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MARTI BEARD and KYLE ARGANBRIGHT

One of the things that makes Nebraska work is in danger of not working at all – the availability of quality early childhood education for families.

Ninety-one percent of Nebraska counties with licensed child care providers do not have enough available spaces to meet demand. We also have a looming shortage of early childhood teachers — nearly half of licensed center providers recently surveyed by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute said staff had left the profession altogether.

Nebraska doesn’t work when early education providers, families, and communities don’t work together. Early childhood professionals are integral to the economic growth and vitality of all communities in Nebraska.

This is a huge loss for Nebraska’s children, families and economy. We Care for Kids is a statewide campaign helping communities in Nebraska address the issue.

We Care for Kids (NebraskaCaresForKids.org) amplifies the conversation and efforts across our state to expand and sustain access to early childhood education – a topic that is becoming a priority among families, business leaders , schools and health facilities.

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We Care for Kids brings together the work of these partners and communities, including Communities for Kids, an effort of the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation that works in 51 communities to help local leaders connect for funding, support health professionals early childhood and find the right solutions tailored to their unique needs.

Quality early childhood education is essential to the development of children and communities. Qualified early childhood educators prepare children for school. Children who receive a quality preschool education are better prepared to learn, more likely to read in fourth grade, graduate school, and successfully pursue college, trade school, and careers.

Families can work in the knowledge that their children are in the safe, loving, and supportive care of a quality early childhood educator. This provides Nebraska employers with the talent they need to succeed now and in the future.

Access to early childhood education is critical to our local and national economy. For example, Valentine’s most important needs are people, housing, and early care and education. These short-term challenges will become long-term challenges without further investment and improvement. If we want people to choose Nebraska communities to earn a living and raise a family, we must continue to improve access to quality early childhood education. Investing in early childhood education is both necessary and fruitful.

We Care for Kids comes at the right time for Nebraska. For years, many communities have organized themselves to support early childhood education. Some have developed innovative solutions through public/private partnerships that bring together government, business, philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. Others struggled. We Care for Kids connects advocates, organizations, resources and efforts, providing the tools every community in Nebraska needs to raise awareness, support early childhood teachers and build capacity. We are delighted and proud to be part of this campaign.

When we care about providing quality early childhood education to all Nebraska families, we care about making Nebraska prosperous.

Marti Beard is vice president of early childhood programs at the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. Kyle Arganbright is mayor of Valentine, executive vice president of Sandhills State Bank and co-founder of Bolo Beer Company.

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