Early childhood

Preschool teacher Theresa Phan (center) works with her students, including Cecilia Solorio (right) and Sawyer Wasserburger, on creating patterns in February in her classroom at Bright Horizons Family Solutions At Centennial Mall in downtown Lincoln.

Journal Star file photo

It’s not just Nebraska parents who want the state to invest more in early childhood education.

Sixty percent of Nebraskans without children believe the state is investing too little in childhood education programs — as do 63 percent of parents with young children and 55 percent of parents without young children, according to a report by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute.

“The amount of support that this reveals for early childhood is very, very significant,” said Sam Meisels, executive director of the Buffett Institute at the University of Nebraska. “This has convinced me more than ever that we have the will in this state. Now we have to find the way.”

The report, “Nebraska Parents Speak About Early Childhood Education," is the final of four reports based on a statewide survey of 7,100 Nebraskans conducted by Gallup and the Buffett Institute in 2015. The survey — conducted in English and Spanish — included 1,100 parents of children 8 years old and younger.

In addition to wanting the state to invest more in early childhood care, 72 percent of Nebraskans without children agreed or strongly agreed that the state should make early childhood care and education programs available to all 4-year-olds whose families want them, the report found.

Similar responses came from 78 percent of parents with young children and 67 percent of parents without young children.

There is less consensus about the state’s responsibility for providing early childhood education programs to children younger than 4. Parents with young children were most likely to think that should be a responsibility of the state for all 3-year-olds (59 percent), compared with 55 percent of the Nebraskans without children and 43 percent of parents without young children.

Just 34 percent overall thought the state had a responsibility to provide early childhood care to all infants and toddlers.

But science showing that most rapid brain development happens in the first five years of life — and the majority of that in the first three years — suggests otherwise, Meisels said.

“So we still have more work to do in terms of helping people understand about brain development and neurological development in general and how that supports the programs we should have for young children,” he said.

The Buffett Institute is hosting a national symposium in Omaha on Tuesday on strategies to support parents.

The survey-based reports are an effort by the Buffett Institute to bring early childhood education to the forefront of Nebraska policy, community development and social justice discussions, and lend statistical information to the debate.

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The first report, released last March, showed 68 percent of respondents support early childhood care and education, but just 15 percent are satisfied with the quality of child care programs in their communities. The second report looked at the respondents’ views on the child care workforce, and the third compared urban and rural perspectives.

Cost and transportation are the two biggest barriers for families in finding high-quality early childhood programs, the survey found. 

Nearly two-thirds of the parents surveyed reported that their children were in early child care programs, included 24 percent of parents whose children were in elementary school.

Overall, 70 percent of parents rated their own child care situation as excellent, though just 46 percent of those surveyed were satisfied with the programs available in their communities.

Nebraska is among the top 10 states where both parents work, Meisels said, so it’s important to make sure care is of high quality — and affordable.

The only support now available for child care is for families living in poverty, but it’s a burden to many young families, Meisels said.

“I’d like to see the state and private sector work together to begin to come up with some solutions that don’t place all the burden on the state or the family,” he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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