Vision for Tomorrow

Nearly 1 million children would lose coverage for eye screening and eyeglasses under Governor Schwarzenegger’s May Revision, which maintains his January proposal to eliminate vision benefits for children enrolled in the Healthy Families Program, a reduction that budget committees in both houses have so far rejected. This cut would reduce General Fund spending by $7 million – less than one one-hundredth of 1 percent of estimated 2009-10 General Fund spending. But as with many proposed budget cuts, the dollar savings do not take into account the human costs that may exceed the impact on the budget’s bottom line.

Left undetected, vision problems can hinder a child’s ability to reach his or her full potential because inadequate vision interferes with children’s ability to learn. Children with vision problems may experience eye strain, affecting their ability to focus. Vision problems can lead to delayed or slowed reading, which affects reading comprehension or ability to do math. The impact can snowball in the long term. Special attention is required from teachers, therapists, or other school aides to keep children with disabilities from falling behind in school. The additional help increases school spending – not just for special education classes, where students have access to specialized teachers and resources, and for before- and after-school services, but also for visually impaired students who are in regular classes with students who do not have vision problems. Nationally, visually impaired or blind students required an average of $2,422 in additional spending in the regular classroom environment in 1999-2000, according to a report prepared for the US Department of Education.

Research has shown that approximately 2 percent of children entering first grade and approximately 15 percent of adolescents entering high school are nearsighted. Detected early, eyeglasses or surgery can help improve children’s vision. Experts say children should have their vision screened at ages six months and 3 years and upon entry into school. But for lower-income families, paying for even one screening before a child enters school may be too costly. This is especially troubling because research shows that children from families with incomes below the poverty line are nearly twice as likely to be visually impaired as children in higher-income families.

As we strive, as a state and nation, to improve students’ performance in school, it is important to remember that encouraging children to excel requires an investment in the basics – their vision.

— Hanh Kim Quach

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