Lincoln, Neb. — A new study reveals that the vast majority of Nebraskans value and support early care and education and believe more needs to be done to prepare young children for success in school and life. In overwhelming numbers, residents say that high-quality early care and education is not available or affordable for all families in Nebraska.
More than 7,100 Nebraskans responded to the Buffett Early Childhood Institute/Gallup Survey on Early Childhood Care and Education in Nebraska. The largest public opinion poll ever conducted about early childhood in Nebraska, the survey provides the first barometer of residents’ attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge concerning early care and education.
The survey was developed by Gallup and the University of Nebraska’s Buffett Early Childhood Institute, a four-campus, multi‐disciplinary research, practice, policy, and outreach center that began operations in 2013. Gallup and the Buffett Institute announced the findings today at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln before an audience of nearly 300 state and community leaders, public officials, early childhood professionals, higher education faculty, and others.
“Decades of research have demonstrated that what happens to children during the critically important early years impacts not only their future success, but also the future economic strength and well-being of our communities and our state,” said Samuel J. Meisels, the Buffett Institute’s executive director. “Now, Nebraskans have spoken. They get it, they support it, and they want to see greater investment in early childhood programs across the state.”
Highlights from the survey findings include:
· More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Nebraskans say early care and education has a significant impact on the long-term success of students. However, only 10 percent of residents strongly feel that most young children in Nebraska are prepared to be successful in school when they start Kindergarten.
· Positive early experiences and environments are critical to children’s healthy development. Yet only 1 percent of residents say all children birth to age 5 in Nebraska receive high-quality early care and education. Few Nebraskans (11 percent) strongly agree that high-quality early care and education is available to every family in the state. Even fewer (6 percent) believe it is affordable.
· The majority of Nebraskans (67 percent) believe the state should make early care and education a higher priority than it is today. About half (51 percent) of residents say the state should provide early care and education for all children from low-income families who choose to use it.
Brandon Busteed, executive director of education & workforce development at Gallup, said Nebraskans’ views generally align with the growing national interest in policies that support high-quality early care and education. For three years running, the First Five Years Fund’s annual bipartisan poll has shown that early childhood education is a national priority for Americans, regardless of party affiliation.
“This is one of the most comprehensive statewide studies of early childhood care and education, and the results are a clear call for action. Strong public support—combined with thought leadership from Dr. Meisels and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute—make Nebraska a compelling case for becoming the best state to be born in,” Busteed said.
Recent public opinion polls in states from coast to coast—including North Carolina, Florida, Utah, Ohio, Colorado, California, and Iowa—show support for increased investments in early childhood.
“Making early education and child care programs accessible and affordable while maintaining the highest quality standards will require innovative thinking from both public and private sectors,” said Iheoma Iruka, director of research and evaluation at the Buffett Institute. “Policymakers, communities, higher education institutions, schools, child care providers, and families must all be a part of the conversation.”
In the coming months, the Buffett Institute and Gallup will release additional reports from the survey exploring selected topics in greater depth, including Nebraska’s early childhood workforce and early care and education in rural Nebraska, among others.
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.