Pre-K needed to increase military recruits
By MARIA BURNHAM
Apr. 22, 2010
JACKSON, Miss. -- National security is threatened by soaring obesity
rates among young people, a lack of early education and by high
juvenile crime rates, a group of retired officers says in a report.
About 75 percent of Mississippians aged 17 to 24 are ineligible to
serve in the military mainly because of these three factors,
according to the report issued by Mission: Readiness, a nationwide
nonprofit group of retired military leaders. That number matches the
If that trend continues, in 20 years the military will be
significantly understaffed, said retired Army Brig. Gen. Augustus
Collins of Madison.
"We need to support long-term strategies to help our young people
maintain healthy lifestyles and keep them on the right side of the
law," Collins said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
The best way to do that in Mississippi is through increased early
education, in particular state funded pre-kindergarten programs for
3- and 4-year-olds, the report says.
Mississippi is one of only a handful of states that has no state pre-K program.
Based on previous studies, the report concludes that children who
participate in high-quality pre-K programs have a higher rate of
graduation and are less likely to be involved in crime. In
Mississippi, only 61 percent of students graduate from high school.
"We must invest in kids early to make certain they have every
opportunity available to them - including the military, if they so
choose," said Amy Dawson Taggart, national director of Washington
D.C.-based Mission: Readiness.
Though they offered no ideas on how to fund pre-K in Mississippi, the
retired officers called on the governor and legislators to take a
hard look at finding money for a program.
Legislators are currently bidding to hammer out a budget for the
coming fiscal year that spends about $500 million less than the
current year. There is no pre-K provision.
"Our national security in the year 2030 will be affected by the
investments in early education we make today," said retired Army
Brig. Gen. Roger Shields of Madison.
The group said its report seeks to raise awareness of the issues
affecting American's youth and the future impact it will have on the military.
While the focus in Mississippi was on early education, earlier this
week the group was in Washington pushing for the passage of a
wide-ranging nutrition bill aimed at making the nation's school
Weight problems are now the leading medical reason that recruits are
rejected, the report says. The average number of 18- to 24-year-olds
who were overweight or obese in Mississippi is above 50 percent.
The group wants Congress to rid schools of junk food and high-calorie
beverages, put more money into the school lunch program and develop
new strategies to encourage healthier habits among youth.