Military Service Out of Reach for Most Young Adults in Pittsburgh

May 10, 2011

Retired PA generals cite poor educational achievement as a threat to national security, say cuts to pre-k programs in Pittsburgh could worsen problem

PITTSBURGH, May 10, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Military service is out of reach for the vast majority of young adults in Pittsburgh, according to a new report released today by MISSION: READINESS, a national security nonprofit group composed of more than 200 retired generals and admirals, including ten from Pennsylvania.

Called Unable to Serve: Why Military Service is Out of Reach for Most Young Adults in Pittsburgh, the report cites Department of Defense data showing that 75% of young adults nationwide are currently ineligible to join the military due largely to high dropout, juvenile crime and obesity rates. The report shows that the situation is even worse in Pittsburgh, with only 10 to 20 percent of all young adults eligible to join the military.

The report also documents new research by The Education Trust that shows that more than one in five young people in Pennsylvania who do graduate from high school and then take the entrance exam for the military do not do well enough to join. Among young African-American and Hispanic graduates in Pennsylvania, four out of ten do not do well enough to join the armed forces. This makes educational achievement the primary cause for military ineligibility.

Three retired US Army generals from Pennsylvania stressed how high-quality early education programs are one way to increase graduation rates, cut future crime rates and ultimately expand the number of Pittsburgh youth who qualify for military service and its advancement opportunities.

The retired generals — Lieutenant General Dennis Benchoff (a former Chief of Staff, US Army Recruiting Command), Major General John Stevens (former assistant deputy commanding general, US Army Materiel Command) and Brigadier General Michael Dunn (former commanding general of Walter Reed Army Health System and currently a Professor of Medicine at University of Pittsburgh Medical School) — praised Governor Corbett for largely preserving early education programs throughout Pennsylvania in his budget proposal and called on Pennsylvania’s State Legislature to adopt the Governor’s proposed funding levels for programs like Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts, Head Start and other components of Pennsylvania’s quality early learning continuum. They were joined by Dr. Edmund Effort, a retired Air Force Reserves Colonel and President of the Greater Pittsburgh Tuskegee Airmen Association.

The military leaders also urged the Governor to work with legislative leaders to solve a unique but substantial state funding shortfall for Pittsburgh Public Schools’ pre-k program that threatens slots for hundreds of at-risk kids in the coming school year. Proposed elimination of the state Accountability Block Grant Program would result in a loss of $5.4 million of the District’s funding for quality pre-kindergarten – eliminating about 500 at-risk children from the program in the 2011-12 school year.

“We must preserve and eventually expand investments in high-quality early childhood education to help ensure that more at-risk children in Pittsburgh are able to enter school ready to learn — succeeding in school and later in life,” said General Benchoff. “The first five years of a person’s life are fundamental to all of the success or failure that comes afterwards,” he said.

The report detailed a study of the Perry Preschool Program in Michigan that followed two groups of children into their adult lives: one group attended the high-quality early education program, and the other did not. The children who attended were 44 percent more likely to graduate from high school than similar children who did not attend the preschool. A similar study of Chicago’s Child Parent Centers found that participants in the high-quality pre-kindergarten program were 29 percent more likely to have graduated from high school.

“The research is clear that investing in high-quality pre-kindergarten helps young children develop the skills they need to finish high school, stay on the right side of the law, and go on to a successful career,” said General Stevens. “We need to continue to make these pre-kindergarten opportunities available to ensure that today’s dropout crisis does not become a national security crisis.”

Again citing the studies conducted in Michigan and Illinois, General Stevens noted that at-risk children who attended quality pre-k programs were less likely to engage in criminal behavior than those who did not attend. In Michigan, for example, the children who did not attend the preschool program were twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes than those who participated, and five times more likely to become chronic offenders by the time they were 27.

While noting that Pennsylvania had made considerable progress in the last five years in giving young learners a better start, the military leaders expressed concern about Pittsburgh’s funding shortfall and remaining unmet need for quality early learning programs overall. Only one in three at-risk children participates in publicly funded early learning in Pennsylvania. “This is why state lawmakers must preserve funding for quality pre-K programs throughout ALL of Pennsylvania so we can improve our public education system and help more of our students graduate from school and succeed in life,” said General Dunn. “Investing in high-quality early education is a matter of national security.”

Dr. Effort spoke of the African-American men who served in the US Army Air Corps’ first all-black flyer unit, affectionately referred to as the Tuskegee Airmen. Effort noted that as in generations past, military service can be a transforming experience, helping not only an individual enter the middle class, but also future generations of that same family.

“It is disturbing for me to learn how high dropout, obesity and juvenile crime rates are making it impossible for many of our urban youth to have the option of serving in the military,” said Effort. “For a population with already limited opportunity, these disqualifiers close yet another door for advancement.”

The generals are members of an organization called MISSION: READINESS, composed of more than 200 retired admirals and generals nationwide, including 10 in the Commonwealth. The group supports policies to help young people get the right start in life so they are prepared for the workforce or military service, if they choose that path.

Visit www.missionreadiness.org to read the Pittsburgh report and learn more about the organization’s members and activities.

MISSION: READINESS is the nonprofit, bi-partisan organization of senior retired military leaders ensuring continued American security and prosperity into the 21st century by calling for smart investments in the next generation of American children.


Source: newswire

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