New Study Warns About Impending Financial Cliff for Nebraska's Early Childhood System

New Study Warns About Impending Financial Cliff for Nebraska's Early Childhood System Main Photo

22 Aug 2023


August 09, 2023


Loss of Federal Funds Contributes to Growing Gap for Fully Funding Vital Child Care Services 

OMAHA, Nebraska – A looming federal funding cliff for child care providers could further strain Nebraska’s already underfunded early care and education system, new research from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska shows.  

In September 2023, the majority of COVID-19 relief funding for child care will expire nationwide. This comes as a new analysis from the Buffett Institute suggests that Nebraska is still not fully funding early childhood care and education.  

In fact, the gap between what is funded and what is needed to provide quality, accessible child care to all Nebraska families is only growing, from $482.1 million in Fiscal Year 2017 to $569.2 million in FY 2021, highlighting the urgent need for stable investments in child care.  

Compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nebraska has experienced a net loss of nearly 10% of its child care programs. According to the most recent data, 91% of counties reported not having enough child care slots to meet local demand, and families in 11 counties lacked access to a single licensed provider.  

Much-needed federal rescue funds helped providers meet payroll, offer additional slots to children and families, and keep their doors open. The loss of these funds could cause more child care programs to close, disrupting families and the economy.  

Cathey Huddleston-Casas, the Buffett Institute’s associate director of workforce planning and development and the author of the new research brief, estimates that Nebraska is not only failing to make progress toward full funding, but that the state is falling further behind.  

In Gap Widens for Achieving Fully Funded Early Childhood System in Nebraska, full funding is defined as the combined public- and private-sector funds needed to ensure that high-quality child care is available and accessible to all young children in the state, stabilizing enrollment for families and revenues for child care business owners.  

The new brief builds on the work of the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission, which called for fully funding the state’s early childhood system by 2030. With support from Huddleston-Casas, the commission first identified the size of Nebraska’s funding gap. The gulf between what was needed to fully fund quality early care and education and what Nebraska actually funded was 51% in FY 2017. That gap grew to 57% by FY 2021.  

“The widening gap is an economic alarm bell,” said former State Senator John Stinner, who served as a member of the commission and helped lead the effort to better understand needed investments in Nebraska’s early childhood system. “Our state, businesses, and citizens pay a heavy price because of insufficient options for stable, high-quality child care.”  

In addition to the research brief, a newly launched interactive web tool maps out how Nebraska’s early childhood care and education system is funded.  

The innovative new tool allows Nebraskans to trace the sources of state and federal early childhood funding, while providing a model for researchers and policymakers in other states who want to track and visualize early childhood spending.  

“The Nebraska Early Childhood Funding Map helps users see the current complexity involved in financing Nebraska’s early childhood system while also exploring individual pathways within it,” said Huddleston-Casas. “Understanding Nebraska’s public investment in early childhood care and education is central to informed decision-making about funding and how those dollars translate into quality care for children.”  

The Nebraska Early Childhood Funding Map was created by Huddleston-Casas and policy consultant Jen Goettemoeller Wendl. It accompanies two new reports they authored, Nebraska’s Public Investment in Early Childhood Care and Education, Fiscal Year 2019 and 2021 Technical Reports, and includes data from FY 2017 as well.  

"New Study Warns About Impending Financial Cliff for Nebraska's Early Childhood System". Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, 9 August 2023, Accessed 22 August 2023.