Retired officers push early childhood benefits to help national security

A bipartisan group of retired military officers says without more educational and health investments in children the country will face a growing “national security threat.”
 
The nonprofit group, Mission: Readiness, will unveil a study next Thursday that shows that 75 percent of 17 to 24-year-olds do not meet the basic minimum standards required for military service. They are not fit to enlist because they fail to graduate high school, have criminal records or are physically unfit.
 

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan will participate at the rollout of the study, together with Wesley Clark, the former NATO Allied Supreme Commander; retired Army Maj. Gen. James Kelley; Rear Adm. James Barnett; and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John Douglass, a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and the former president of the Aerospace Industries Association.
 
Army officials, for example, have long said that only three out of 10 people in that age category are eligible to enlist, making recruitment a challenge as the Army has to compete with the rest of the market place for new talent.
 
Now, the group is pushing for significant investments in early childhood education, parenting guidance as well as mental and nutrition services.
 
“The safety of our country demands urgent and intelligent action,” the group says in its mission statement. “We call on all policymakers to ensure America’s national security by supporting interventions that will prepare young people for a life of military service and productive citizenship.”
 
Congress is considering legislation for a new initiative called the “Early Learning Challenge Fund” designed to help states improve their early education programs and expand access to include more at-risk kids. The House already passed its version of the bill, which would fund $1 billion annually for eight years in competitive grants to states. The Senate has yet to vote on that bill.
 
President Barack Obama in March announced his agenda for improving educational outcomes from cradle through career and challenged states to develop a cutting-edge plan to raise the quality of their early learning programs.
 
"Show us how you'll work to ensure that children are better prepared for success by the time they enter kindergarten. If you do, we will support you with an Early Learning Challenge Grant that I call on Congress to enact," he said at the time.
 
In a commentary piece published in Forbes, Susan Urahn, the managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said that less than 30 percent of the nation's three- and four-year-olds are served by publicly funded early education.
 
“Worse, almost half a million children from low-income families are among those being left behind,” she wrote. “Federal action is needed urgently to reinforce states' progress and accelerate the growth of early learning programs.”
 
Mission Readiness was established about a year ago and boasts more than 80 former military officials on its advisory roaster. Among them are: Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, also a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs; Adm. Leon Edney, who is a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; and Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, the former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.