Bill would include early childhood in city comprehensive plans

Nebraska cities would be required to add an early childhood component to their comprehensive plans under a bill heard Jan. 23 by the Urban Affairs Committee. The bill would apply to cities of the metropolitan, primary, first and second class. It would not apply to villages.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist26' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Matt Hansen'>Sen. Matt Hansen</a>
Sen. Matt Hansen

Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, sponsor of LB880, said state law already requires cities to develop and release comprehensive plans. Other required elements of those plans include land use, transportation, community facilities, energy and annexation.

Hansen said the requirement would assist cities with labor force needs and would promote children’s healthy development by focusing resources on wise investments.

“The collection and analysis of this information provides greater transparency to the public—including new businesses that may wish to relocate to the area, knowing that they can attract and retain new, young talent who will raise their families in thriving communities,” Hansen said.

The bill would require the addition of an early childhood requirement before Jan. 1, 2022, which would include three elements:
• promotion of early childhood health and education measures that benefit the community;
• an assessment of the supply of quality licensed early childhood education programs for children younger than six; and
• an evaluation of the availability and utilization of licensed child care capacity and quality for children younger than six.

Sarah Ann Kotchin of the Holland Children’s Movement testified in support of the bill, saying cities could use existing resources and data to fulfill the measure’s requirements. Calling the proposal the “next logical step” in strengthening Nebraska cities, she said early childhood is central to success.

“Educators and business leaders alike know it is smarter and more cost effective to get products or services right at the beginning than to fix problems later,” Kotchin said. “And this requires thoughtful planning like that proposed [in the bill].”

Tracy Gordon of the Nebraska Association for the Education of Young Children also supported the bill, saying that quality early childhood care and education fulfills two goals: keeping kids safe while their parents work and preparing them for success in school and in life.

The conventional view of economic development typically focuses on things like company headquarters, office towers, entertainment centers and sports arenas, Gordon said, but early childhood education should be at the top of that list.

“As policy makers you are tasked with identifying and understanding the investments that yield the highest public returns for Nebraskans, and here the literature is clear,” Gordon said. “Investments in early childhood education yield extraordinary public returns.”

Lynn Rex, testifying on behalf of the League of Nebraska Municipalities, took a neutral position on the bill. Cities in Nebraska understand and appreciate the significance of early childhood education, she said, but many feel ill-equipped to assess the quality of such programs as required by the bill.

Rex said that if the entities that have conducted such analysis—such as the state departments of Health and Human Services or Education—were required to provide that data to cities, they likely would support the measure.

“What we’re hearing from our cities is that this is something they don’t feel like they are in a position to do,” she said.

No one testified in opposition to LB880 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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