This summer I had the opportunity to attend the National Conference of State Legislature’s Early Learning Fellows program, which is a multi-day conference of state legislators from around the country gathered to learn about the benefits of early childhood education. There were many issues we examined, all of which tie into early childhood education: crime, environmental factors such as poverty, family support, and professional development for early childhood educators. After learning about these issues, I remain a strong believer in early childhood education.
Early childhood education programs are activities designed for pre-kindergarten aged children, typically up to 5 years old. These programs teach children the “soft skills” that will be necessary later on in life such as social skills, self-esteem, and an aptitude for learning. In addition to teaching directly to children, early childhood education programs foster family support by developing in-home activities and showing parents how to be engaged in their children’s learning. Research has shown that when children attend early childhood education programs, they are more likely to succeed later on.
We are fortunate to enjoy quality educational systems in Scotts Bluff County. Although many of our communities in the Panhandle have faced their fair share of challenges, education has remained a top priority. For instance, while population statistics show that Scotts Bluff County’s population has remained steady over the last few years, we have seen school enrollment numbers in Scottsbluff grow. This means our young families are staying to raise their children here, making education ever more important.
To ensure our young families experience a quality educational system, I was part of an effort earlier this year to improve early childhood education in Nebraska through school readiness of pre-kindergarten children. LB889 (2016) passed with large bipartisan support of both the Governor and the Legislature. This bill lends support to our early childhood educational system and the professionals who work hard every day to prepare our young children for school. I am confident this innovative law will continue to increase the quality of our early childhood education programs.
In order to ensure that our efforts remain successful, Nebraska must also pay attention to the effects that poverty and crime have on early learning. The first five years include some of the most formative years of a child’s life. When children living in poverty go hungry every day, even the world’s best educational system can do little to help them. These environmental stressors stave off the development that is crucial to mental and behavioral functioning.
Data from the Nebraska Department of Education shows that nearly 56% of Scotts Bluff County’s K-12 aged population are eligible for free or reduced school lunches, meaning that many families live in or close to poverty. By dedicating efforts to early childhood education, we can also lessen the burden on our correctional system. A longitudinal study conducted by researchers at the Institute of Child Development showed a noticeable difference by age 24 on violent crime and incarceration by those children who attended early childhood education programs.
Commitment to early childhood education will build into elementary and high school years, which help our children succeed past the formative years. Helping our future business leaders and entrepreneurs follow their dreams and passions through programs such as Nebraska Extension’s Entrepreneurship Investigation (ESI) summer camp are one of the ways our young minds are being fostered. I have been a big advocate of Nebraska Extension’s summer camp program, and am looking forward to visiting some of next year’s summer camp programs.
I look forward to working in my capacity as a legislator to improve the quality of education for the children in my district and all of Nebraska. The Legislature will have many tough decisions to make, especially with a looming budget shortfall, but early childhood education will remain a priority. I look forward to hearing from constituents on other ideas for fostering a quality educational system in Nebraska.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have over the interim. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.