Early childhood workforce bill considered

The Education Committee heard testimony Jan. 18 on a measure designed to help stabilize Nebraska’s early childhood workforce.

Sen. Mark Kolterman
Sen. Mark Kolterman

Under LB838, sponsored by Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, the state Department of Education would be required to develop a program to aid individuals who provide child care and education programs for children and those who support early childhood workforce recruitment and retention.

The bill would appropriate $15 million in general funds annually to the department. Kolterman said the funds would provide subsidies to early childhood providers to join the Educators Health Alliance insurance pool.

All but four school districts in Nebraska are part of the Educators Health Alliance, he said, insuring more than 80,000 Nebraska educators. Being able to join the pool and offer insurance could help slow turnover rates among early childhood providers and increase stability within the industry, he said.

“The lack of reliable care has negative consequences for Nebraska’s economy,” Kolterman said. “Workforce shortages in the child care industry are tied directly to workforce shortages for every other sector of our economy.”

Adam Feser, policy adviser with First Five Nebraska, testified in support of LB838. The ability to provide health insurance could be a useful recruitment and retention tool for early childhood providers, he said. Currently, only 39 percent of center-based providers have health insurance, he said, which contributes to already high turnover rates.

“Quality early childhood experiences set children up for success in school and in life,” Feser said. “Children who have access to quality care and education in their early years not only score better on tests, but they build the social and emotional skills that will serve them throughout life.”

Melody Hobson, administrator of the Office of Early Childhood Education for the state Department of Education, also testified in support of LB838. The office approves training for child care providers and monitors the state’s early childhood education programs, she said.

Early childhood providers operate on “very thin margins,” Hobson said, and having a subsidy to provide health insurance would be a “key factor” in allowing many workers to stay in jobs that they love.

Gwen Easter of Omaha, founder of Safe Haven Early Childhood Preschool Education Academy, testified against the bill. Public-private partnerships like the one proposed in LB838 have monopolized child care in Nebraska, she said, and are not beneficial to children.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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