Educators at Indiana University in 2006 reported public schools should begin instruction earlier than kindergarten. A statewide preschool program was needed to ensure Hoosier students succeed in college and at work, they said.

“Looking at the research, the message is invest now or face having to pay the higher costs associated with later intensive school remediation, social services and high rates of crime and delinquency,” said Michael Conn-Powers, director of the Early Childhood Center at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. “Early education and pre-kindergarten is really a wise investment.”

Yet in October 2014, Gov. Mike Pence refused to apply for a federal pre-K education grant that, if awarded, might have given Indiana as much as $20 million a year for four years.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly still refuses to pay for preschool education statewide. A pilot program that provides vouchers to low-income residents in just five counties is all state lawmakers have been willing to fund.

A proposal to increase that funding from $10 million to $20 million for pre-K education is part of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s to-do list this legislative session. But the spending increase is limited to the same five, pilot-program counties.

The message to parents and school officials across the state is clear: If you believe your children and community would benefit from such curricula, pay for it yourselves. So the Kokomo school board voted to do just that almost three years ago.

With unanimous backing of board members, Kokomo expanded programming and now offers tuition-free, half-day preschool at Boulevard, Lafayette Park, Pettit Park and Elwood Haynes elementaries. Kokomo launched a full pre-K curriculum in the fall of 2013.

In addition to the tuition-free offerings, Kokomo continues its full-day pre-K program at Elwood Haynes and Lafayette Park Elementary for a fee.

This legislative session, lawmakers should make funding preschool for the state’s low-income children a priority. And if they don’t, public school districts should start pre-K programs of their own, as Kokomo has. We wager it’s something many families would be willing to pay for themselves.

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