Investing more public money in preschool access for 4-year-olds is akin to improving the nation’s national security, according to a report released Tuesday by Mission: Readiness, an organization of retired admirals and generals.
The report cites Department of Defense figures that say only 25 percent of the young men and women ages 18 to 24 qualify for enlistment in the military because they are either too obese, have a criminal record, haven’t finished high school or can’t pass the military entrance exam, among other factors. The Mission: Readiness report argues that the best long-term solution to this problem is to expand the access to and quality of early education with increased public investment. Research has shown that students who start school earlier do better academically and live healthier lives.
“You have to remember when you get in front of retired flag officers (admirals and generals), we tend to not be swayed by emotionalism,” said retired Maj. Gen. James Comstock, a Mission: Readiness member.
Comstock said he became convinced early childhood was a smart investment when he reviewed the research on preschool programs like the Chicago Child-Parent Center study, which found higher rates of school completion and lower rates of criminal activity, among other positive outcomes, in program graduates through age 20.
President Barack Obama has cited the same study in many speeches touting his 2014 budget proposal to vastly expand federal spending on public preschool. So far, no Republican lawmaker has come out in support of that plan.
Comstock said his politics are conservative. But he said this issue crosses party lines because it is a “strategic imperative” that the country have a military made up of highly qualified individuals capable of dealing with high-tech weapons systems, interacting with people from different cultures and making high-stakes decisions.
“It’s not, ‘it may affect national security,’” Comstock said of how the country goes on the preschool question. “It will affect national security.”