High-quality early childhood education is an important component of the quality of life in Nebraska

December 12, 2022 3:00 am

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LINCOLN — In Nebraska, more than 76% of children under age 6 live in homes where all adults work, a figure that is higher than the national average.

With this high percentage of young children needing care outside the home, accessible, high-caliber early childhood education becomes an even more important component of the overall quality of life in Nebraska.

This is why Step Up to Quality, Nebraska’s quality rating and improvement system for early childhood education providers, and the We Care for Kids campaign have joined forces to bring more awareness to the vital need for high-quality early childhood education.

The future of our state is quite literally at stake: The first five years of a person’s life are the most formative. When our youngest Nebraskans spend their days in an environment that is ideal for learning and growing, an overwhelming amount of research shows that they will do better in school and beyond; that they are more likely to succeed in the workforce; and that they have a much better chance to be productive, healthy adults.

High-quality early childhood education affects our education system, and it also influences our economy across the state.

Our state has a great track record of investing in families and children, as evidenced by Nebraska’s outstanding public education and higher education opportunities. The focus there is on quality, and we work hard to ensure that every Nebraskan has access to it.

Nebraska also focuses on quality in early care and learning, which is just as critical to the success of our children as everything they learn from kindergarten onward. Step Up to Quality incentivizes early education programs to provide the high quality that parents expect, and children need, to be prepared for school.

Now in its eighth year, Step Up to Quality has rated nearly 700 early education programs throughout Nebraska, and more than 38,000 children have received care and education in a quality rated program. You can read more about Step Up to Quality’s growth and impact in its annual report.

Yet we know we have more work to do. Ninety-one percent of licensed child care programs in Nebraska don’t have the capacity to meet the demand, more than 1,500 of those licensed programs have yet to enroll in Step Up to Quality, and 11 counties in the state have zero licensed child care programs. This means families must drive long distances to find the help they need, while others are forced to limit their work, income and financial stability because there are too few early education programs available.

When child care options are expansive and accessible, young children learn the skills they need to succeed in school and life, families can work, and our state economy can flourish. We know that when high-quality early childhood education is available, communities thrive.

Everyone must work together to solve the problem of access to quality early childhood educators. That’s why Step Up to Quality has joined the We Care for Kids campaign along with families, business leaders and philanthropic and nonprofit organizations: to raise awareness of the importance of early childhood care and help communities address their needs, create solutions and share them across the state.

Since launching earlier this year, We Care for Kids has reached out to over 100,000 Nebraska households with young children and has partnered with more than 30 community organizations across the state that are working together to ensure that all Nebraska families have access to quality early childhood education.

We Care for Kids and Step Up to Quality are bringing more awareness to the importance of access to high-quality early childhood education. Spread the word by joining We Care for Kids at NebraskaCaresforKids.organd encouraging parents to check for quality-rated programs in their area at

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Lauri Cimino
Lauri Cimino

Lauri Cimino, Step Up to Quality director, has been working in early childhood education for three decades, joining the Nebraska Department of Education, Office of Early Childhood in 2014. She is a Nebraska native and received her education degree from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Lauri has served in a wide range of early childhood roles, from teacher to assistant director to director to regional director and regional manager. She has worked in public schools, nonprofits, federal government programs and corporate child development centers.

Kara Ficke
Kara Ficke

Kara Ficke serves as the campaign manager for We Care for Kids, a statewide effort to build support for quality early childhood education for all Nebraska families. Born and raised in Lincoln, Kara has devoted over 15 years to working locally, nationally and internationally with organizations to build community and impact change. She believes that quality early childhood care and education has an incredible impact on children, families and communities and is passionate about building support across Nebraska and beyond.