Three out of four young Americans are unable to join the military, in large part because they lack a high school diploma or the educational skills to score well enough on the military entrance exam, according to the nonprofit, Mission: Readiness, which launched an Ohio chapter Tuesday.
The national nonpartisan organization, comprising more than 350 retired generals and admirals, released a new report showing the Obama administration's $76 billion early childhood education proposal, if approved by Congress, could lead to 64,000 more high school graduates in Ohio and $5 billion in economic benefits to the state.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Matthew Kambic -- who commanded the Ohio National Guard for six years -- said Ohio could possibly receive $2.5 billion over a 10-year period if the president's early childhood education proposal is fully funded. That would require a multimillion dollar commitment from the state of Ohio.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said in a phone interview that the Senate and House already have approved a combined $30 million in new money for early childhood education programs and she's hopeful they might get an additional $10 million approved during conference committee budget discussions going on now.
Lehner said she's been encouraged by the enormous, bipartisan level of support she has seen across the state for funding early childhood education.
"I think there is a growing awareness we just can't tolerate 50 percent of children arriving at school totally unprepared to learn," Lehner said, noting that 35 percent of Ohio youngsters can't pass the kindergarten entrance exam. In minority communities, it's 75 percent.
Kambic joined retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Homer Smith at the kickoff event held at Inspire Center for Learning/Creative World of Montessori, 1481 N. Fairfield Road in Beavercreek.
Kambic voiced concern that 75 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 can't join the armed forces because their educational skills are lacking, they're overweight or they have criminal records.
"When you're trying to maintain readiness of an 11,000-soldier Army Guard, that becomes significant to you," Kambic said.
Through his connection with Mission: Readiness, Kambic said he has read studies showing the importance of early childhood education and the impact it can have on improving a child's ability to perform well in school and drive up high school graduation rates.
Smith said there is opportunity to influence young people in the right way by exposing them to some of the sciences, math, technologies that are becoming increasingly important for today's job market. He gave a nod to Ohio's rich history that includes the Wright Brothers and astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.
"We certainly have a burden on us to make sure that we continue to grow and generate the entrepreneurs and the leaders of the future and to make sure Ohio is always in the forefront," Smith said."When the federal government is putting money up there, we should certainly go after that to make sure we get our fair share of that."
Cynthia Rees, Ohio director for Mission: Readiness, said pre-kindergarten education is so important because research shows that a child's brain develops at its greatest capacity from birth to 5. "We have to harness all this knowledge we have and change the way we are funding our education system and make new priorities for our future," she said.
(Find out more about military education opportunites here.)