James Campbell's recent commentary on pre-K education aptly described the impact of quality preschool programs on academic achievement ("Early learning programs are crucial," Dec. 3).

As a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant general, I believe it is crucial because 75 percent of young Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 cannot qualify for military service, many because they are academically unprepared.

Expanding access to quality preschool will change this troubling trend by ensuring more children start school with a foundation for long-term success.

The proof is found in numerous of the military's mission readiness reports that show such programs reduce the number of children needing special education or being held back in school. They also lead to academic gains lasting well into elementary school and significantly improve high school graduation rates.

Maryland has a good state preschool program, with well-qualified teachers and small class sizes. Unfortunately, it only reaches about 35 percent of children who may be eligible.

The bipartisan Strong Start for America's Children Act referred to in Mr. Campbell's article will enable our state to expand the program, putting more children on track for academic success, higher education and eligibility for military service if that is the path they choose to take.

Alexander M. Sloan, Port St. Lucie, Fla.

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