York Daily Record: 71% of young people are ineligible for the military and for most careers, too
By Kim Strong  May 14, 2019

Retired Rear Admiral Thomas Wilson worries about how many young people are ineligible for the military – because the numbers are staggering.

According to 2017 Pentagon data, 71 percent of young people are ineligible to join the military. The reasons: obesity, no high school diploma, or a criminal record.

“This is a very real risk to our national security,” said Steve Doster, Pennsylvania State director of Military Readiness for Council for a Strong America.

The problem isn’t just a military one, though. It’s an issue for businesses as well because the vast majority of that age group isn’t eligible for many jobs either, said Wilson, a former Naval officer, now in Biglerville.

That’s why Wilson raised the issue at a gathering of York County business and community leaders recently. The 29 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds who are qualified become prime targets for all recruiting: military, college and jobs.

Wilson calls it “a war for the qualified.”

A solution: early childhood education

Brian Grimm has been fighting to improve those numbers for many years as executive director of the York Day Nursery.

“He was preaching to the choir with me,” said Grimm, who was in the audience when Wilson spoke at a recent York County Economic Alliance breakfast. “It’s like you want to stand up and say: Is everybody listening?”

Early childhood education is Wilson’s focus. He volunteers with Doster’s organization, Council for a Strong America, joining hundreds of other retired military who serve in the organization from across the country, along with law enforcement leaders, ministers, and even athletes.

They’re promoting a common message about the need to prepare young people early in their lives to be productive members of society later.

Grimm and the nursery have been advocating for early childhood education for decades. In fact, York Day Nursery was a test site more than 10 years ago for Pre-K Counts, an education program for toddlers who will enter kindergarten the following year.

Wilson, a Biglerville resident, pushed for Pre-K Counts in his own school district of Upper Adams County, where he is the school board president. When Upper Adams opened that program, they immediately had a waiting list, Wilson said.

“Those first five years of life are where 90 percent of brain development occurs,” Doster said.

Pre-K Counts isn’t a day care program; it’s a curriculum-centered program that prepares toddlers for kindergarten.

All of the children in York Day Nursery are in curriculum-based classrooms, even the infants, Wilson said. In fact, the school has been invited to be involved in a state-funded program for infants that starts preparing those babies for the classroom as well.

“They know if they fund the infant program, that can get (the children) to the Pre-K Counts program, which will get them ready for school, which will prepare them for life,” Grimm said.

Seeing success in more than just the military

The life part – the successful outcome for young people – is what Wilson, Doster and Grimm want to see happen. Yes, Wilson wants more young people to be eligible for the military, but more importantly, young people need to be prepared to lead businesses and government as well.

According to one report, 52 percent of employers in Pennsylvania find it challenging to hire people with adequate skills, training or education. That comes from a Rand Company-sponsored report, “The economic impact of achievement gaps in Pennsylvania’s public schools.” The report shows wide gaps in student achievement because of race and socio-economic factors.

Investing in early childhood education isn’t enough, Doster said.

“The school (district) could lack opportunities and resources,” he said. Pennsylvania has wide spending gaps between school districts. The City of Reading spends about $7,000 per child each year on education while the Upper Merion School District spends about $26,500 per student, Doster said.

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