NYC announces $6M expansion of free glasses program
- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced during his State of the City address Thursday that all the city's kindergarten and 1st grade students will be eligible to get free prescription glasses next school year if they need them, Patch.com reports.
- The $6 million program expands an existing partnership with eyewear retailer Warby Parker, which already helps provide free vision screenings, eye exams and glasses to kids in New York City and Baltimore through its Pupils Project initiative. Since 2015, the company's joint effort with New York City officials has served more than 100,000 students across 224 of the area's community schools.
- The expansion is expected to provide 140,000 vision screenings and 33,000 new pairs of eyeglasses. Warby Parker will fund the cost of the glasses, and a third of the total cost will come from private fundraising.
Students who can’t see well have a difficult time reading and, as a result, soon fall behind their peers. The earlier issues with eyesight can be discovered and addressed, the better student outcomes are likely to be; however, the families of students in poverty often struggle to find the funds needed to address this issue on their own. With most children attending public schools, these sites are perfect places for these students to get screened for any potential eyesight issues and help families connect with resources to meet any needs their kids may have.
Several national companies have gotten on board to help expand free vision services to students. In addition to the Pupils Project, United Healthcare also offers vision services to qualifying children for free or at a reduced cost. Vision to Learn serves students in 13 states by providing free vision services. There are even more resources school leaders can explore as they look for ways to offer expanded vision services to students in need.
Combining resources to solve everyday poverty-related issues like eyesight impairments, which affect a significant portion of children, is one reason the community school concept is gaining momentum from coast to coast. New York City has been pushing for community schools for several years under de Blasio’s tenure and now has more than 200 of these facilities. Austin Beutner, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and former chairman of Vision to Learn — which provides free eye exams and glasses to kids in low-income communities — has advocated for expanding wraparound services for his district's students. And as a local teacher union negotiates a new contract with LAUSD, it's continued to stress the growth of community schools. By offering these opportunities, schools strive to break the cycle of poverty and offer students a better start to a better future.