Scottsbluff, Neb. — A new report reveals that Nebraskans—no matter where they live—share similar views on a range of early childhood issues. Only about one-third of residents believe the lives of Nebraska’s children will improve 10 years from now, and majorities of Nebraska residents living in both rural and urban areas are supportive of investing in early childhood programs.
Urban and Rural Nebraskans Speak About Early Care and Education is the third report 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 statewide survey, making it the largest and most comprehensive public opinion poll conducted on early childhood issues in Nebraska.
The survey was developed by Gallup and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska. The Buffett Institute was joined today in Scottsbluff by Senator John Stinner in announcing the report findings before an audience of community and education leaders, public officials, early childhood professionals, and others.
“Regardless of where they live, Nebraskans agree we must do more to ensure that high-quality early care and education is both affordable and available for families,” said Samuel J. Meisels, the Buffett Institute’s founding executive director. “Ensuring all children get off to a good start in life will have a significant impact on large and small communities across the state.”
For purposes of the survey report, Gallup categorized responses into three groups based on the population size of the state’s counties, including (1) counties with an urban core (Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy), (2) counties with a large rural town (Adams, Buffalo, Dakota, Dawson, Dodge, Gage, Hall, Lincoln, Madison, Platte, Scotts Bluff), and (3) counties with a small rural town or isolated area (all others).
Highlights from the findings include:
- Concern for children’s future. Though majorities of Nebraskans from urban and rural areas share a belief that Nebraska is one of the best states in the U.S. to be a young child, they worry about the future for children. Only 30 percent of rural-area Nebraska residents and 39 percent of urban-area residents think that children’s lives will get better 10 years from now. Only 10 percent of Nebraskans (8 percent of urban-area and 11 percent of rural-area residents) strongly agree that most young children in the state are prepared to be successful in school when they start Kindergarten.
- Child care costs and availability are challenges. Urban-area residents are significantly more likely than rural-area residents (44 percent vs. 23 percent) to say that the cost of early care and education programs is the biggest challenge for families in obtaining high-quality care. Conversely, more rural-area residents than urban-area residents say too few programs is the biggest challenge. (According to the 2016 Kids Count in Nebraska Report, 11 counties statewide had no licensed child care facilities in 2015, and roughly 84 percent of counties in Nebraska with child care facilities did not have enough available slots to meet the estimated current demand.)
- Support for increased investment. There is a consensus among residents across the state about the need for greater investment in early care and education. Two-thirds of all Nebraskans strongly agree or agree that the state should make early care and education a higher priority than it currently is today. Majorities of urban-area (61 percent) and rural-area (55 percent) Nebraskans say the state is investing too little in these programs.
Following the presentation of findings on March 24, a panel discussion focused on opportunities and challenges to serving young children in the Nebraska Panhandle. Featured speakers included Senator Stinner; Kim Engel, director of the Panhandle Public Health District; Kathleen Gallagher, Cille and Ron Williams Community Chair for Early Childhood Education, University of Nebraska at Kearney and Buffett Early Childhood Institute; Jeff West, Educational Service Unit 13 administrator and chair of the Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; and Caroline Winchester, Chadron Public Schools superintendent.
“The legislature has many tough decisions to make in the current budget environment, but early childhood education should remain a priority,” Stinner said. “Research has shown that these investments will pay off for years to come.”
The report findings build on those from the first report of the Buffett Early Childhood Institute/Gallup Survey, Nebraskans Speak About Early Care and Education, which revealed that the vast majority (68 percent) of Nebraska residents say early care and education has a lot of impact on the long-term success of students in school and life, but they have 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. Slightly over two-thirds of respondents strongly agree or agree that Nebraska should make early care and education a higher priority in the state than it is today.
The second report, Nebraskans Speak About the Early Care and Education Workforce, was released on Oct. 24 in Kearney, Neb.
Results for the Buffett Early Childhood Institute/Gallup Survey on Early Childhood Care and Education in Nebraska are based on surveys conducted by mail from Aug. 27-Sept. 30, 2015, with a random sample of 7,191 Nebraskans aged 18 and older. 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 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.