Military Leaders Tout Obama’s $75 Billion Pre-K Program as National Security Issue

Penny Starr | June 12, 2013 | 10:39am EDT
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Retired Rear Admiral Casey Coane spoke at a press conference on June 11, 2013 in support of President Barack Obama's proposed nationwide pre-kindergarten program. Amy Dawson Taggart, left, is national director for Mission: Readiness, a national security group of retired military officers that released a report in support of Obama's plan. General Gene Renuart, right, was also at the event at the National Press Club. ( Starr)

( – Beating a drum for one of President Obama’s favorite initiatives, retired military leaders on Tuesday pushed a $75-billion, nationwide pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds in low- and moderate-income families.

“A commitment to pre-kindergarten is a commitment to national security,” says the report prepared by Mission Readiness, a national security organization made up of retired military generals and admirals.

The sooner children enter the U.S. education establishment, the more likely they are to qualify for military service, they argue.

“This is an issue of national defense,” said retired Rear Admiral Casey Coane. “It’s an issue of economic security for our country and it’s frankly an issue of maintaining our way of life.”

Coane, speaking Tuesday at the National Press Club, said the Obama administration’s proposal would pave the way for 2 million children to graduate from high school over a ten-year period.

According to the report, military service is out of reach for an estimated 75 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 because they are too poorly educated, they have criminal records, or they are overweight.

The retired military officials argue that high-quality early childhood education can improve student performance, boost high school graduation rates, discourage crime, and even reduce obesity rates, "by helping children develop healthy early exercise and good nutrition habits."

General Gene Renuart Jr. said the program would help create “a better pool of young people as they start school.”

Amy Dawson Taggart, national director of Mission Readiness, described Obama’s plan as a state-federal partnership that provides the resources that states need to create, strengthen and expand quality pre-kindergarten and support early childhood development from birth to age 3.

The program would make a “stronger and more secure nation in years to come,” Taggart said.

The program proposed in President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget is explained on the Department of Education’s website: He’s asking for $1.3 billion in 2014 and $75 billion over 10 years in mandatory funding, along with $750 million for competitively awarded preschool development grants and other funds.

Sen. Brice Wiggins (R-Miss.), whose state ranked the highest in the percentage of young people who could not qualify for military service (38 percent), said his state has passed a law to create state-funded pre-kindergarten 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 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,” Wiggins said in a press release announcing the release of a report backing the president’s plan.

Brigadier General Velma Richardson noted at the event that it costs between $4,000 and $9,000 a year for a child to have access to a “high-quality” pre-kindergarten program, “which is way beyond what many working families can afford,” she said.

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