As the football coach at the University of Maryland, College Park, I consider myself fortunate to have players who have the academic foundation to be successful in college. I am not alone. College coaches nationwide have a vested interest in expanding the pipeline of young adults who are prepared for the rigors of college work. In NCAA Division I schools in particular, athletes are allowed no more than five years to graduate while receiving athletically related financial aid. And Division I schools are monitored by their Academic Progress Rate, which is calculated based on the academic eligibility and retention of each student athlete.

For these reasons and more I am a strong supporter of quality preschool experiences that ensure children start school with a foundation for long-term achievement so they don't fall behind.

Recent studies of preschool programs in several states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina and Michigan and the city program in Boston found a range of benefits among participating children. These include a lower need for special education, a lower likelihood of being held back a grade and higher math, literacy and language skills that persisted well into the elementary school years.

Children in these programs also develop important social skills, including impulse control and the ability to follow directions and learn the all-important concept of teamwork. When that happens, children are better able to master the increasingly difficult work that leads to high school graduation and readiness for higher education.

Based on these results and other factors, Republican and Democratic governors of 25 states have proposed or signed into law significant expansions of state preschool programs in 2013. The potential next step is both bigger and better. In November a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation known as the Strong Start for America's Children Act that would pave the way for a state-federal partnership that would provide Maryland and other states significant resources to create, strengthen and expand quality preschool programs.

In Maryland, we are fortunate to have Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Support of this funding by Congress in the coming weeks would ensure that these high quality childhood programs would be a priority.

Maryland will benefit significantly if this happens. Our current state preschool program meets eight out of 10 National Institute for Early Education benchmarks for outstanding programs. This means that children are taught by teachers with bachelor's degrees and specialized training, with age-appropriate early learning standards in centers that are consistently monitored for quality. Unfortunately the program serves only 35 percent of the state's 4-year-olds. Additional funding would enable the program to serve many more children, reduce class sizes and attract teaching assistants with specialized child development training as well.

It will also give families who cannot afford private preschool — which costs about $9,000 a year in Maryland — an opportunity to ensure their children are ready to learn when they start school. Maryland taxpayers will also benefit because an independent analysis of over 20 different studies of preschool programs showed quality preschool can return an average "profit" of $15,000 to society for every child served based on lower crime, welfare, special education and other costs.

That's a bottom-line impact that should matter to everyone who wants high school graduates who play to win in college and in life.

Randy Edsall is the head football coach at the University of Maryland, College Park. His email is Redsall@umd.edu.


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