Up to 90 percent of young adults in Philadelphia can't join the military because they're undereducated, too physically unfit or have serious criminal records, a recent study found.

The study, conducted by the nonprofit Mission: Readiness, said that the percentage of 17 to 24-year-olds ineligible for miltary service was worse here than the estimated 75 percent who are unfit nationwide.

District Attorney Seth Williams and others said at a news conference yesterday that funding for early-learning programs would be a good way of battling the problem.

"There's a direct relationship between the lack of education, the lack of economic opportunity and too many young people feeling they have lives of hopelessness, frustration and despair," Williams said.

Retired Lt. Gen. Dennis Benchoff, who teaches math part-time at the Harrisburg Area Community College, said programs that support pre-kindergarten children put them on track to graduate high school and become "productive citizens."

"Anybody who drops out of school shows that they handle a tough problem by running away," Benchoff said.

Recruits must have a high-school diploma, pass a physical-fitness test and have no a criminal record.

Amy Dawson Taggart, national director of the nonprofit that conducted the study, stresed that the military routinely makes its recruitment goals.

But she noted that in recent years recruiters were experiencing "more challenges in meeting the goals and had to give out much more waivers" because too few candidates met the requirements.

Gov. Rendell has proposed a 1 percent cut to Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplement, two early-childhood programs that serve 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families.

The cut represents a reduction to $85.9 million for the 2010-2011 budget year from last year's $86.4 million.

Rendell spokesman Gary Tuma said in an interview that the governor started Pre-K Counts and had to make cuts to balance the budget. It's unfair "to criticize [Rendell] now, during a nationwide economic situation, for something he put in place," Tuma said.

Stephen Doster, state director for Mission: Readiness, said that there was no doubt that Rendell supported the early-learning programs.

"We're not really here to make a big deal about 1 percent, but Gov. Rendell did cut it by 1 percent," Doster said. "We're looking for [early education programs] to be level-funded at the same amount as last year so that no kids are cut out of the programs."