School funding bill embraces link between healthy vision, learning

July 28, 2013

As lawmakers worked last month to revise and reauthorize legislation that would fund primary and secondary education nationwide, the AOA sought and won inclusion of key provisions that provide a greater recognition for the vital link between healthy vision and learning.

Building on the successful efforts of the 2011 AOA School Readiness Summit and other optometry-led children’s vision initiatives, the AOA convinced lawmakers to take steps toward combating high-levels of eye and vision problems among America’s school-age children by including two important provisions within the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Included within U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) Strengthening America’s Schools Act (S. 1094), which is legislation reauthorizing the ESEA, is a provision that would make “vision care” one of the key activities funded under the Promise Neighborhood partnership grants and another provision that would include “vision” within the list of school health indicators on which schools would collect data and report their findings to government agencies.
Promise Neighborhoods is a program of the U.S. Department of Education that aims to improve educational outcomes for students in distressed urban and rural neighborhoods.

Under the program, competitive grants are awarded to non-profit entities to implement programs that engage community partners to improve academic achievement and student development in areas with low-income individuals and persistently low-achieving schools.

Among dental services and auditory screenings, “vision care” would be recognized as a core activity included within a funded program aimed at helping ensure that these students are better prepared to learn in school.
School health indicators are used to assess overall school health as well as the success of school health promotion activities.

The data collected by schools on various aspects of a student’s health – aspects that have been shown to impact learning ability – are used widely by government agencies and others to document areas that are failing students.

The provision included within S. 1049 would prompt schools to collect data on visual health and could lead policymakers to devoting more time and energy toward better addressing the unmet eye and vision care needs of millions of schoolchildren.

While the AOA-backed provisions could make a dent in the number of children’s eye and vision problems currently going undetected and untreated, the future of S. 1049 remains uncertain.

While the Strengthening America’s Schools Act recently cleared the Senate’s education committee, it did so along party lines and may be difficult to reconcile with a U.S. House alternative.

The AOA members should look for future updates on this and other important issues on the AOA News blog at www.newsfromaoa.org.

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