Comprehensive Eye Tests for Early Learners

As chief author of bi-partisan legislation to establish mandatory eye tests and vision therapy pilot projects in area schools, it saddened me to read a University of Minnesota ophthalmologist say that although he would support additional state investments in detecting and treating pediatric eye disease, he does not support mandatory comprehensive eye tests for early learners. I must respectfully disagree with his assessment, and feel such tests would help children achieve academic success and save money for our schools.
In his Oct. 7 Counterpoint titled, “Why requiring eye exams for children is less preferable,” Dr. Erick Bothun says he is “not interested in spending massive amounts of taxpayer or federal dollars to examine healthy, well-functioning children who have passed vision screening year after year.” However, other eye health care professionals point out that routine eye exams—the ones with the Big “E” that checks for near-sightedness and given to school-age students —do not screen for more serious eye issues that will affect learning and reading ability.
Most educators agree learning is mostly accomplished through the senses of vision and hearing. Comprehensive eye exams are an important part of a broad effort to help identify any barriers that would impair a child’s ability to learn.
The amount of money invested to deal with the nearly 25 percent of children who have vision problems amounts to very little when compared with the cost of dealing with disruptions in the classroom, lack of ability to read and pay attention, special education referrals and more. Additionally, the costs are high for the state to deal with children who cannot reach their potential, children who consider themselves dumb, and the future cost of not having enough educated people to fill the needs of the workforce of tomorrow.
Dr. Bothun goes on to say, “Despite lack or paucity of evidence to justify the greater expense, four states have decided to try mandatory eye exams.” Seriously, how many parents have shed many tears when they find out the reason their child is having difficulty in school is due to the fact their child cannot not see well¬¬¬—despite routine annual eye exams in school? Our children deserve better and so do those who teach them every day.
Common sense tells most parents that early identification and treatment will likely alleviate or even prevent many of the learning problems that result from impaired vision. I hope Minnesota will become the fifth state to ask for and provide comprehensive eye exams for all children, especially those children in early grades who are beginning to learn to read. With the Affordable Care Act, the cost of these exams will be covered by insurance. Early intervention and prevention is what I consider to be a way to reduce cost for educating every one of our kids.
Sen. Alice Johnson

Senator Alice Johnson
Sen. Johnson represented District 37, which includes Blaine and portions of Coon Rapids in the northern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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