Early childhood education coordination and funding discussed

Members of the Education Committee heard testimony Feb. 4 on two bills that would support early childhood education efforts in the state.

LB992, introduced by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, would create a governing body to plan for a unified early childhood data system. The governing body would be required to provide a final report to the governor and Legislature before July 1, 2016.

Howard said that the state must be able to transform data into actionable information to leverage the investments made in early childhood education.

“Each year Nebraska invests millions of dollars in early childhood education, yet there remains skepticism of its efficacy,” she said. “The ability to analyze data to support policy and strategic public investment is critical to learning, development and our state’s economic future.”

Jen Goettemoeller, representing First Five Nebraska, testified in support of the bill. She said it was important that coordination of data be used to implement more focused programs.

“When it comes to early childhood education, we already know what works and what children need,” Goettemoeller said. “We rarely pull all of the data together and that can keep us from targeting our investments more closely.”

The committee also heard testimony on LB984, introduced by Cedar Rapids Sen. Kate Sullivan, which would increase the early childhood education appropriation for pre-kindergarten grants by the state Department of Education.

Sullivan said the $4.6 million proposed in the bill for fiscal year 2014-15 is not a new funding request, but instead represents existing funds previously appropriated for education.

The funding would support start-up costs for 30 additional preschool classrooms and provide full-day preschool for approximately 560 additional children. State Department of Education staff would monitor grant recipients to ensure classrooms meet a set of objective quality standards.

“We’ve recognized the importance of early childhood education,” she said. “We have a goal of 100 percent access to early childhood education in Nebraska. [With this bill] we are continuing our support.”

The bill also would direct any unused lottery funds in FY2015-16 to the same pre-kindergarten grants.

John Bonaiuto, representing the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, supported the bill, saying early childhood education remains a critical issue in the state.

“This bill will capture dollars that have already been budgeted for education,” Bonaiuto said. “These dollars are so important to funding areas that really need targeted resources.”

No one testified in opposition to the bills and the committee took no immediate action on them.

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