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Education

New Report Shows 71% Of Young Missourians Not Eligible To Serve In Military

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Flickr | Taber Andrew Bain

A new report by a nonprofit group of retired admirals and generals shows that lack of access to quality and affordable child care in Missouri is limiting military service and could ultimately affect national security. 

Mission: Readiness is a bipartisan organization whose goal is keeping kids in school, fit and out of trouble. Its report shows that 71% of Missourians age 17 to 24 are ineligible to serve in the military due to educational shortcomings, criminal history, drug use or obesity, according to Department of Defense data.

“The best way to address these disqualifiers is to start early,” said retired Brig. Gen. Daryl McCall. “There is scientific consensus that brain development from birth to age 5 sets the foundation for a child’s future success.” 

McCall noted that many of those who are ineligible to serve in the military will also likely be unqualified for many entry-level jobs. 

The report, released Tuesday, emphasizes the need for quality and affordable child care. One of the main issues for Missourians is that most families live in what is considered to be a child care desert. This is defined as “an area where there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots.” The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem, said Craig Stevenson of the child advocacy group Kids Win Missouri.

“In Missouri, 63 of our 114 counties previously qualified as child care deserts,” Stevenson said. “And now we’ve seen that increase 50%. So now, 95 of Missouri’s 114 counties qualify as child care deserts.”

In addition to availability, affordability is a major concern. The average price of child care for infants in Missouri is $9,980 a year, which is higher than the average cost of in-state college tuition. The Mission: Readiness report says, “the high cost of child care, particularly for infants and toddlers, puts it out of reach for many families, particularly low-income families.” 

Recently, Missouri received a $33.5 million preschool development grant, and Gov. Mike Parson announced nearly $50 million for broadband expansion across the state to help with educational needs. 

Stevenson noted these funds will help, but there is more work to be done. 

“Time is of the essence to make sure that we work to save the child care infrastructure,” Stevenson said. “Quality child care can and does have an impact on the development of our children. In this time of a pandemic, we so much need continued investment in child care infrastructure and child care providers.”

The report also advocates for higher pay for teachers. It discusses the need for increased child care subsidies to offer providers in need of resources to better their care for children. 

As the country deals with the economic effects of the coronavirus, education funding is a major concern. In Missouri, Parson cut $448 million in planned spending from the state budget, with education taking the hardest hit.

Retired Brig. Gen. Richard Geraci said cuts to education now will have “far-reaching implications.” 

“The military isn’t the end all, but our country depends on a good pool of applicants to continue to serve our country,” Geraci said. “If we don’t get a handle on early quality child care and also education, we’re going to have a bigger price to pay down the road.”

Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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