Lancaster Online: Op-Ed: Fund Quality Pre-K in PA for Sake of National Security

Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 6:00 am

When we marvel at precision-guided munitions hitting a small target from miles or even hundreds of miles away, we should note that somewhere in that chain of events are highly skilled soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines who made it happen. Just as civilian employment has become increasingly high-tech, so too has military service.

That message was the focus of a recent visit to Philadelphia by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who highlighted the troubling reality that far too few of America’s young adults now have the skills and attributes necessary for military service. He warned that with the retirement of many highly skilled service members, the nation faces a challenge in recruiting people with the high-tech abilities needed in the 21st- century armed forces.

The disturbing fact is that 72 percent of today’s young Pennsylvanians are not eligible for military service because they are too poorly educated, medically or physically unfit, or have disqualifying criminal records. These shortfalls will continue to undermine the military’s efforts to recruit high-quality individuals.

In the end, this capability gap among our youth threatens both national security and economic prosperity.
For this reason, more than 500 of my fellow retired generals, admirals and other senior military leaders have become members of Mission: Readiness — Military Leaders for Kids, in order to support targeted investments to help young Americans grow up to be educated, healthy, and fit to ensure our defense and to succeed in life.

Fortunately, this key issue is gaining traction in Harrisburg as lawmakers discuss the adequacy and effectiveness of our public education system that is in large part responsible for producing the human capital we need. Among the proposals being considered is a historic expansion of Pennsylvania’s high-quality early learning programs.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed increasing state funding for high-quality pre-K by $120 million; this would provide access for an additional 14,000 children.

As I maintained last week at a legislative breakfast in Lancaster, decades of research have shown this would be a sound use of taxpayer dollars.

Front-loading our education system with high-quality pre-K and other early learning programs can better prepare our children by boosting graduation rates, deterring youth from crime, and reducing obesity rates — all while providing a strong return on investment.

Read the entire op-ed here.