Retired Admirals And Generals Release New Report Showing State-Federal Early Learning Proposal Could Lead To Two Million More High School Graduates And $150 Billion In Economic Benefits

As students graduate from high school across U.S., retired military leaders call the federal early learning proposal a national security imperative

Jun 11, 2013, 11:00 ET from MISSION: READINESS

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Recognizing that 75 percent of all young Americans are unable to join the military, in large part because they do not have a high school diploma or cannot score highly enough on the military's entrance exam to be allowed to serve, the retired admirals and generals of Mission: Readiness today released a new report showing that the federal Administration's early education proposal could lead to two million more high school graduates nationwide and $150 billion in net economic benefits to society over 10 years.

As students graduate from high school across the United States, the group called on Congress and the Administration to work together to pass a proposal enabling states to create, strengthen and expand high-quality early learning programs to increase the number of future high school graduates, save money and increase national security.

The Mission: Readiness members released the national report, "A Commitment to Pre-Kindergarten is a Commitment to National Security," in Washington, DC and state reports at high-quality pre-K centers in Bangor, ME; Dayton, OH; Richmond, VA; Savannah, GA; Louisville, KY; Des Moines, IA; Las Vegas, NV; and San Diego, CA.

Mission: Readiness is the nonpartisan national security organization of 350 retired admirals and generals calling for smart investments in America's children to address the fact that military service is out of reach for an estimated 75 percent of all young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24, primarily because they are too poorly educated, are overweight, or have serious criminal records.

"Many young people are celebrating their graduation from high school this month, but 22 percent of teens nationwide aren't graduating on time," said General Victor E. "Gene" Renuart, Jr., U.S. Air Force (Retired). "Many of those who do graduate and try to join the military are both disappointed and surprised to learn that they do not have the literacy, math and problem solving skills we require. These academic deficits have a direct impact on our nation's military readiness. Expanding access to quality pre-K is the smartest thing we can do, right now, to get more children on track for academic success."

Newly released research shows that by the time children were in fourth or fifth grade in New Jersey, those who participated in a high quality pre-k program for two years were three-quarters of an academic year ahead in math and two-thirds of an academic year ahead in literacy compared to those who did not.  Children who attended were also 40 percent less likely to be held back in school and 31 percent less likely to need special education services.

The report also notes there was no "fade out" of program effects: children who attended the New Jersey program significantly outperformed similar children who did not attend in kindergarten, second grade, and now in the 4th and 5th grades.

Numerous studies of voluntary early learning programs in states such as Arkansas, Michigan, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia have also shown a range of academic gains and reductions in the number of children needing special education services or being held back in school.  Studies of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers program in Illinois and Perry Preschool program in Michigan showed increases in high school graduation and reductions in the number who become involved in criminal activity in later years.

The report also includes data showing declines in childhood obesity in Philadelphia, New York City and in Mississippi, due in part to the efforts of early education centers that have systematically improved nutritional quality of the food served to children, increased the physical activity of children at the centers, and initiated voluntary coaching for parents about how young children need nutritious food and physical activity.

While education policy debates are often contentious, policymakers recognize the value of quality early learning across the political spectrum. For 2013 alone, Republican governors in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Virginia and Democratic governors in Colorado and New York have proposed and/or signed into law budget increases for quality pre-K.

"It's important to note that this truly is a bipartisan issue that gets support from all sectors of society," said Senator Brice Wiggins (MS-52nd District), who was the lead sponsor of legislation recently signed into law by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant to create state-funded pre-K for the first time in the state's history. "We made a bold and budget-wise commitment to quality pre-K for the simple reason that it's the one of the best things we can do to give our kids the foundation they need for academic success and meet the future needs of our employers as well."

The retired military leaders said that states would benefit significantly from implementation of the early learning proposal presented in the Administration's 2014 budget proposal, which includes $99 billion over 10 years to enable states to offer high-quality preschool programs to every low- and moderate-income four-year-old while strengthening early childhood development opportunities for children from birth through age three. The proposal will enable states to create, strengthen and expand quality programs, as New Jersey and others have begun to do.

The report's projection of additional high school graduates is conservative. The Chicago Child-Parent Centers program achieved 29 percent more high school graduates; Perry Preschool achieved a 44 percent gain; and the state-wide program in Michigan saw a 35 percent increase.  So a 29 percent figure might be reasonable to use for projections, but we cut that roughly in half – 15 percent – to be conservative. Even at that lower rate, bringing pre-kindergarten to scale as this proposal suggests could produce nearly 2 million new high school graduates. That is almost as many individuals as are currently serving on active duty and in the National Guard and Reserve, combined.

Net economic benefits are based on an independent analysis of research studies that shows that high-quality early learning programs produce average net savings to society of $15,000 for every child served. These savings result from schools avoiding the costs of an extra year of education for children who are held back, lower special education costs, fewer children in detention facilities, fewer adults in prison, fewer expenses for crime victims and savings from lower welfare costs.

"Every responsible working parent across the country wants the best for their children, but for many high quality pre-K is as out of reach as college tuition," said Brigadier General Velma "Von" Richardson, U.S. Army (Retired). "We know from research that early learning programs that meet high-quality benchmarks cost between $4,000 and $9,000 per child, per year, depending on the state – which is way beyond what many working families can afford."

"Many children who are left out of these programs start school at a disadvantage and never catch up," said Rear Admiral Casey W. Coane, U.S. Navy (Retired).  "A commitment to quality early education is one of the smartest ways to get more children on track for academic achievement, high school graduation and suitability for military service for those who choose to enlist."

Mission: Readiness is the nonpartisan national security organization of senior retired military leaders calling for smart investments in America's children. It operates under the umbrella of the nonprofit Council for a Strong America.