Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of blog posts by Nebraska’s term-limited senators reflecting on their time in the Nebraska Legislature. We thank State Senator Matt Williams for his dedication and service to Nebraska and District 36.
Over my eight years in the Legislature, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work with First Five Nebraska on issues related to early childhood development. I’ve come to believe that the terms thriving children, thriving families and thriving communities are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are clearly linked together. If we invest in thriving children, we will help develop thriving families and that will lead to thriving communities. That’s why I was pleased to play an instrumental role in the inclusion of $4 million from the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund (part of the American Rescue Plan) for Nebraska to expand or start child care programs for children from birth to 5 years of age.
Two major issues
Over the past several years, there are two issues that have dominated discussions across our state: tax policy and workforce development. Any discussion of tax policy also includes a discussion of K-12 education funding. Currently in our state we have a workforce crisis. We have somewhere over 60,000 jobs available, and we have the lowest unemployment rate in our history. When you analyze these issues there is really only one sure long-term solution—grow our state. And there is nothing more important than education at all levels when we talk about growing our state. Education is how we build a workforce.
Over my time working in economic development, I’ve come to recognize that thriving communities all pay close attention to meeting the expectations of people in the areas of education and health care. You won’t move your family to an area that does not meet your expectations in education and health care. What makes this more challenging is that our expectations have changed over time. With 75% of parents working, we now expect our schools to offer before-school programs and after-school programs. Meeting these growing expectations requires additional resources.
Child care providers are struggling
When I step back and think about the importance of early childhood learning, I’m struck with some scary facts. In a survey that was conducted with more than 1,600 child care providers in Nebraska we learned that child care providers are struggling with low pay, no health or retirement plans, uneven preparation and stress. We are trusting our most important asset, our kids, with people struggling with these challenges. No doubt we can do better. Clearly this is a challenge that can only be met with new ideas and new methods. This past legislative session I introduced LB702, which would provide income tax credits to eligible child care employees and child care providers. While the bill did not pass this year, I believe innovative solutions to child care shortages like LB702 will be important to early childhood learning in the future and am confident of its eventual passage.
Human beings only react in one of three ways when faced with adversity. They choose to quit, blame or step up and accept the responsibility of working together for positive change. We can’t quit on our kids, and we know blame never solves a problem. Therefore, we only have one choice! I challenge each of us to STEP UP. As people, we are dreamers. I challenge each of us to dream big. But dreams are just dreams unless someone is willing to take action. Dream big, take action and together we can facilitate change. Remember, if we don’t start our kids off right, we get no second chance!
Read more in the series: