State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, last week called for fellow legislators to make preschool education a priority. Specifically, Lanane suggests state funding of pre-kindergarten education through every public school system in Indiana.

Such a program would prove costly, an estimated $200 million annually.

But the statistics make the case for the value of preschool education and suggest that, in the long run, the initial investment pays big dividends by eventually producing a higher percentage of productive, law-abiding adults.

Usually when we talk about preschool the talk turns to how children who participate are better prepared to enter kindergarten. But another study shows the longterm impact on those who attend a preschool program.

Using information from a variety of studies since the year 2000, the Urban Child Institute, based in Tennessee, reached some eye-opening conclusions about the value of high-quality pre-kindergarten education:

• Those with a pre-K education are about half as likely, compared to those without pre-K, to be arrested for a misdemeanor or a felony by the age of 27.

• Of those with a pre-K education, about 76 percent are employed at the age of 40; compared to 62 percent of those without pre-K.

• Of those with a pre-K education, about 41 percent will never accept welfare, compared to about 20 percent of those without pre-K.

• Of those with a pre-K education, about 15 percent will need special education, compared to about 34 percent of those without pre-K.

All of these factors - criminal activity, unemployment, welfare and special education - are costly to society and to taxpayers who fund schools, prisons and welfare programs.

But Indiana is behind the curve in recognizing the value of pre-K education. It's one of just 11 states that don't provide public funding for preschool.

Education is one of the best uses of public money because, if administered well, it reaps long-term benefits for everyone. As Lanane urges, state legislators should take up serious discussions right away about a statewide preschool education program, so that money can be earmarked in the next budget.

- Excerpted from Anderson Herald-Bulletin