Start Early. Start well.

Preschool Development Grant

about the preschool development grant

In 2020, Nebraska was awarded $8.9 million for a three-year grant through the Preschool Development Grant (PDG) Birth through Five Initiative administered by the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Together, contributing partners have pledged $2.7 million in matching funds. The PDG Renewal Grant provides funding from 2020 to 2023 to implement the Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan, which was developed in 2019–2020 under a previous PDG award. The plan is based on the comprehensive statewide needs assessment that was conducted as part of that initial PDG effort. The vision of the Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan is to provide all Nebraska children and their families with access to quality early childhood services that support children’s healthy development from birth through age 8.   

The PDG Renewal Grant offers an unprecedented opportunity for Nebraska to assess and improve its early childhood system at the state and local levels. It also provides a framework to bring together the combined resources and expertise of state agencies, early childhood and K12 educators, community leaders, nonprofits, and an array of private sector interests for a common goal—to improve the developmental outcomes of our state’s youngest children. The work is led by Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services, with support from the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and in close partnership with the Nebraska Department of Education. The Buffett Early Childhood Institute is collaborating with these organizations to support assessment, planning, and evaluation efforts.  

Buffett Institute Grant Activities

The Buffett Early Childhood Institute is responsible for coordinating and implementing the following six PDG activities: 

  • Needs Assessment
  • Strategic Plan 
  • Nebraska Early Childhood Campaign 
  • Workforce Commission Implementation 
  • Performance Evaluation 
  • Transition Committee 


Activity 1.a. – Needs Assessment

Project Co-Leads: Kathleen Gallagher, Director of Research and Evaluation, and Alexandra Daro, Research Specialist

The Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan calls for an integrated and collaborative approach to needs assessment, strategic planning, and performance evaluation, to help ensure that Nebraska creates sustainable change at the community and state levels. Building on the comprehensive statewide needs assessment that was conducted in 2019 with funds from the PDG B-5 Planning Grant, early childhood system partners continue to gather, analyze, and share data to better understand the strengths and challenges in Nebraska’s early childhood system. Findings from the ongoing needs assessment will be used to improve and refine the strategic plan going forward.

In 2020–2021, needs assessment efforts included conducting focus groups with families in underserved communities, conducting interviews with key informants in the state’s early childhood system, surveying early childhood providers to better understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on early childhood services, and understanding existing data sources and needs assessment process throughout Nebraska. Community-based facilitators were identified, trained, and supported in conducting focus groups with the families in their communities. Efforts are underway to conduct focus groups with early childhood professionals in the state to understand and address their experiences related to both professional and personal well-being. This work involves collaborating with state agencies and other partners to identify sustainable processes for collecting information from key audiences; analyzing the information to determine the needs of children, families, and providers; and building capacity to use this information effectively to inform changes at the program, community, and state levels.

Activity 2.a. – Strategic Plan

Project Lead: Susan Sarver, Director of Workforce Planning and Development

The Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan is a dynamic plan by and for Nebraskans that seeks to ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood services. The plan describes an integrated set of goals and objectives for improving the early childhood experiences of the more than 235,000 children, birth through age 8, who live in Nebraska, with special emphasis on addressing significant disparities that exist across the state. The 2020 strategic plan was based on findings from a statewide needs assessment that was conducted in 2019 and was informed by input from families, early childhood providers, and other stakeholders representing communities across Nebraska.

Community collaborators are working together to update the Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan. Since July 2022, community facilitators hosted 52 meetings with over 300 people across Nebraska to identify strategies to create equitable access to quality care for every child. Participants included parents, early childhood professionals and providers, coaches, trainers, program leaders, community leaders, business owners, and local elected officials. These meetings also captured many more voices from diverse communities across the state than were included in the prior effort—including more people living in rural areas, people of color, families of children with disabilities, Spanish-speaking communities, and more. The ideas and recommendations from these communities will directly shape updates to the strategic plan’s objectives and strategies, thus ensuring that the 2023 Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan will address the perspectives of Nebraska’s many diverse communities.

The Strategic Plan team collaborates with the Needs Assessment and Performance Evaluation teams to integrate new needs assessment data and develop systems to measure progress, thereby helping Nebraska build its capacity for creating sustainable change at the community and state levels.

Activity 3.e. – Nebraska Early Childhood Campaign: We Care for Kids

Project Lead: Renee Wessels, Associate Executive Director for Strategy and External Affairs

The Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan calls for a statewide effort to create awareness and shared commitment to the fact that everyone—including parents, families, early childhood providers, schools, businesses, community leaders, state agencies, elected officials, and nonprofit organizations—has a vested interest in supporting the healthy development and learning of each child. The Nebraska Early Childhood Campaign will support public awareness efforts that center on educating parents and families, among others, about quality early care and education programs and services.

A central focus of the campaign will be to ensure that Nebraska parents and families understand the value and importance of quality care and education, and that they are empowered to seek out quality programs and services for their children. Efforts will focus on engaging parents and families about quality early care and education in ways that are accessible, digitally driven, and culturally and linguistically appropriate, as well as responsive to how today’s families receive information and make decisions. Efforts will support maximizing parental knowledge and choice and will highlight the crucial role that the early childhood workforce plays in providing quality early care and education.

