A state education reform group is rightly pushing for public preschool in Maine.

Children who start learning earlier do better in school and in life.

The ones who arrive for the first day of kindergarten knowing their ABCs and their numbers are ready to learn to read and compute.

The ones who don’t know how a book works or how to sit still and listen and get along with their schoolmates are likely to fall behind and stay behind.

For years, researchers in human development have told us that those first years of school determine much of what follows.

A student who is not reading at grade level after third grade is four times less likely to graduate from high school than his proficient peers.

Failing to earn a diploma usually means a lifetime of low-skill, low-wage work.

Fortunately, there is something that can be done – universal high-quality early childhood education.

Public preschool programs are already available to nearly a third of Maine’s 4-year-olds, according to a report by Educate Maine, a nonprofit school reform advocacy group.

If Maine could make programs available for all young students and make all-day kindergarten available in all districts, Maine would be on track to give more children the opportunity to do better in school.

This is particularly valuable for students who come from impoverished homes and who show the biggest achievement gap.

Early childhood programs help poor students make up for what may be lacking at home and give them a better chance to succeed.

Educate Maine is promoting a series of policy reforms to help support students from the earliest grades through the university level.

All of them are worth discussing, but none is more important than giving students a solid start.

There has been a considerable amount of controversy over education reform programs, but this is one that should not be controversial.

Building a strong foundation for all children before they start school promises a much better result later on.

We applaud Educate Maine’s approach, and hope the Legislature is able to find a way to move forward with public preschool next year.