Sound, practical early childhood policies require the voices of informed and engaged citizens in our state legislature.
First Five Nebraska makes it easier for individual citizens to be heard where decisions affecting our youngest children are being made.
On the heels of the great momentum and successes that early childhood experienced last session, several Senators took initiative and a landmark number of bills were introduced this year that benefit children age 0-8. First Five Nebraska applauds the dedication to young children and is carefully monitoring all such bills. Below is the list of bills that have the strongest correlation to our mission.
LB691 provides certain Nebraska families an increased state tax credit for childcare expenses. The amount of the state tax credit is tied to the federal credit for childcare expenses. The bill increases the state tax credit from 25% of the federal credit allowed, to 28% of the federal credit allowed. This increase only applies to individuals reporting federal adjusted gross incomes greater than $29,000. Increasing the state tax credit will help ease the cost of high quality childcare for Nebraska's working families.
Read First Five Nebraska's Written Testimony on LB691 (pdf)
This bill creates a 23 member task force to review existing state and local expanded learning programs and policies. Expanded learning opportunities include a broad range of programs that typically occur outside of the traditional school day or school year. These programs can provide safe, enriching environments in the hours before and after school for children to continue to learn and grow. The task force will be charged with working with various public and private entities to identify expanded learning opportunity model approaches for the legislature and the Nebraska Department of Education.
LB864 recognizes the importance of early childhood education investments by increasing lottery funding for early childhood preschool grants by $500,000 for each of the next two fiscal years. These investments bring the total lottery funding allocation for fiscal year 2014-15 to $2,350,000, and the total lottery funding allocation for fiscal year 2015-16 to $2,450,000. Continued support for the early childhood preschool grants allows Nebraska to keep reaching our at-risk youth in the years that matter most.
Read First Five Nebraska's Written Testimony on LB864 (pdf)
An overwhelming body of research indicates that the best public investments are in the area of early childhood education. This year the Legislature and Governor are continuing to recognize the value of early childhood education by increasing its investments in two Nebraska programs. The investments come through LB905, which is the mainline budget bill approved by the Governor on March 29, 2014. LB905 adds $3.2 million to the Nebraska Department of Education’s early childhood grant program. School districts use early childhood grants to partner with their local communities in establishing early learning opportunities. The bill also invests $400,000 in Nurturing Healthy Behaviors, which helps parents and early childhood providers support social and emotional development in children, especially those exhibiting challenging behaviors. Both of these investments promise significant economic, fiscal and social benefits for our state and were signed by the Governor. The line-item for technical assistance funding for the early childhood grant program was vetoed by the Governor and overridden by the Legislature, allowing NDE to work closely with schools to ensure it maintains a high level of accountability and provides the level of quality that closes the achievement gap.
The skills needed to succeed in school, make good life choices and build healthy relationships are developed in early childhood. Proper development of these skills, like self-control, confidence, and the capacity to communicate, requires childcare providers, school teachers and parents to know how to encourage positive behaviors and address challenging behaviors as they occur. LB944 would provide funding to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education to expand an existing program that provides helpful training for parents, child care providers (home-based, church-based, non-profit, and for-profit), and elementary school teachers who work with children birth to age 8 with challenging behaviors. LB944 is included in the budget bill approved by the Governor.
Read First Five Nebraska's Written Testimony on LB944 (pdf)
Read Nebraska's Business Roundtable's Written Testimony on LB944 (pdf)
Read Fight Crime: Invest in Kids' Written Testimony on LB944 (pdf)
Among other provisions, LB967 allows unspent lottery allocations to remain with the Early Childhood Education Endowment Cash Fund (Sixpence), the Nebraska Department of Education early childhood preschool grants program and the School District Reorganization Fund after August 1, 2016. (All other unspent funds must be transferred to the newly created Nebraska Education Improvment Fund.) LB967 also directs the Early Childhood Training Center to approve training for child care licensing and Step Up to Quality.
Read First Five Nebraska's Written Testimony on LB967 (pdf)
LB984 is part of the trio of bills introduced this legislative session concerning lottery funding for early childhood education. Like LB967, this bill permits unspent lottery allocations to remain with the Early Childhood Education Endowment Cash Fund (Sixpence) and the Nebraska Department of Education early childhood preschool grants program after August 1, 2016. The bill also makes a one-time appropriation of $4.6 million in general funds to the early childhood preschool grant program for FY 2014-15, with any unused portions rolling over to FY 2015-16 and 2016-17. LB905 incorporated a $3.7 million appropriation for the early childhood grant programs, with some monies dedicated to grant program technical assistance. The Governor approved $3.2 million directed for additional program grants which is significant because it will allow more school districts to start or expand high-quality early childhood education opportunities in their communities. The line-item for technical assistance funding for the early childhood grant program was vetoed by the Governor and overridden by the Legislature, allowing NDE to work closely with schools to ensure it maintains a high level of accountability and provides the level of quality that closes the achievement gap.
Read First Five Nebraska's Written Testimony on LB984 (pdf)
Read Nebraska's Business Roundtable's Written Testimony on LB984 (pdf)
LB992 creates an Early Childhood Data Governing Body to develop and sustain a unified early childhood data system. The goal of the system is to provide accountability for and guide future investments in early childhood programs serving children from 0-8 years of age. The data system will fully integrate data from HHS and NDE to improve coordination and streamlining of services. The bill also directs the Data Governing Body to develop a plan to close certain data collection gaps. Developing better data systems is critical to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of early childhood investments.
While all licensed Nebraska childcare providers must be inspected regularly, current law allows for Family Child Care Home I providers to obtain licenses before undergoing basic health and safety inspections. Specifically, current law gives HHS 60 days to complete the inspection after the license is granted. While a significant majority of providers pass these inspections without incident, a small number of licenses have been granted to homes with unsafe and unsanitary conditions that are not easily remedied. LB1050 will protect children and provide families the assurance that all licensed childcare providers meet basic health and safety standards from day one, by requiring pre-licensure inspections of Family Child Care Home I providers. LB1050 was introduced by Senator Campbell at the request of First Five Nebraska, was advanced out of the HHS Committee unanimously and is cost neutral.
LB1103 directs the Education Committee of the Legislature to conduct a strategic planning process, with the goal of developing a statewide vision for education in Nebraska. The process would gather information in various ways, such as holding a minimum of three public hearings and possibly holding other meetings, work sessions and focus groups. The vision developed must contain aspirational goals, visionary objectives, meaningful priorities and practical strategies. The strategic planning process offers a significant opportunity for Nebraska to consider how early childhood education contributes to school readiness and reduction of the achievement gap, and should be integrated into the broader grades K-12 framework.