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Retired Generals: Invest in Pre-K to Help National Security

Back in January, we wrote about top law enforcement officials in New York and Maine who were on a mission to convince state lawmakers that investing in early childhood education can be an important crime-prevention weapon.

Now, several former military leaders are calling for Mississippi to create state-funded preschool programs (the state is one of 11 that have no program) to help better prepare future recruits, saying that doing so is important to national security.

More than 75 percent of young Mississippi residents are ineligible to join the military because they either have failed to graduate from high school on time, are physically unfit, couldn't pass a basic skills test, or have a criminal record, four retired generals said at a news conference this week.

Providing quality preschool programs could help improve the graduation rates and physical fitness of students, the generals said.

The former officers are part of Mission:Readiness, a nonprofit organization of more than 300 retired generals, admirals, and other senior military leaders who advocate for investments in education to help ensure the nation's security and prosperity.

A report on the organization's website details the issues faced by Mississippi: 38 percent of students do not graduate on time from high school; and another 38 percent of those who do graduate are unable to pass the military's basic skills exam. In addition, the state has more overweight 18-to 24-year-olds than any other state.

The news is worse in the Mississippi Delta, where 44 percent of students fail to graduate on time, according to the report. But Mississippi isn't the only state with problems. Nationally, 75 percent of young Americans are unable to join the military mostly because they are unfit, poorly educated or involved in crime, the organization said.

The report notes that research has proven that exposure to quality early learning can help kids overcome the challenges to be successful in school. And it points out that Mississippi has experimented with efforts to improve early learning, but has yet to establish a "statewide early childhood development and learning system."

"Our nation's future security depends on having enough educated and fit young men and women available to serve in uniform," the report said. "Investing in high-quality early childhood development and learning is investing in our national security."

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