JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri children starting public school in kindergarten or first grade will have to receive eye exams, beginning with the 2008-2009 school year.
Gov. Matt Blunt signed legislation today requiring the comprehensive vision exams by licensed optometrists or physicians. The bill also requires public schools to conduct less thorough vision screenings for all first- and third-graders.
The new law is expected to affect nearly 135,000 students its first year, based on projections for the numbers of first-graders and kindergartners.
Supporters said that by spotting vision problems early, the eye exams could help treat diseases that otherwise would lead to vision loss. They said children also should be better able to read and see chalkboards, and thus be better educated in general.
Kentucky is the only other state requiring eye exams for children entering public schools, according to the American Optometric Association. Nationally, about 86 percent of children entering first grade do not receive eye exams, the association said.
The intent of the legislation is that families’ private health insurance or the government-run Medicaid program would cover the costs of the eye exams for most people. But the legislation requires the state health and education departments to compile a list of places people without vision insurance can get a free or reduced-cost eye exam. The bill also lets parents opt out of the requirement.
Also today, Blunt signed legislation requiring captioning — where the audio is displayed as text on the screen — for video instructional materials sold in Missouri, beginning Jan. 1.
Sponsoring Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, said that when live sign language interpreters are used instead of video captioning, students with hearing problems get a “second-rate education,” because it’s difficult for them to watch the video and sign-language interpreter at the same time.