That’s the astonishing number of children on waitlists at just a handful of childcare centers in Muncie, Indiana. While there may very well be some duplication within that number (some families may put their children on multiple waitlists to better compete for an open spot), it’s a sobering indication of just how bad the national early childhood education crisis is, even at just the local level. 

And there are more incredible numbers contributing to the crisis:  

  • 92: The number of open early childhood teacher positions in Delaware County.  
  • $18,000: The annual tuition for some infant spots in Delaware County—which greatly exceeds in-state tuition for Ball State University, Purdue University, and Indiana University.  
  • 100,000: The number of childcare workers that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates have not returned to work since the beginning of the pandemic.   

So, what does all this mean? 

To start, economists fear this could spell trouble for the entire labor market. Think about it: When a parent/guardian can’t find quality childcare, they are likely to stay home to care for the child themselves. And when a parent/guardian stays home to care for their child, that means they are removing themselves from the local workforce, which leads to understaffing at area businesses. In fact, many employers themselves have routinely cited childcare as a critical impediment to their ability to hire and retain employees. The early childhood education crisis is no doubt inextricably linked to the national employment crisis.  

This is also concerning as we think about the future of our young generations. A person’s earliest years—between the ages of 0 and 5—are often seen as the most critical. After all, 90% of our brain development happens by the time we turn just 5 years old. Improving access to high-quality childcare shapes our future workforce, our future leaders—our future community.  

The early childhood education crisis is not just a concern for families with young children; it should be a concern for all of us. All of us will see—and already have seen—the effects of this national crisis. And it affects us not just today, but tomorrow too.  

Despite these very real concerns, there is hope: Day by day, unsung heroes are working to shape the minds and lives of our youngest citizens. Throughout the pandemic, they have been on the frontlines, providing care with reimagined operations that protect children’s health and safety. Words alone cannot express our gratitude for these high-impact workers.  

That’s why we’re making a call to action—a call to support our early childhood education providers in any way you can: 

  • Our childcare centers are significantly understaffed. If you know someone interested in going into the early education/childcare field, encourage them to apply for one of the many high-impact, in-demand open positions. 
  • Ball Brothers Foundation has awarded grants to both Muncie Area Career Center and Ivy Tech to ramp up training programs to offer more opportunities for high school students and others to go into the field. But more is needed. Schools, government, and funders must continue to bolster early education training programs to help build the pipeline of early childcare workers. 
  • As a community, we need to look for ways to better support childcare centers. Children spend 8-12 hours a day in childcare facilities—how can we help to ensure centers have the resources to ensure that these days are filled with exploration, wonder, and engaging outdoor learning? How do we deploy the full range of private dollars and local, state, and federal resources to ensure that centers can hire and retain staff? that they can make critical building repairs to aging facilities? that they have the supplies and materials needed to provide engaging early childhood experiences? There are simple ways that individual citizens and corporations can help. Write a check or make a gift in cash to a local nonprofit childcare center. Inquire about doing a supply drive. Or consider having your business donate products or services.  
  • How do we as a community—and as a nation—better value the childcare workers who are working in the field today and who will be filling these positions in the future? Ultimately, we must advocate for increased wages for these high-impact childcare jobs. 

There are few things more rewarding than watching the eyes of a child light up as they learn something new or make a discovery about the way the world works. The future of our city, state, and nation is dependent on how we value children today. Children are counting on us—let’s do all we can to give them safe, joyful places to grow and learn.   

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