The NCSL Blog


By Alison May

NCSL’s Early Learning Fellows kicked off their program year May 18-20 in Omaha, Neb.

Utah Senator Ann Millner talks with Jenna Watts, committee director, Texas House Committee on Public Education Twenty-five members of the 2016 Early Learning Fellows cohort, representing 16 states and the District of Columbia, made the trip to Omaha to participate in a day-and-a-half meeting.

The Early Learning Fellows Program, currently is in its fifth year, is designed to support state legislators and legislative staff who are experienced or emerging, leaders on early childhood and early learning issues in their state. Early Learning Fellows enjoy a tour of the Learning Community Center of North Omaha.

This interactive program is intended to build knowledge among legislators about new research and policy, promote the exchange of ideas and solutions related to early learning, provide time for legislators to network and connect with other legislative leaders, facilitate access to leading researchers and policy experts and offer the opportunity for fellows to develop early learning action plans that they can use when they return home.

Renee Franklin (left), executive director, Elementary Learning Centers Learning Community of Douglas & Sarpy counties, and Jessie Rasmussen, president of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, welcome the Early Learning Fellows to the Learning Community Center of North Omaha.


Some of the highlights from the kickoff meeting included:

  • Melanie Berry, University of Oregon, spoke about the development of brain architecture that begins early in life and can be strongly affected by the experiences and environment of relationships in which children develop. Berry highlighted how these early experiences are built into our bodies and brains, and about the complex set of skills scientists believe are the foundation for success in school and in life.
  • Speaker of the Utah House Greg Hughes highlighted legislation he introduced in 2013 to allow the state to enter into Pay for Success contracts, an innovative financing mechanism, to expand the Granite School District's evidence-based preschool program.
  • The fellows toured the Learning Community Center of North Omaha, which is working in some of the most underserved communities in Omaha to reverse decades of poor student achievement. The Learning Community strives to have all children ready for school through quality early education and Parent University, which helps and trains parents and caregivers.
  • There were numerous networking and conversation opportunities among legislators, legislative staff, experts and NCSL staff.

Jamalia Parker leads the Family Engagement piece, including Parent University, a component of the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy counties presents to the Fellows. View the full agenda, PowerPoints and all information about the May 18-20 meeting.

The program cycle will continue with a second face-to-face meeting in Chicago, Aug. 7-8, as a pre-meeting to the NCSL Legislative Summit. Additionally, webinars will be held on June 30 and Sept. 15.

The June 30 webinar “Equity Starts Early: Strategies to Consider in Promoting High-Quality Early Education” will examine the recent Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) report Equity Starts Early: How Chiefs Will Build High-Quality Early Education and five identified key policy areas to consider that can help close the achievement gap and also improve early childhood programs.

The webinar will include presentations by Tom Schultz, program director, CCSSO; Clayton Burch, chief academic officer, West Virginia Department of Education; and Jenna Conway, assistant superintendent, Early Childhood, Louisiana Department of Education. Register today

Alison May is a staff coordinator in NCSL’s Children and Families program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.