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Linking learning, national security

RETIRED MILITARY officers sounded an alarm Wednesday in Pennsylvania, pointing to what they perceive as an emerging national security risk:

High school dropouts.

U.S. military readiness might one day be compromised by a generation of young people that is unfit for duty because, among other reasons, they don’t have diplomas, the brass said during a press conference in Harrisburg. Lots of young people, ages 17 to 24, also are deemed ineligible to enlist because they either committed crimes or don’t meet the physical fitness standards, another consequence of the United States’ childhood obesity troubles. (Suddenly, “supersize it” sounds like an act of treason.)

The officers’ laudable aim is to increase graduation rates and reduce juvenile crime by ensuring at-risk children have access to successful preschool programs such as Pre-K Counts and Head Start. At the state Capitol, they urged lawmakers to place a priority during this month’s budget negotiations on funding those education programs.

“Our national security 20 years from now is dependent on the investment our country makes in young people today,” said Retired Maj. Gen. Joseph Perugino, of Kingston. He is among three former commanders of Pennsylvania’s 28th Infantry Division of the Army National Guard to lend their names to the Washington, D.C.-based organization known as Mission: Readiness.

This bipartisan group of senior retired military leaders issued a report titled “Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve.” “Pennsylvania has been working hard to provide high-quality early education opportunities for more of its children,” the report stated. “However, 65 percent of Pennsylvania’s at-risk children are still not served due to inadequate funding.”

Although helping the military to maintain its numbers isn’t the chief reason to put money into preschool programs, it is another dividend.

Investing in preschool kids pays off. Young people who participate in high-quality early education programs tend to stay in school, out of trouble and on track to succeed – no matter what their chosen occupations after high school.

The officers of Mission: Readiness deserve credit for recognizing those facts and for joining the ranks of Pennsylvania’s child advocates.

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