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Vision tests now required for public school children

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By AP/KWMU

Jefferson City, MO – Governor Matt Blunt signed legislation into law on Thursday that will require children to get eye exams before starting school. The new law will take effect in July 2008, so it won't apply to students this fall.

Starting in 2008, every new kindergartner or first grader in public school will be required to get a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist or physician. Public schools will also have 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% 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 Thursday, 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.

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