Texas Child Care Bolsters National Security
Major General (Ret.) Juan G. Ayala shares what Texas child care can learn from our military
As global tensions rise, strengthening our national security is top of mind for most Americans. In my current role as the Director of the City of San Antonio’s Military and Veteran Affairs Department, and in my 36-year military career, I have worked with thousands upon thousands of recruits, veterans, and active duty soldiers. Military leaders in our country, myself included, are growing increasingly concerned as eligibility challenges are quickly becoming a full-blown recruiting crisis. As the number of eligible Americans begins to dwindle, so does our long-term national security.
What many people might not know is that the effort to preserve our national security begins at infancy. It sounds strange, but many of our country’s recruitment issues typically stem from challenges early in life.
Nearly three-quarters of young adults ages 17-24 in the United States are ineligible for military service due to a combination of behavioral issues, education deficits, and medical disqualifiers. Mission: Readiness, a national, bipartisan organization of over 800 retired admirals and generals of which I am an active member, found that further investments in early childhood education and high-quality child care can help reduce these disqualifiers and prepare young people for future military service or whatever career they choose.
Affordable, high-quality child care and pre-K programs set the stage for future academic success, healthy habits, and social development. Infants and toddlers in child care settings receive a nurturing, stimulating environment necessary for proper development. Their parents can also go to work with peace of mind, knowing that their children are safe and cared-for. These high-quality programs help create a foundation of hard and soft skills in the earliest years of a child’s life, which is crucial as kids enter school and prepare for the future.
As a father and grandfather myself, I have firsthand experience with these programs and know that they can make a marked difference in the lives of children and parents.
In terms of child care, experts have lauded the military’s child care system (MCCS) as an admirable model for civilian programs. The MCCS is the nation’s largest employer-sponsored child care program. The success of the MCCS is due in part to its dedication to providing adequate training and competitive compensation for child care professionals. The Department of Defense has known for years that prioritizing early learning for our youngest children yields better results for our armed forces.
Texas should learn from the military child care system and expand our early childhood education sector to increase positive outcomes for the next generation of Americans. The Texas Prenatal to Three Collaborative released policy recommendations to the state legislature earlier this year to improve early learning and give kids the best chance at a healthy and successful life.
Some of the recommendations include expanding child care slots, especially in rural areas of the state, improving child-teacher ratios in the classroom, and increasing funding to ensure care is more affordable for parents. Taking these steps will help aid the early education sector and mitigate the barriers for future military candidacy.
I urge our lawmakers to look critically at our early childhood sector and consider the long-term benefits of high-quality care.
When we invest in our young people, we invest in our nation.