TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Shirley Turner which would require children entering public schools or Head Start programs to receive a comprehensive eye exam cleared the Senate Education Committee today.
“Most school vision screenings only test visual acuity, which provides less than four percent of the tests needed to detect vision problems,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “Impaired vision which goes undiagnosed can often hinder academic performance, leading students to be misdiagnosed with learning disorders or reading difficulties. Early detection and prevention is crucial to ensuring our children’s success in their earliest years of school.”
As amended, the bill, S-2804, would direct the State Board of Education to require each child age six and under entering public preschool, public school, or a Head Start Program for the first time to have a comprehensive eye exam. The examination would have to be completed by January 1st of the child’s initial year of enrollment.
“Parents often assume basic vision screenings are sufficient and wait to bring a child for a comprehensive eye exam until an issue becomes evident,” said Senator Turner (D-Hunterdon/Mercer). “The problem is once it becomes evident the child has some type of impaired vision, that impairment is already impacting their schooling. This proactive approach will ensure vision issues are not holding our youngest students back.”
The bill would provide that a child who had a comprehensive eye exam in the year prior to enrollment would not be required to undergo an additional eye exam.
Medicaid, large group plans and plans for small groups and individuals cover comprehensive eye exams for children. For children without health insurance, or whose parents’ plans do not include vision benefits, the bill requires the Department of Health to maintain a list of organizations and programs that provide free or reduced cost exams. Within New Jersey there are numerous programs to provide these options. The bill would also create a fund where both state and private monies can be deposited to help pay for exams for uninsured children and children without comprehensive eye exam coverage.
The bill was released from committee by a vote of 3-0, and next heads to the full Senate for further consideration.