Funds sought for early childhood services

The Appropriations Committee heard testimony March 4 on a bill that seeks funding for early childhood services in Nebraska.

LB190, introduced by Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms, would appropriate $10 million annually from the state’s general fund to the Early Childhood Education Endowment Cash Fund in fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Harms said the funds would expand high quality early childhood services to more infants and toddlers across Nebraska who are at risk of failing in school. Funds invested by the state are matched at the local level, he said, in public-private partnerships involving the state Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services and local community partners.

Focusing funding on early childhood would result in more stable communities and future reductions in crime and welfare dependency, Harms said.

“The priorities that we set financially drive this state in the direction that we want it to go,” he said.

Jen Goettemoeller of First Five Nebraska testified in support of the bill. Nebraska faces a statewide problem of children lacking the necessary skills to succeed when they start school, she said, and that segment of the population is growing.

“Thirty-nine percent of all children [ages] birth to five across the state are at risk of failing in school,” she said.

Katie Kjolhede, a graduate of the Young Parent Program in Crete, also testified in support of the bill.

She said the program, which utilizes endowment fund grant dollars, helped her understand the importance of interactive play with her son in terms of his social and intellectual development.

Jim Krieger, testifying on behalf of the Omaha and Nebraska chambers of commerce, said the type of skills taught in programs like the one Kjolhede attended are essential to economic and workforce development in the state.

A child who enters school lacking language and social skills continues to be at a disadvantage in learning, he said, and one result is that 20 percent of Nebraska’s workforce is functionally illiterate.

“Once this begins, there’s a compounding impact,” Krieger said. “If you start behind,
you don’t typically catch up.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action.

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