Start Early. Start well.

October 24, 2016

Statewide Survey Finds Strong Support for Early Childhood Workforce

Kearney, Neb. — A new report reveals public support for the early care and education professionals who help to shape the healthy development, learning, and long-term success of Nebraska’s young children.

Nebraskans Speak About the Early Care and Education Workforce is the second in a series of reports from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute/Gallup Survey on Early Care and Education in Nebraska. More than 7,100 Nebraskans responded to the historic statewide survey, making it the largest public opinion poll ever conducted on early childhood issues in the state.

The survey was developed by Gallup and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, a four-campus, multidisciplinary research, practice, policy, and outreach center that began operations in 2013. Gallup and the Buffett Institute announced the findings of the second report on Oct. 24 in Kearney, Neb., before an audience of state and community leaders, public officials, early childhood professionals, higher education faculty, and others.

Announcement materials

Discussion centered on the critical importance in Nebraska today of the early childhood professionals and the programs they serve, given that nearly 80 percent of the state’s children from birth through age 5 are enrolled in some form of child care.

“Most young children in Nebraska are enrolled in early care and education programs, and we know that the most important factor in the quality of these programs is the presence of highly qualified teachers and child care providers,” said Samuel J. Meisels, the Buffett Institute’s founding executive director. “Research has shown—without a doubt—that healthy, trusting relationships and positive daily interactions with teachers and caregivers throughout the first eight years of life have a profound impact on young children’s long-term success.”

Highlights from the report include:

  • Nebraskans recognize and value the early care and education workforce. A strong majority (66 percent) of residents say an early care and education program or home-based center is best when families cannot care for their children during the day. Almost half (46 percent) have turned to schools or teachers, and many (37 percent) have turned to child care providers for information about child care.
  • Nebraskans believe that postsecondary education is needed for those who want to work in the care and education field.  At least half of Nebraskans say that some higher education is needed, and that the level of education varies with the age of the child.
  • Nebraskans want greater support for the early care and education workforce.  Nearly half (48 percent) of Nebraskans believe that teachers and caregivers are paid too little, and 55 percent of parents with children in programs feel this way. In 2015, the average salary for child care professionals was $19,620. 

These findings build on those from the first report of the Buffett Institute/Gallup survey, Nebraskans Speak About Early Care and Education. Released on March 29, 2016, this report revealed strong support among Nebraskans for early childhood education. The vast majority (68 percent) of Nebraskans value and support early care and education but have serious concerns about its availability, affordability, and quality.

Only 15 percent of Nebraskans are very satisfied with the quality of early care and education programs in the city or area where they live, and even fewer (10 percent) strongly agree that most children are prepared to be successful in school when they start Kindergarten. More than two-thirds of respondents voiced strong support for more investment by the state in young children.

“Nebraskans understand that the work child care providers and teachers do is absolutely critical to children, families, and communities across the state,” said Susan Sarver, Buffett Institute director of workforce planning and development. “We must work together to provide early childhood professionals with the training and compensation they deserve without increasing the financial burden on young families.”

In the coming months, the Buffett Institute and Gallup will release two more reports from the survey focusing on urban and rural residents’ views on early childhood across the state and parents’ perspectives on early care and education.

“We believe findings from these additional reports can help further inform policymakers, community leaders, educators, and others about the future of early care and education in Nebraska,” Meisels said. “These are real issues that Nebraska—and the nation—must face.”

The Buffett Institute/Gallup Survey was conducted by mail from Aug. 27 – Sept. 30, 2015, with a random sample of 7,191 Nebraskans age 18 and older. The sample was divided to allow for estimates at the area and state levels. In addition, Gallup weighted the data to match Nebraska’s demographics by gender, age, education, race, and Hispanic ethnicity. The margin of sampling error is +/- 1.6 percent.