Here’s Why It’s So Hard To Find Your Kid a Daycare in Niceville

At one point this year Lauren McElroy, the director of Crosspoint Academy Daycare, had to turn off the waitlist to get children into her facility. The waitlist for the church-affiliated daycare had grown to 40 babies for the infant room and more than 58 children for the two-year-old class. “So that’s why we turned it off, because if we keep it on, people just have their hopes up and they call,” McElroy remembers. 


The problem for the daycare, the parents, and the kids – there simply aren’t enough daycare workers to care for the  hundreds of children in the Niceville area who need daycare so their parents can work. 


“We have the space, we have the children, we don’t have the staff,” McElroy said during a conversation in her office in October. 


As parents pass through the halls, rooms are left empty for want of employees to mind them. This means parents have to make other arrangements to take care of their kids while they are at work. 


Crosspoint Academy isn’t alone. I can tell you from personal experience, my young children have sat on numerous daycare waitlists in the Niceville, Valparaiso, and Eglin Air Force Base area for years.


The problem isn’t localized to Niceville, Okaloosa County, or even Northwest Florida. According to Florida Political Review – the childcare shortage has become a statewide and national problem as well. Florida saw the number of children on a childcare waitlist in the state go down between fiscal year (FY) 19-20 and FY 20-21 from about 19,400 children on a monthly basis to 12,600 children on a monthly basis. It got so bad during the last couple of years that the State Department of Education released more than $350 million in grant aid to help childcare centers make it through the pandemic. 


But the shortage of workers is still critical – and doesn’t look to change soon. Nationwide – nearly one in every five childcare jobs doesn’t have a person to fill it – meaning parents have to stay home, or find other arrangements. A report by the US Chamber of Commerce found that between 6-11% of parents voluntarily left their jobs in order to provide care for their children. That decision costs families and companies. Texas, the state the most similar in size to Florida in the report, lost almost $9.5 Billion in economic activity due to the shortage of childcare workers. 


So, we know what the problem is – there just a’int enough people working in childcare. 



Why is there a shortage of Childcare in Niceville?

The big reason comes down to pay. 


In Florida, you don’t need additional education or certificates to become a daycare provider. In order to become a provider, you need to have 

  • Good moral character
  • A background check 
  • Fingerprints on file
  • Must be 16 years of age
  • A 40-hour course that teaches the provider the basics of childcare
  • Continuing education as long as they are employed
  • Some employees need to have further credentialing to have a daycare in good standing


Despite the additional training that a daycare teacher might have – they tend to make less money than they average high school graduate. On average, in Florida, a high school graduate can expect to make around $30,000 per year, or about $14.42 per hour. Daycare workers on the other hand make around $27,497 per year, or about $13.21 per hour. 


In short, it means that people who could work in childcare are heavily incentivized not to by the wages available in those jobs. It creates a dilemma daycare managers like McElroy are all too familiar with. “We can’t compete,” McElroy said, “it’s the industry. We’re trying everything we can in order to help in other ways. And it may not be through hourly [pay], because we can’t charge out the wazoo for families, because then we won’t have kids coming. So, you have to find that balance.” McElroy says that she and many other providers have to use the teachers’ passion for their profession as the main way to keep the doors to their facilities open. “We want [daycare providers] to have a job that is happy and fulfilling. Do I want [employees] to go to McDonalds and make more? Hey, if that’s what you want to do, then suit yourself. But, you are going to be able to impact the next generation being here. No one here is doing it for the money at all.”

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