NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Experts say the country is in a ‘childcare desert,’ and Middle Tennessee is no exception. A program centered in Nashville aims to provide some relief, but will it be enough?

Our city keeps growing, but it seems the number of childcare centers are not. Ask just about any working parent and they probably had trouble finding childcare.

Here’s just one example, there was a line out front of Primrose School in 12 South before they even opened, not for the first day of school, but for parents waiting to get on the waitlist. Some parents lined up overnight, hoping to get a spot.

Parents wait outside Primrose School in 12 South to get on waiting list (WKRN photo, 2022).

“It’s very frustrating,” said Amy James, who owns Primrose Schools of Brentwood, Midtown and 12 South. “If I could have six more I would, because I don’t like to tour an expectant mom, who is so excited for this journey, but we don’t have availability.”

There are waitlists at every single one of her schools, which is a trend James started seeing in 2014.

She also gets calls daily from hopeful parents. “At my Midtown location, we probably get 150 inquiries a month. I mean, honestly, to meet the need of our waitlist, we could open another one in Brentwood, and we could open another one downtown tomorrow and just meet the need of our waitlist.”

It may seem like an easy solution is to just open up more daycares, but James said that’s easier said than done.

“It took us five years to find our location, our third location, and it was a real estate challenge. And then just purchasing land anywhere in Metro Nashville, it’s pretty impossible,” said James. “We got out-bid multiple times, by developers in the amount of a million dollars.”

What’s the solution? Gina Tek with Childcare Tennessee of the Community Foundation said they have a program that can help.

“That’s how we’ve come up with the satellite idea, so that existing mentors centers can open a small satellite classroom in churches, businesses, community centers or wherever there’s available space that’s fire-compliant, and they will run the program and the same way that their quality that their original program works,” said Tek.

The program also helps centers share resources like administrative staff, instead of having an on-site finance employee, Childcare Tennessee handles it.

Another issue many daycares are facing is lack of teachers. The program also has a solution for that, through their substitute teaching service.

“We have our substitute pool. It’s an online platform for people that can work when they want to and where they want to and provide consistent staffing,” said Tek.

They hope to soon offer a ‘shared enrollment’ service to parents, so they can join multiple waitlists with one request.

The bottom line for this program is to provide support for educators so they can focus on what’s most important: the children.

Childcare Tennessee is available through a grant from the state for childcare providers, for more information click on this link.