Letter: 'Smart Start' and national security

As the Illinois General Assembly's spring session enters its final month, early childhood education and care in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget should be a top priority.

As a retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General and member of Mission: Readiness - a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of over 750 admirals and generals nationwide - I am extremely concerned about our national security. Shockingly, 77% of youths nationwide aged 17 to 24 are ineligible for military service due to a combination of factors: lack of education, obesity, substance abuse, or having a criminal background. Fortunately, there is a solution: Investing in early childhood programs can mitigate and address these issues early on in life.

Research shows that high-quality child care and preschool, as well as programs like home visiting, have positive impacts on children's health, educational careers, and lives in general. One study found that girls who participated in the Abecedarian early childhood education program were less likely to become obese as adults, and boys had fewer risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Another study of 1,300 children found that those in higher-quality care were better prepared for school at age 4, compared with children in lower-quality care, and that these benefits continued into their high school years.

The governor's proposed Smart Start plan is a positive step in the right direction. It would strengthen our state's early childhood system through increases to preschool, child care assistance and workforce compensation, Early Intervention and home-visiting programs for infants and toddlers, and birth-to-5 construction projects. I strongly encourage lawmakers to prioritize increased funding for these crucial services. Ensuring that all children can grow up better equipped for whatever they want to do in life - whether in the armed forces, or otherwise - is vital to our national security.

James Schroeder


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