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‘Minibus’ investments in early childhood are investments in our national defense

‘Minibus’ investments in early childhood are investments in our national defense
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Last month, the president signed into law a joint “minibus” appropriations measure that will provide fiscal 2019 funding for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and various other related federal agencies.

This marks the first time that a funding measure for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education has been approved on time since 1996. As a retired U.S. Navy admiral, I am pleased to see robust funding for DOD, but I am also very pleased that this bill includes critical investments in our nation’s children, some of whom will answer the call to serve in the military one day.

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Throughout my naval career, I saw how state-of-the-art equipment, machinery and weaponry were critical to the success of a mission. However, I know that the military’s most precious resource is the talented men and women who have chosen to serve.

That is why I am deeply concerned that, according to the Department of Defense, 71 percent of young people between the ages of 17 and 24 do not qualify for military service, primarily because they are too overweight, too poorly educated, or have a history of crime or drug use.

This shrinking pool of eligible recruits is beginning to take a toll on the military’s ability to fill its ranks, as evidenced by new data released last month that indicated the U.S. Army, the largest of the five military branches, missed its recruitment target for 2018 by 6,500 soldiers. While there are many factors that influence recruitment numbers, even the most talented recruiters cannot be successful if they don’t have an adequate pool to choose from. Consistently low recruitment numbers will severely impact the military’s ability to respond to threats and poses a very serious risk to national security.

To reverse this trend, we must start early and ensure that young Americans get a strong start in life, beginning with high-quality child care and education. Research clearly shows that high-quality early childhood programs significantly increase the likelihood that a child will succeed in school and graduate on time.

Children who have participated in high-quality early education programs have been shown to have better literacy and math skills, are less likely to be held back in school and are more likely to earn a four-year degree. Research also indicates that these programs can help kids develop healthy habits. High-quality programs can provide children access to nutritious meals and exercise throughout the day, helping to instill habits that may prevent them from becoming unhealthy later in life.

The minibus funding measure signed into law last week makes strong investments in defense infrastructure. But just as important to our national security are the investments the bill makes in early childhood programs like the Child Care and Development Block Grant, Head Start and Preschool Development Grants.

Investing in high-quality early child care programs helps provide children with the strong foundation they need to succeed later on in life, regardless of whether they choose to serve in the military or take a different path.

The on-time passage of this funding measure is a major victory for our federal government, the military and our nation’s children. I hope Congress and the administration will build on this success and continue to recognize that helping kids get a strong start in life is paramount to the future success of our nation.

Casey Coane is a retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and member of the national security organization Mission: Readiness. Following his over 30-year career in the military, Admiral Coane served as the CEO and Executive Director of the Association of the United States Navy.