A group called Prevent Blindness Iowa is pushing for the legislation which require all school children to receive vision screenings before first grade. The executive director of the group, Jean Burmeister, says it’s crucial to catch vision problems early.”We know that one in four school-age children has a vision problem and it’s important that they get it checked,” Burmeister said.

“Eighty-percent of what a child learns prior to age 12 is through vision, so it’s so important that we have it checked.” Burmeister says the bill also establishes clear guidelines for school nurses who conduct the eye tests. A spokeswoman for the Iowa Association of School Boards, Mary Gannon, says districts can’t afford more unfunded mandates.

“Our estimate we supplied to the legislative services agency is about a one-point-one million dollar price tag for K-12 education and that’s money we don’t have right now to spend,” Gannon said. Prevent Blindness Iowa Board member Dan Garrett says it’s time for the state to catch up with the rest of the nation when it comes to vision screenings for young people.

“Iowa is one of only ten states in the nation that does not have provisions for vision screenings for children,” Garrett said. “So, it deeply concerns us that one of the finest states for education does not have such a safety net in place.” But, Gannon says she believes the current system is working.

“We think the current system is working, which is the postcards school districts use for parents to remind them to get their kids screened and then some reporting mechanism for the Department of Public Health…so that we have an idea how many kids are or are not currently being vision screened either inside or outside the district,” Gannon said.

A bill to require the screenings is under consideration in the Iowa Senate, but must come out of committee by the end of the week to be eligible for floor debate this session.