U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus – Mississippi’s governor from 1988 to 1992 – returned to the state Capitol on Thursday for Navy Week speeches in both chambers of the Legislature, and he sounded a familiar theme: Education comes first.
Mabus made his timely remarks as intense debate continues about education funding levels for Mississippi in 2012 – and in the context of a disturbing report from The Education Trust about the failure rate of volunteers seeking enlistment in the U.S. military, especially the Army.
Mabus, as have others, couched the dismal pass rate of would-be volunteers in terms of national security. Low mental fitness – the skills and knowledge expected of high school graduates nationwide – keeps 25 percent of the men and women who apply out of the U.S. Army.
The widely read Huffington Post, an online news blog, reported in December 2010, “Nearly one-fourth of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can’t answer basic math, science and reading questions …”
Almost everybody pays attention when issues of national security are cited about almost any undertaking.
Huffington Post’s report included a voice familiar in Northeast Mississippi.
The effect of the low eligibility rate might not be noticeable now – the Department of Defense says it is meeting its recruitment goals – but that could change as the economy improves, said retired Navy Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, a former Tupelo and Oxford resident.
“If you can’t get the people that you need, there’s a potential for a decline in your readiness,” said Barnett, who is part of the group Mission: Readiness, a coalition of retired military leaders working to bring awareness to the high ineligibility rates.
The report by The Education Trust found that 23 percent of recent high school graduates don’t get the minimum score.
This “first-ever public analysis” found broad deficiencies and challenges, many particularly applicable to Mississippi’s racial demographics:
* More than one in five young people do not meet the minimum standard required for Army enlistment, as measured by the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) comprised of four academic subtests of the ASVAB.
* Among applicants of color, the ineligibility rates are even higher: 29 percent of Hispanics and 39 percent of African-Americans are ineligible, based on their AFQT scores.
* Minority candidates who do gain entry do so, on average, with lower scores than do their white peers. This excludes many of them from higher level educational, training and advancement opportunities offered by the U.S. Armed Forces.
“Because (military) jobs closely mirror occupations available in the civilian workforce, young people who fall short on the ASVAB are likely unprepared for many civilian jobs, too.”
The sobering report should turn the heads of every legislator.
It’s about the kids. It’s about our country and our state. It’s about the future.
It seems beyond easy to understand that underfunding education is a form of intellectual suicide.
Economic implications also are clear. Military service is often a choice for young adults who want to mature in the rigors of military life – and make a living in the process.
If that becomes increasingly inaccessible, what’s the alternative?
The original pledge widely agreed to was level funding for education in FY 2012. Gov. Barbour’s budget proposal doesn’t fully meet that pledge, but it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to keep it.
Clarification Gov. Barbour supports level funding for Mississippi Adequate Education Program, but seeks other reductions. Sunday’s editorial said that Gov. Barbour’s budget proposal doesn’t fully meet level funding for education in 2012.
NEMS Daily Journal