Pre-K helps provide more opportunities

Sun Herald (Biloxi/Gulfport, MS) — By Erik Hearon, Major General, US Air Force (Retired), Buford “Buff” Blount, Major General, US Army (Retired) and Roger L. Shields, Brigadier General, US Army (Retired) — As retired generals from Mississippi, we are very proud of our state’s outstanding military tradition, including the Mississippi National Guard. But we are very concerned that 80 percent of young people in our state between the ages of 17 to 24 are unable to serve in the military.

This is primarily because they are too poorly educated, are too overweight, or have a criminal record. In Mississippi, one in three students does not graduate from high school on time and, of those who do graduate, 38 percent cannot score highly enough on the military’s exam for math, literacy and problem solving to be able to enlist.

Fortunately, research clearly tells us how to fix this problem. Decades of research has shown that investing in the earliest years of a child’s life is the most effective way to ensure that each child graduates from school, abides by the law and becomes a contributing member of society.

Mississippi has the historic opportunity this year to invest in both the newly proposed state pre-K program and Mississippi Building Blocks to ensure that our children have maximum opportunity to succeed in life, including serving their nation in uniform if they so choose.

Investments in early education also produce savings to taxpayers. The costs of failure can be very high. For example, each child who grows up to drop out, use drugs and become a career criminal costs society, on average, $2.5 million. High-quality early learning can prevent many of those expenses and return as much as $16 per dollar invested.

We are in an extraordinary moment in time here in Mississippi. We can leave behind our status of being the only state in the South without state-supported early childhood education. And we can improve the quality of our existing child care centers through Mississippi Building Blocks.

As members of the national security organization Mission: Readiness,we recently met with the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and key legislative committee chairs. We applaud these leaders for coming together to support quality early education in our state to make sure that every door of opportunity is open to Mississippi’s children.

We have the most technologically advanced military in the world, but we need educated people to operate it. Investing in high-quality early education is investing, not only in Mississippi’s future, but also in our national security.