Times-Leader: Their View: State Must Invest in its Children
By: Joseph Perugino March 30, 2019

As the state legislature debates budget priorities, an area of concern on both sides of the aisle is the readiness of our future workforce. As a retired U.S. Army general, I too am concerned about this especially since the young people of today are the service members of the future.

Unfortunately, a look at our youth shows a shortfall in “citizen-readiness” – the idea that they can be contributing members of society in any arena. In particular, too few are prepared for military service. The U.S. Army felt the effects of this by missing its 2018 recruiting goal by 8.5 percent, or about 6,500 recruits.

In fact, a shocking 71 percent of young Pennsylvanians do not qualify for military service. That’s three young people in four whose potential is doused before they arrive at the recruiting office. One third are obese. One third lack a high school diploma or can’t pass military entrance exams. The final third have records of criminal activity or substance abuse.

As a society we must be investing to ensure an expanding workforce talent pool, not a diminishing one. It’s time to support a citizen-ready generation with a three-part continuum of investment that strengthens learning from birth through high school. As part of the final state budget, our leaders must expand investments to:

• Strengthen families through voluntary home visiting programs: Parenthood is a learned skill, especially for young parents who never had good role models. Research-based home visiting pairs families with trained professionals who teach the ABCs of child development, health and education. The result: Better academic outcomes and child health, less spending on social services, lower abuse rates and help for families breaking away from substance abuse.

• Grow access to early education: In the years from birth to age 5, children develop one million brain synapses per second. When “hard-wired” through high-quality early learning, these connections become the building blocks of future learning, physical health that averts obesity and emotional wellness. The U.S. military recognized this fact in 1989 with a challenging mission – to intensify investments in early childhood education. Throughout the world, we now offer high-quality child care and pre-k that prepare children for school and lifetime success. As a bonus, our commitment to quality in early learning helps parenting service members concentrate on their jobs protecting national security, confident that their children are learning and well cared for.

• Provide adequate and equitable K through 12 education funding: Pennsylvania’s academic gaps are among the worst in the nation. Minority children and those living in poverty trail far behind their white and better-off peers in grade-level achievement. Research shows that money and how we spend it makes a difference. It’s especially effective when targeting underfunded schools and delivering classroom improvements and direct services that help children overcome hardship, explore career opportunities and achieve academically.

Together, these three initiatives create an education pipeline that feeds into our military, colleges, job-training programs, and workplaces. When we complete this mission, our children will be prepared for successful adulthoods as contributing citizens and, if they choose, proud and capable members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Major General (ret.) Joseph F. Perugino, U.S. Army is former commander of the 28th Infantry Division, PA National Guard and executive advisory council, mission: Readiness – Military Leaders For Kids, member.

Read the op-ed here.