By Alison May
The College World Series wasn't the only exciting game in town in Omaha last month.
As the University of Florida and LSU battled for college supremacy on the baseball diamond—Florida prevailed to capture the Gators' first national baseball crown—29 NCSL members representing 16 states and the District of Columbia gathered for the kickoff (oops, unintentional football metaphor) Early Learning Fellows meeting.
Selected fellows, chosen through a competitive application process, arrived in Omaha ready to network and learn from legislative colleagues, researchers and five NCSL staff. The meeting got underway with a reception and welcoming comments from alum of the Early Learning Fellows program and Nebraska Senator Sara Howard and legislative staffer Liz Hruska.
The first full day of the meeting was our equivalent of a grand slam chock full of excitement and activity. Highlights included opportunities to hear and discuss brain science and brain architecture in the early years, the economic return on high-quality early childhood programs from an economist with the Federal Reserve, and an overview of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) specifically related to opportunities within the preschool through third grade years. Each of these sessions provided a significant amount of specific and useful information.
The afternoon gave Early Learning Fellows an opportunity to learn about a double play of innovations happening in Nebraska. The first presentation came from the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and highlighted the work being done in collaboration with 11 school superintendents to close the achievement gap. Rounding out the day was a highlight of the Sixpence Early Learning Fund, a public-private investment for quality early care and education programs that began in 2006 when the Nebraska legislature established the Early Childhood Education Endowment Grant Program.
After a delicious dining experience at the Omaha Press Club on the 22nd floor of the First National Center building, complete with views into Iowa and into the College World Series stadium, we called it game over for the night.
The second day of the meeting allowed fellows to see first-hand what a quality early learning facility and program looks like through a tour and site visit to Educare of Omaha at Kellom Elementary School. Staff at Educare explained their program model, funding and discussed the data showing how their students perform as they enter elementary school. A parent whose children attend Educare discussed the positive impact it has made on her children.
Representative John ‘Bam’ Carney (R-Ky.), said, “The meeting was very helpful as my legislative colleagues in Kentucky move into a budget session next year. I really appreciated learning more about the lifetime earnings potential of those children receiving quality early childhood education. I feel this investment could benefit all of our society.”
“It was a great first meeting in Nebraska," said Representative Javier Martinez (D-N.M.). "The expertise that was shared with us, and the willingness of policymakers from across the country to build quality early education systems in their home states is inspirational. I look forward to the rest of the program and to bringing home best practices and good ideas.”
The 2017 Early Learning Fellows program continues with webinars in July and August, then rounds third and heads for home for a final meeting this September in Denver. Interested in learning more about the 2017 cohort of Fellows? Visit our website.
Alison May is a staff coordinator in NCSL’s Children and Families program.