HB 4837 Allows School-Based Vision Health Initiative To Provide K-12 Students Free Vision Screenings, Eye Exams and Prescription Glasses
Law Will Allow Vision To Learn to Provide Free Eye Glasses to Tens of Thousands of Children Across South Carolina
CHARLESTON, SC – Governor Henry McMaster celebrated the work of Vision To Learn at a bill signing ceremony at North Charleston Elementary School, in Charleston County School District.
Vision To Learn is a nonprofit charity that provides children at schools in low-income communities with free vision screenings, eye exams and glasses. The program brings licensed optometrists to school sites, eliminating barriers to care that would otherwise prevent many students from getting the glasses they need to succeed in school and in life. Vision To Learn began service last school year in Charleston County on a pilot basis. Through this legislation, the program now can expand operations to low-income communities across the state.
Governor McMaster signed the new legislation, House Bill 4837, allowing Vision To Learn’s mobile vision clinics to offer services at Title I schools throughout the state.
“With today’s signing, we take another step forward in improving the lives of our state’s children and their educational outcomes,” said Governor Henry McMaster. “Through this legislation, and programs like Vision to Learn, we remove barriers for our children and allow them to reach their true potential. This seemingly small change in state law will have a life-changing impact on the lives of so many.”
“Our work in Charleston this past year identified a clear need and demonstrated a cost-effective solution,” said Austin Beutner, Vision To Learn Founder. “This law will allow us to help many thousands of children in low-income communities across South Carolina in the months and years to come. Every child, every school, everywhere in the country should have the glasses they need to succeed in school and in life”
Estimates are more than 100,000 children in schools across South Carolina go to school every day without the glasses they need to see the board, read a book, or participate in class.
About one in four children, whether from a family with means or a family struggling to get by, will naturally need glasses. Children who need glasses and don’t have them are more likely to be misdiagnosed with behavioral issues in kindergarten, be considered “slow” learners by 5th grade, and to drop out of high school. Unfortunately, in low-income urban and rural communities, most children who need glasses don’t have them due to financial constraints, language barriers, unresponsive health bureaucracies or the simple fact there are no eye care professionals in their neighborhood. This program solves the problem by bringing the glasses to the kids where they are almost every day—their local neighborhood school.
Here’s how it works. Vision To Learn visits schools, where their staff teams up with classroom educators, school nurses and public health departments to make sure every child receives a vision screening. For children who don’t pass the screening, Vision To Learn vans, staffed with trained eye care professionals, visit schools to provide eye exams and glasses. All free of charge to the child and their family. Since launching in Charleston County School District in 2021, Vision To Learn has provided 2,050 eye exams and 1,705 glasses to students at 17 schools.
“The district’s Vision 2027 is for all students to read on grade level by grade five,” said Don Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools. “We know one of the very first steps to being able to read is being able to see properly. The signing of this bill not only ensures that our students will receive access to eye care where it may otherwise be unavailable, but will also ensure that our students are able to make strides toward this most important and fundamental goal of reading proficiency that will provide pathways of success for them in life.”
Founded in 2012, Vision To Learn has provided vision screenings to more than 1.5 million children, 387,000 with eye exams and 311,000 with glasses in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
Vision To Learn’s program will help students in affiliation with MUSC Health, which helped with funding for the mobile vision clinic, and offers additional choices to families for continuity of care, including specialized optometric and ophthalmologic care for students in need of more complex care following the initial “glasses” exam. As many as 20% of students who receive eye exams from Vison To Learn are referred for follow-up care to local community healthcare providers.
“The idea is to reach out to children who otherwise most likely would not receive any eye care to provide them with a screening examination and a pair of glasses free of charge to enhance their ability to learn,’” said Dr. Andrew Eiseman, Professor and Chair of the Storm Eye Institute. “MUSC, including our senior leadership, our children’s hospital, and the Storm Eye Institute all 100% agree with that philosophy.”
A groundbreaking study published in September 2021 in The Journal for the American Medical Association Ophthalmology by researchers from the Center for Research and Reform in Education and the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University shows the impact of providing glasses to children at schools. The researchers conducted the largest and most rigorous study in the U.S. to measure the impact of providing eyeglasses to students directly at their schools. Thousands of children from more than 100 schools in Baltimore participated in the study. Guess what? The children who received glasses did better in school and the impacts were greater than more costly measures such as lengthening the school day, providing computers, or creating charter schools. The children who showed the biggest gains, the equivalent of an additional four to six months of learning, are those who are often the hardest to help—students in the bottom quarter of their class academically and students with learning differences and disabilities.
JHU study senior author Dr. Megan Collins, pediatric ophthalmologist from the Wilmer Eye Institute said,
“The Hopkins research study demonstrates how school-based vision care improves vision and learning for students in need. School-based vision care is a simple, yet effective way to help children see more clearly and achieve more academically.”
North Charleston Elementary School is among the schools visited recently by Vision To Learn. 254 students received vision screenings at the school, 113 eye exams, and 86 students were provided with glasses.
This program is made possible thanks to the support of a long list of generous funders, led by the Beutner Family Foundation and local philanthropist Henry Blackford, including Medical University of SC, MUSC Children’s Health, MUSC Health Storm Eye Institute, The Boeing Company, Charleston County School District, the City of Charleston, The Duke Endowment, Essilor Vision Foundation, Motley Rice, LLC, Roper Saint Francis Physicians Endowment, Ingevity, First Citizens Bank, The Leon Levine Foundation, SC Physicians Care Charity, Walmart, Charleston County, Amanda’s Fund, Volvo US Car Operations Community Fund, TRUIST, The Ceres Foundation, Carolina Panthers, Henry & Sylvia Yaschik Foundation, Elizabeth Anderson Endowment for Children, and a number of family funds and individuals.
About Vision To Learn
Vision To Learn, a non-profit charity, was founded in 2012 by the Beutner Family Foundation. The program has helped children in over 500 low-income communities in 14 states and the District of Columbia. Vision To Learn serves the needs of the hardest-to-reach children; about 90% of kids served by Vision To Learn live in poverty and about 85% are kids of color. Since its founding, Vision To Learn has provided more than 1.5 million children with vision screenings, almost 387,000 with eye exams and more than 311,000 with glasses – all free of charge to children and their families. This year another 100,000 children will receive glasses from Vision To Learn despite the challenge COVID-19 continues to present at schools. For more information on Vision To Learn, please visit www.visiontolearn.org.
About Charleston County School District
Charleston County School District (CCSD) is a nationally accredited school district committed to providing equitable and quality educational opportunities for all of its students. CCSD is the second-largest school system in South Carolina and represents a unique blend of urban, suburban, and rural schools spanning 1,300 square miles along the coast. CCSD serves approximately 49,000 students in 88 schools and specialized programs.
CCSD offers a diverse, expanding portfolio of options and specialized programs, delivered through neighborhood, magnet, IB (international baccalaureate), Montessori, and charter schools. Options include programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); music and other creative and performing arts; career and technical preparation programs; and military.
About MUSC Health
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is home to the oldest medical school in the South as well as the state’s only integrated academic health sciences center, with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and nearly 800 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. MUSC brought in more than $328 million in biomedical research funds in fiscal year 2020, continuing to lead the state in obtaining this funding. For information on academic programs, visit musc.edu.
As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality and safe patient care while training generations of compassionate, competent health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Team members provide care for patients at 14 hospitals with approximately 2,500 beds and 5 additional hospital locations in development, more than 300 telehealth sites and nearly 750 care locations situated in the Lowcountry, Midlands, Pee Dee and Upstate regions of South Carolina. In 2021, for the seventh consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit muschealth.org.