This fall, there should be less squinting at the blackboard in Chicago’s public schools.

In June, the state legislature renewed a vision care program for CPS students and appropriated $3 million to pay for it. Last year, the program did not get funded.

“If a child can’t see the board, the child’s not going to be able to learn,” notes state Rep. Edward Acevedo, chief sponsor of the House bill that reinstated the Healthy Kids-Healthy Minds Expanded Vision Program, which covers the cost of eye exams and eyeglasses for children who fail vision screening tests.

At the urging of principals in his Southwest Side Chicago district, Acevedo joined forces with the Latino and Black caucuses to earmark money for the program this year. “Some of their own principals were complaining as well,” he says.

School officials say the district, which is also getting additional support from LensCrafters Inc., will be able to provide free exams and eyeglasses to every uninsured student who needs them.

CPS screens every child who is getting special education services or is enrolled in elementary schools on probation. Certain grade levels are targeted for screenings, too. Last school year, 60,407 students failed those screenings, according to the Office of Specialized Services. Notices were sent to parents, advising them to follow up with an eye doctor, but a district survey a year ago found that only about half made the effort. (See Catalyst March 2005)

For most parents, money is not the issue. Private insurance, Medicaid or programs for low-income families provide free glasses and exams. But many parents do not make visits to the eye doctor a priority, says Jennifer Stolzenbach, who until August was the district’s vision and hearing services coordinator.

The reinstated funding will help ensure that kids get the eye exams they need. It covers the costs of transporting students who lack private insurance to eye doctors and for new staff to coordinate and oversee those trips.

Undocumented immigrants, who are not eligible for Medicaid, will be served, too. Sandra Traback, principal of Chavez Elementary in New City, says for some undocumented families, the choice is between eyeglasses and food. Free vision care “is a blessing for us,” she says.

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