Vision To Learn Launches in Delaware

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Governor Markell and Senator Coons join Vision To Learn Founder Austin Beutner at kickoff event. Based on success in California, Delaware works with Vision To Learn to provide free mobile eye exams & glasses to children in low-income communities with a plan to help more than 6,000 children in Delaware.

Vision To Learn provides eye exams and glasses at no cost to elementary school students in low-income communities.

Austin Beutner, Vision To Learn Founder, was joined today by Delaware Governor Jack Markell and U.S. Senator Christopher Coons to launch Vision To Learn. At the event – held at the Evan G. Shortlidge Academy in Wilmington – Beutner, Governor Markell, and Senator Coons helped distribute glasses to 35 school children. They were joined by WNBA superstar – and Delaware native – Elena Delle Donne, a player with the Chicago Sky and the league’s Rookie of the Year for 2013.

It is estimated that children in Delaware and as many as two million children across the United States lack the eye glasses they need to succeed in school and life.

Established in 2012 by the Beutner Family Foundation, Vision To Learn has already helped more than 25,000 children in California, providing them with free eye exams and glasses. Based on that success, the organization selected Delaware as the first state in a nationwide rollout to show how a close collaboration of state government, health care providers, school districts, and philanthropy can work together to meet the vision needs of children in low-income communities. Delaware was chosen because of its committed national and statewide leaders, as well as its leaders in the health, education, and philanthropic communities, who will be working together to build an end-to-end program which can serve as a model for other states.

“Today’s event kicks off a new chapter for Vision To Learn, combining private philanthropy and Medicaid reimbursement to provide the funds necessary to ensure all children get the glasses they need to succeed in school and in life,” said Beutner. “Our efforts in California have been funded entirely by private donations, so this marks a new and exciting public/private partnership model for our organization and for the future.”

A study by UCLA found that 95 percent of first graders in low-income communities who need glasses do not have them. Vision To Learn’s common sense approach allows optometrists and opticians, working out of a state-of-the-art mobile clinic, to provide service directly at the schools to the students.

“Vision To Learn has shown that health care, eye glasses in particular, makes a difference in children’s academic performance,” said Robert K. Ross, M.D., President and CEO of the California Endowment. “Their program has already had a significant impact on thousands of children and their long-term success in school and beyond.”

Effective in January, Delaware’s Medicaid program will be the first in the nation to provide statewide reimbursements for a portion of the cost of Vision To Learn’s services. Delaware also intends to commit education monies to provide tutoring to children who receive the glasses to get them caught up and back on track in school. In addition, the Delaware State Health Department will track and assist the 5-10 percent of children identified as having other health care needs.

“From providing high quality, early learning opportunities to increasing access to college and job training, we must be committed to ensuring cost is not an obstacle for Delaware’s students to receive a great education,” said Governor Markell. “That’s not possible if our children can’t see what their teachers are showing them in class. I want to thank Austin and his team for their commitment to this important initiative and for partnering with our state in our shared efforts to make vision services available to children who need them the most. Together, we will help develop a roadmap for children living in poverty to see a clear and bright future.”

Located in Wilmington, the Evan G. Shortlidge Academy is an elementary school within the Red Clay Consolidated School District. One of Delaware’s neediest schools, Governor Markell recently named the Academy a Priority School, which will give it the opportunity to receive significant resources and support through the federal School Improvement Grant and Race to the Top resources. The student population is more than 98 percent under-represented minorities and more than 92 percent are enrolled in no-cost or discounted lunch programs.

“Without corrected vision, students have trouble concentrating in class, focusing on work, and reaching their full academic potential,” said Senator Coons. “There are two million students who lack the glasses they need to see the board, read a book, study math, or participate in class, and I am proud to support Vision To Learn in its mission to bring students to see an eye doctor, and receive glasses free of charge.”

Start-up funding for the Delaware state-wide program has been provided by the Arsht-Cannon Fund, Rodel Foundation, VisionWorks, Astra Zeneca, Barclays Bank, Highmark Foundation, and others. In addition, support for Vision To Learn’s national efforts comes from the Broad Foundation and the Beutner Family Foundation.

“I want to thank Governor Markell, Senator Coons, educators in Delaware, Secretary Landgraf, and our sponsors for their commitment and support,” said Beutner. “Working together, we are going to give the children of Delaware a chance to succeed in school and in life.”

About Vision To Learn:
Since it was founded in 2012, Vision To Learn’s mobile clinics have visited more than 400 schools and 40 community organizations, facilitated vision screenings for more than 125,000 children, provided eye examines to more than 25,000 students, provided more than 20,000 children with glasses at no cost, and referred more than 3,000 kids with indications of serious eye or health problems, such as amblyopia, diabetes, or motor skills deficiencies caused by vision impairment to medical experts. For more information, visit http://www.visiontolearn.org

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Melissa Spraul
Vectis Strategies
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