University of Nebraska-Kearney receives $2 million to research early childhood education

29 de Mayo de 2024 a las 06:00 ·

Philip Lai
Philip Lai, associate professor at UNK, is leading an initiative to research the lack of early childhood education and childcare in the state. (Photo courtesy of UNK Communications)

A total of 27% of Nebraskans live in a rural setting, beating the national average by nearly 10%.

Living in a rural area is often accompanied by a lack of access to necessary resources, such as early childhood education and childcare.

For Philip Lai, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Kearney College of Education, a new project aims to find out what leads to the lack of access. It’s called the Knowledge Network for Early Childhood Education Workforce (KNEW).

The university’s role in the project is connecting rural communities, Lai said.

“We know that having support at the local level can go a long way in supporting early childhood educators in these rural communities,” Lai said. “We want to act as a bridge and create and strengthen the social networks.”

This is to help communities find out what does and doesn’t work for their populations. Creating a collaborative and localized solution is important to Lai.

Another aspect of the initiative is to increase recruitment and retention for the early childhood workforce with a focus on rural communities in the state.

An October 2023 report released by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that 86% of rural parents in the nation who had one partner not currently working said childcare responsibilities influenced their decision not to work.

The goal of the initiative is largely supported by people who believe that children are the future of the state, Lai said.

“Early education is an important part of keeping Nebraska a great place to live and raise a family,” He said.

Lai added the funding for the bill was sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer, without whom the project wouldn't exist.