With the release of the book, "Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development," a nationwide movement on early education and child development was triggered. This book cast a spotlight on the gap between scientific knowledge and actual practices in early childhood education. It began the conversation on the importance of early childhood development and what Nebraska should do to address early learning as a social and economic imperative for the next generations.
Jim Krieger, Chief Financial Officer at Gallup, and Pete Festersen, a member of Omaha City Council and entrepreneur at the time, decided to establish the Nebraska Early Childhood Business Roundtable. Both businessmen saw a need for advancements in early childhood education and an opportunity for business men and women to voice the long-term economic and workforce development benefits that investments in early childhood education can provide to our state and businesses.
During the next five years, Jim and Pete recruited business leaders from across the state to join in the efforts. The business roundtable advocated for a number of strategic early childhood policies focused on quality and accountability. The roundtable helped create the Early Childhood Endowment Fund. More commonly known as Sixpence, the fund established a funding model incorporating local partnerships to meet local needs of families with infants and toddlers. This legislation expanded early childhood opportunities statewide.
Another big accomplishment was supporting legislation establishing accountability of public early childhood funding. This legislation created Step Up to Quality, Nebraska’s quality rating and information system for early childhood care in Nebraska. Step Up to Quality also provides career development opportunities for individuals in the early childhood profession.
With a change in leadership, the Nebraska Early Childhood Business Roundtable was rebranded as Dividends Nebraska. Inspired by business terminology and the business expertise our members bring to the conversation, Dividends describes the economic returns early childhood investments have on education and career readiness.
Nebraska was added because this is a statewide group. As business professionals from across the state, members recognize the importance of sharing resources to meet local needs. Although each Nebraska community is unique, there are similarities and state system structures that influence local early childhood efforts. As a group, a united voice of business leaders can help propel forward early childhood efforts at the local level with a state structure in place that is accountable and fiscally responsible.