With the support of the Missouri Optometric Association, Gov. Matt Blunt today signed Senate Bill 16 into law, requiring comprehensive eye examinations for children entering kindergarten or first grade in Missouri public schools. Local doctors of optometry and the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Delbert Scott (R-Lowry City) and Rep. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), met with Jefferson City teachers and students in the governor’s office to support this important new law.
“Clear and comfortable vision is essential for learning, and this new law will help Missouri children succeed and reach their full potential,” Gov. Blunt said. “In its first year alone, we expect that this measure will help more than 136,000 children read and see chalkboards more clearly. All Missouri children deserve the tools they need to fulfill their potential, and our students will benefit from this law.”
The new law also requires vision screenings for students beginning first and third grades. Students identified as needing further care will be required to see an eye doctor for a comprehensive exam. The law takes effect July 1, 2008, requiring eye exams for students starting school in the fall.
“Eye exams are still the best way to diagnose eye and vision problems in children early, before they interfere with a child’s ability to learn,” said Thomas Greene, O.D., president of the Missouri Optometric Association (MOA). “The MOA is proud to support true leaders like Gov. Blunt, Sen. Scott and Rep. Pearce in the effort to make children’s vision and classroom learning a top priority.”
Missouri joins Kentucky as the second state in the nation requiring eye exams for children entering public schools. In a survey conducted following the enactment of the Kentucky mandatory children’s eye exam law, 14 percent of the more than 5,000 children entering the school system in 2000 needed corrective lenses, and hundreds of children were diagnosed with eye diseases.
“Vision disorders are considered the fourth most common disability in the United States, though many vision problems in children are preventable or treatable if caught early on,” said C. Thomas Crooks, III, O.D., president of the American Optometric Association, a St. Louis based organization representing more than 34,000 members. “With nearly 25 percent of school-age children suffering from vision problems, this law is necessary to help treat and prevent diseases that can cause vision loss.”
Ten million children suffer from vision disorders, according to the National Parent Teacher Association. Nationally, about 86 percent of children entering first grade do not receive an eye exam. Comprehensive eye exams for children entering school are critical for the early intervention needed to treat diseases and disorders such as amblyopia (“lazy eye”), strabismus, retinoblastoma and other serious and potentially blinding problems that can lead to poor school performance that can ultimately affect quality of life.
Approximately 70 percent of children are insured for comprehensive eye exams through private insurance, Medicaid, S-CHIP or other state or federal programs. Optometrists, ophthalmologists and local charitable organizations have provided ongoing assistance for families in need.
SOURCE: PR Newswire