Army Generals: Child care should be priority for Georgia, as it is for military

Two retired U.S. Army generals from Atlanta and Fayetteville write today on the importance of early care and education for our future national security.

The Defense Department recently called its child care workers "critical for national security" and exempted them from the hiring freeze on federal civilian employees. In this piece, the retired generals urge Georgia legislators, before they adjourn, to follow the military's lead and protect and expand quality child care in Georgia.

Here is an excellent radio report on this very same issue by Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week and the PBS NewsHour.

By Major General (Ret.) Ronald L. Johnson and Major General (Ret.) Jack C. Wheeler

When two U.S. Army bases recently considered suspending some of their child care programs because of the hiring freeze on Federal civilian employees, the Military Times reported the Army took “corrective action” to ensure that those programs will continue without interruption.

In fact, the Defense Department has exempted from the freeze 16 categories of civilian workers deemed critical for national security, including "positions providing child care to the children of military personnel."

We agree that access to early care is critical for national security, whether a child is from a military or civilian family. These programs play an essential role in ensuring that the next generation is prepared to become productive citizens.

The problem is real. In Georgia, an alarming 73 percent of young adults cannot quality for military service, primarily because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a record of crime or drug abuse.

While there is no single solution to this problem, research shows that high-quality early care and education can help reverse the major disqualifiers for military service by putting children on track for healthy lives and success in school.

A recently published study of Educare early childhood schools found that high-quality, full-day child care had a strong positive impact on children's language development at age two.  This is important because research links early literacy skills with better school achievement and other positive results.

For example, a study of the Abecedarian early care and education program found that early differences in language were responsible for long-term outcomes, such as participants being four times as likely to graduate from college compared to children who did not attend the program.

There is also evidence that early care and education affects children’s health throughout their lives. Boys who participated in the Abecedarian program were nearly four times more likely to exercise regularly and less likely to be substance abusers as adults, and they had significantly lower risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes compared to those who did not participate. Meanwhile, girls in the program were more likely to exercise regularly as young adults and less likely to become obese as older adults.

In Georgia, there are nearly 500,000 children under age 6 who potentially need child care, since both parents or their only parent is in the workforce. That exceeds the number of licensed slots in our state by more than 125,000.  The actual number of slots available is likely even lower than the number licensed.  It is essential to ensure that more of these children have access to a safe and stimulating environment.

We urge state legislators to prioritize investments that will help the next generation get on the right path to succeed in school and in life as productive citizens. Georgia should follow the military’s lead to protect and expand quality child care.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.