Nebraska would begin to rate child care and early childhood education programs, and would also start restoring childcare subsidies it cut a decade ago, under a bill moving forward in the Legislature.
Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln said Tuesday the state spends about $95 million a year in state and federal funds to subsidize child care. But she said there is no minimum standard of quality to try and close the gap between students at risk of failing once they enter school and others. She says her bill is designed to address this problem.
"I want a system where every parent, no matter of their income, can know what quality is, to see how their center stacks up, and to know that their child has good quality care," Campbell said.
Campbell also said her bill is supported by businesses who view early childhood education as the foundation of Nebraska’s future workforce. Her proposal would require the Nebraska Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to devise a rating system. That system would look at factors including facility safety, how ready children are for school, professional training, and family engagement. Programs that receive more than a quarter million dollars a year in child care subsidies would have to participate, and could receive more money if they ranked well. The bill would cost about $4 million over the next two years.
An amendment by Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln would partly restore cuts to childcare subsidies Nebraska made in the economic downturn of 2002. Those cuts reduced the cutoff for subsidies from 185 percent of the federal poverty line to 120 percent. At 120 percent, a single mom with two kids can get a subsidy if she makes less than about $23,400 a year.
Conrad’s amendment would raise that by about $1,000 starting July 1, and $2,000 the year after that. It would make about 11,000 more kids eligible, and cost state taxpayers another $4 million over two years.
Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz supported both the bill and Conrad’s amendment. "The amendment opens the door to more kids. In order to promote work, in order to promote family values, in order to protect kids, in order to create more quality child care, LB507 and AM1137 are sorely needed," Bolz said.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion questioned expanding a government program. "This is a new day. The young people of today don’t want a government program. They want a good job and they want to be left alone," Kintner said. "The winds of freedom, the winds of liberty are blowing across our state. And the people today want us to judge compassion by how many people no longer need government services, not how many more people we can get on the government dole."
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said that is the point of the bill. "This is the about the ability of a parent to place in proper day care, and go out and work and pay taxes. And get to a point where they are away from any public assistance," said Krist.
Conrad’s amendment was adopted on a vote of 26-0, with 10 senators absent and 13 including Kintner not voting, which has the same effect as a no vote. Senators then voted 27-0 to advance the bill.