The state of Indiana must push itself to the head of the class - the preschool class that is.

Legislators are debating a pilot program that would cost the state $7 million, but would send 1,000 Hoosier students to preschool.

House Education Chairman Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, has led an effort in recent months to put more Indiana children through preschool. He says he's surprised at just how infrequently children in low-income families are read to before enrolling in kindergarten.

Others are concerned that the pilot program would create pressure to put every qualified student in preschool, which would cost the state between $200 million and $500 million a year.

"The other issue, in all honesty, has to be funding. And if this is good for a few kids, a thousand kids, it's probably good for a lot of kids," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville.

Funding will become an issue if widespread preschool plans are implemented throughout the Hoosier state.

But, for now, it's a pilot program. After two years, the results will be assessed to see whether continuation of the expansion are justified.

We're sure the debate over paying for preschool will continue, with its fair share of proponents and opponents.

What we do know is early childhood education pays off. The statistics are startling. According to the National Education Association, studies show children in quality preschool programs are less likely to repeat grades, need special education or get into future trouble with the law.

Preschool funding is certainly an issue worth debating at the Statehouse, especially since Indiana is one of only 11 states that doesn't provide funding for pre-kindergarten education. Lawmakers must be cautious about the program, in terms of funding, but at the same time, position the state to better achieve educational success.

- Bedford Times Mail