In addition to parents and families, the campaign will reach those within the early childhood system and focus on supporting efforts to build a shared understanding of quality early care and education. The aim is to ensure that as parents and families turn to the early childhood system, those within the system share the same understanding of quality.

The campaign also will extend to networks that engage influencers, defined as opinion and community leaders across the state to help those in leadership roles understand the importance of early care and education to the state’s future and to sustain the necessary investments in quality early care and education.

Conceptualized as a broad collaborative effort of the Buffett Institute and its public- and private-sector partners, the campaign launched in January 2022 with the formation of a Campaign Advisory Group. Full implementation of the campaign, called We Care for Kids, launched on June 15, 2022. A virtual event kicked off the campaign and featured an array of state and community leaders who spoke about the value of early childhood education, including University of Nebraska President Ted Carter and Senator John Stinner.

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 Activity 4.a. – Workforce Commission Implementation

Project Lead: Susan Sarver, Director of Workforce Planning and Development

The Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan calls for promoting the provision of quality early care and education throughout the state by promoting, supporting, and training the early childhood workforce. This aligns with the vision that the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission established in its report and recommendations, Elevating Nebraska’s Early Childhood Workforce: Nebraska will elevate the early childhood workforce to a priority profession benefiting all children from birth through Grade 3. The PDG-funded Workforce Commission Implementation initiative is focused on developing and implementing the statewide infrastructure needed to fulfill this vision. Currently, partners are examining pathways across the state for early childhood professionals to achieve credentials and degrees. A leadership cohort of early childhood professionals was developed during the second year of the grant. The Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Leadership Cadre, a group of 26 early childhood professionals from across the state, is meeting over the next three years to build members' collective capacity as thought leaders and early childhood workforce leaders. In addition, work is underway to conduct a landscape analysis of existing early childhood efforts that support the goals and recommendations of the commission report, and this assessment will be a tool to guide further implementation efforts.

Activity 6.c. – Performance Evaluation

Project Lead: Kathleen Gallagher, Director of Research and Evaluation

The Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan calls for expanding the state’s capacity to support coordination and alignment of early childhood programs and services through integrated data systems that track outcomes and support decision-making at the state and community levels. The PDG-funded Performance Evaluation initiative is addressing this need through two parallel efforts—evaluating the degree to which PDG-funded projects are advancing the goals of the Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan and collaborating with partners across the state to build capacity for ongoing evaluation of early childhood programs and services using a systems lens.  

To evaluate PDG-funded projects, the Performance Evaluation team gathers data using monthly reports from PDG activity leads. The reports provide information about strategic plan alignment and evaluation strategies. The data are analyzed and, in collaboration with partners across the state, effective processes are identified for collecting, using, and reporting data, with an emphasis on creating sustainable data-management infrastructures. Continuing into years two and three, the Performance Evaluation team will coordinate with the Needs Assessment and Strategic Plan teams, with a goal of improving the state’s Early Childhood Integrated Data System and increasing stakeholders’ capacity to use data to inform changes at the program, community, and state levels.  

Efforts to enhance capacity for evaluating early childhood programs and services using a systems lens are led by two collaborative teams—the Evaluation Network and the Technical Assistance Team. The Evaluation Network, composed of stakeholders involved in early childhood program and evaluation efforts across Nebraska, has met regularly to explore systemic approaches to evaluation. Working with the Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan values, members of the Evaluation Network have developed principles for systemic evaluation design and practice. The principles reflect a shared commitment to promoting equitable access to quality early childhood programming across Nebraska, elevating family representation in that process, and using evaluation to drive quality and equity. In year two of the grant, the Evaluation Network will provide guidance for evaluating early childhood efforts and PDG projects, with an eye on equity, quality, and systems change. 

The Technical Assistance Team, led by the Munroe-Meyer Institute, works with the Evaluation Network to embed values and principles related to equity and quality into the PDG project evaluations. Initial efforts included providing technical assistance to PDG project leads related to building logic models and using data, with a focus on advancing the goals of the Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan. In years two and three, a resource library for systemic evaluation practices will be developed and shared. 

Activity 6.d. – Transition Committee

The Nebraska Early Childhood Strategic Plan calls for building or expanding capacity within communities to support continuity of quality care for children making transitions across early care and education settings. Positive transitions from one early care and education setting to the next create stability and promote children’s positive developmental and learning outcomes. Across Nebraska, families and early care and education providers are seeking assistance in understanding how best to promote positive transitions for young children, including what is needed to prepare children for Kindergarten. The Transition Committee is focused on increasing parent and educator understanding of transition processes, strengthening collaboration among early care and education providers and public schools, and aligning standards and curricula. The committee itself is composed of stakeholders from across Nebraska who have expertise in early education transition practices throughout the state. The committee has several functions, including identifying state documents containing transition materials, examining state data on transition practices, building a resource library, and creating and implementing transition toolkits.

In 2022, the Nebraska Transition to Kindergarten Toolkit and Resource Guide was created and serves as a toolkit and set of resource guides for families, school district leadership, Kindergarten teachers, and early childhood care and education providers and administrators. Each toolkit shares valuable information on best practices for children taking the next step in their educational journey to Kindergarten and includes research-based activities and approaches. More information about the toolkit can be found here.


Visit for additional information about the Preschool Development Grant and other activities associated with the grant.

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