Vision To Learn: Improving Access to Vision Care in Public Schools

By Megan Thomas
Senior Policy Consultant

About 16 percent of the more than 60,000 children between pre-kindergarten and the eighth grade served in the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS) need eye glasses, according to the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD). Uncorrected vision can have numerous consequences, including poor school performance and interference with physical and social development. Glasses are an easy way to improve vision quickly and can positively influence learning, achievement and self-esteem.

Baltimore student enjoying her new glasses.

Starting in September 2016, Harbage Consulting began supporting an initiative in Baltimore City designed to connect students to vision care by providing screenings to all children in the school (rather than just the Maryland-required screenings at 1st and 8th grades) and offering follow-up eye exams through mobile vision clinics on site at the school.

The program, known as Vision for Baltimore, is public-private partnership between the BCPSS, BCHD, the national non-profit organization Vision To Learn (VTL), Warby Parker Eyewear, and Johns Hopkins University. Over three years, the program will provide all BCPSS children from pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade with vision screenings and eye exams for students who fail screenings. Warby Parker Eyewear is providing the glasses to students who need them at no cost. Johns Hopkins University is conducting an evaluation of the three-year program.

Evidence from similar vision programs in other states has shown that access to eye care and vision correction leads to improved grades and increased success in school. For example, a University of California Los Angeles analysis of the school records of 887 students participating in the Los Angeles Vision To Learn program found that students who received glasses through the program improved their reading grades and had statistically significant improvements in their math grades (See Figure 1). Focus group findings helped to contextualize these results, with participants reporting that students who received glasses were more focused in the classroom, more engaged, and had more ease completing homework.

Figure 1.
Source: UCLA Impact Study.

Harbage Consulting is proud to continue our history of promoting children’s access to health care services by working with the Vision for Baltimore program – with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation – to ensure that the eye exams and glasses provided through Vision for Baltimore will be reimbursed through Medicaid for children who are eligible. Our firm is also supporting the national organization, Vision To Learn, to help advance the availability of vision exams in Detroit and Los Angeles and promoting the long-term sustainability of this important initiative.