New report paints concerning picture for Nebraska early childhood care

A new report released by the Buffett Institute says early childhood education across Nebraska is in dire need of funding.
Published: Aug. 14, 2023 at 10:21 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Less than two years after Nikki Wilson bought TenderAcres in La Vista, the pandemic hit, wiping away her childcare clientele and her workers.

“Without the COVID relief, I can genuinely say my business would’ve closed shop,” said Wilson.

Data from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute shows that nearly 10% of childcare programs in Nebraska have closed since 2019. That, combined with a worker shortage in the industry, caused havoc amongst families.

“You can’t outsource early care and education,” said Cathey Huddleston-Casas, author of the report.

The majority of the COVID-19 relief money that kept Wilson’s doors open is set to expire next month.

“I was reaching at the stars for public funding,” said Wilson.

She received $500,000 dollars’ worth for different purposes, including PPP loans to pay her workers and a business expansion grant to expand the number of children she can take in. Soon she’ll be able to accept 14 more kids to her roster.

“We were able to maximize our space by putting in solid walls, which keeps the health and sanitation part of children sleeping in the crib,” said Wilson as she showed one renovation in her building using the grant money.

She said her business received $300,000 to invest in her building and equipment to provide more spots for the community. The state audits her spending to ensure it’s being spent for its intended purpose.

With the money, Wilson also bought a machine that can disinfect materials in 30 minutes, worth more than $20,000.

Wilson says those additions wouldn’t have been possible without the public grant.

The Buffett Institute’s recent report warns the childcare industry is critically underfunded. The industry gets 43 cents of every dollar needed to keep up with the demand.

The report warns Nebraska has likely not fully felt the effects of trying to provide an ECCE (Early Childhood Care and Education) system on fewer resources because of COVID-19 relief funds that began flowing into the state in 2021.

Nebraska’s gross domestic product grew by $8 billion between the 2017 and 2021 fiscal years -- but spending on early childhood care and education decreased, according to the Buffett Institute’s study.

“If we’re providing early childhood care and education with less money than what we actually need, that means we’re cutting corners somewhere,” said Huddleston-Casas.

“The cost of childcare, what is happening is it’s going straight into staff wages,” said Wilson.

The result is not providing enough funds to invest in growing the industry and workforce, according to experts. That’s why they’re sounding the alarm.