The executive director of “Prevent Blindness Iowa” says there’s a need for constant vigilance when it comes to screening the vision of youngsters — and a need for more state support of the effort. Jeanne Burmeister says half of all blindness is preventable.

“We know that children do not know how they should be seeing,” Burmeister says. “We also know that one in four school-age and one in 20 preschool children have vision problems that will cost us $7.4 billion to repair during their lifetime.”

Last year, legislators and the governor provided Burmeister’s group $50,000 to finance vision screening for youngsters, half of the previous year’s budget. Burmeister is asking state policymakers to provide $100,000 to her group for the next budgeting year which beings July 1.

“If we don’t detect and treat it early, these kids will go on and they can’t learn — 80 percent of what they learn by age 12 is through vision,” Burmeister says. “If we don’t make sure they have good vision, they’re not learning in our school system.”

Prevent Blindness Iowa screened about 20,000 kids in the past year and has been training school nurses in how to conduct vision screenings.

“We know they need it. They have not been trained in college on how to properly vision screen,” Burmeister says. “(At) one of my trainings in April, a nurse came up to me. ‘After 30 years,’ she said, “I learned five things from you I’ve been doing wrong all this time.’ We do not want to give the false sense to the children that these children are O.K., so we want to make sure that we do train them.”

Iowa is one of only 10 states that does not require a vision screening or eye examination for school-age children. Staff from the state’s area education agencies used to conduct vision screenings for elementary school students, often third graders, but that has been discontinued for budget reasons.

Staff at the University of Iowa’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences have trained Lions Club volunteers around the state to conduct vision screenings for much younger children, between the ages of six months and two years.