.
We know that the large majority of children in Nebraska have all available parents in the workforce. The Nebraska Legislature, working with stakeholders, has taken steps to increase the availability of environments that close the achievement gap for children at risk of failing in school. We must ensure that we have policies in place that recognize the high cost of child care and seek to modernize how we address the economic factors surrounding the issue.
Identifying public policy to address a problem requires a thoughtful, data-driven approach to research. The Intergenerational Poverty Task Force was created this past session to study our state’s programs that seek to alleviate poverty. It is our hope that the research from this fact finding work will help the Nebraska Legislature recommend steps to ensure our programs are having a real impact for the future of our children.
Nebraska’s social and economic future hinges upon our ability to recognize opportunities for growth and act on them in a responsible, deliberate and far-sighted way. Our greatest opportunities revolve around investments in the rich fund of human potential embodied in our state’s children. Civic, business and education leaders agree—it is in our own best interest to ensure that all children in Nebraska benefit from quality early learning experiences that build cognition and character from an early age. These are the assets that form the very building blocks of strong families, strong communities and a capable, self-sufficient and productive citizenry.
If we are serious about ensuring Nebraska’s continued economic prosperity and quality of life in the decades ahead, we need to invest strategically in the early development of those who we will be counting on to lead us there.
How about the at-risk kids who fall through the gaps- kids whose parents make enough money to get by without help from the government, but maybe can’t afford to provide private care to those children who are borderline on their needs? Every time I bring this up, people say the education system might catch the problem later- but later is too late, the child is already behind and struggling. Why are these kids getting lost in the gap?