NJ’s Senate Takes Step Toward Requiring Eye Exams for Children Before Kindergarten

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TRENTON, N.J.—The New Jersey Senate’s Education Committee voted to move forward a bill (SB 2804) that directs the state’s Board of Education to require children ages 6 and under who are entering public schools or “Head Start” programs for the first time to have a comprehensive eye examination. The exam, completed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist, would be required by Jan. 1 of their initial year of enrollment. A similar bill was introduced in the state assembly last summer, and has been referred to the assembly’s education committee for action. Senators Teresa Ruiz and Shirley Turner are the primary sponsors of the Senate bill, and its co-sponsors are Senators Patrick Diegnan and Troy Singleton.

The effort to introduce this legislation in New Jersey has been supported by Kids See: Success, a Vision Impact Institute and Optometry Giving Sight partnership, which worked with the bill sponsors to encourage support for the proposed legislation. Optical Academy, a mobile, state-of-the-art vision care organization in Clifton, N.J., also supported the legislation, according to an announcement this week.

Supporters of the legislation are hoping to move the Senate bill to the Senate floor within the next few weeks.

“According to experts, up to 80 percent of all learning occurs visually, meaning that children with poor vision are likely to have a major disadvantage when starting school,” according to Kristan Gross, global executive director of the Vision Impact Institute. “We’re grateful that the Senate Education Committee is committed to the future of our students by advocating for their vision right from the start. Ensuring that children have the vision services they need from the beginning is key, and the committee’s vote to pass this bill is a vote for the future of these young people.”

By 2050, the number of people with myopia (shortsightedness) is expected to reach almost 5 billion, spanning races and cultures. For children, increased screen time and minimal outdoor time are resulting in more children with myopia—and at a much younger age than in the past. While vision screenings can detect some problems, more serious vision issues may go undetected, including binocular vision problems and amblyopia (lazy eye), which can cause vision loss in children. A comprehensive eye exam can help to detect and treat all of these conditions before they become greater issues, according to Vision Impact Institute’s announcement this week.

Gross noted the efforts of a broad group of partners, including the New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians, in moving the legislation forward in New Jersey. “When we started the Kids See: Success initiative, in partnership with Optometry Giving Sight and others, we knew it would be the power of partnership that could bring this issue to the forefront,” she said. “Now, the additional collaboration of new legislative advocates, teachers, school administration professionals and parents will be the catalyst that can turn this legislation into action. Children have a fundamental right to see clearly and achieve full academic success in the classroom. SB 2804 ensures that New Jersey children will have that opportunity.”