To the Editor:
I am thrilled to see the expansion of the federally-funded Early Head Start in my home county. With more than 60% of our Alexander County children struggling with poverty, more high-quality child development services are critically needed. These programs not only help prepare young kids for success in school, but in life as well. As a retired U.S. Army major general, I view that as a national security imperative.
I belong to a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization comprised of over 750 retired admirals and generals nationwide, called Mission: Readiness. Here in Illinois, our gravest concern is that 70% of Illinoisans between the ages of 17 and 24 cannot qualify for military service, chiefly because they are too overweight or too poorly educated. Head Start is a worthy investment in helping to solve these problems.
There is overwhelming evidence that high-quality early childhood education and care can help children realize improved long-term educational outcomes. In addition, two randomized studies of nutrition programs in Chicago Head Start centers found that participating children had a lower risk of obesity two years later than children in the control group.
Everyone should at least have the option of joining the military, pursuing a civilian career, or going to college – whatever they want to do in life. Programs like Early Head Start, preschool, and high-quality child care help secure such options. To further boost the odds of success for all children, our state lawmakers should also prioritize expanded investments in our young children.