From the face of it, renewing a law that requires every student to undergo an extensive eye examination before entering elementary school sounds like a no-brainer.
After all, having the best vision possible is undeniably a plus when it comes to learning.
But the cost of an eye examination is $100 and though these comprehensive tests can catch a few things that regular eye screenings don’t pick up, for the most part the extra cost is simply a burden that is not necessary in these difficult times.
And why should eye examinations be singled out as mandatory when there are so many other components, such as nutrition, hearing, and even the lack of books in the home that also can have a detrimental effect on a child’s learning?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch touched on the answer in an article in Tuesday’s edition. The Missouri Optometric Association is pouring money into politicians’ campaign chests and all of a sudden elected officials who never gave a thought to the effect of vision on learning have turned into true believers, while at the same time labeling other efforts to help poor children as drains on the state budget.
For an example of the role money has played in the current debate, you need look no further than the man who sponsored the bill in the House, Cabool Republican Don Wells.
Wells received at least $3,600 in campaign contributions from the Missouri Optometric Association members, according to his July 2011 campaign report. In addition to the $1,000 he received from the state organization and $300 from the St. Louis Optometric Society, Wells picked up 23 contributions from optometrists, only two of whom are identified as such on the report. The job listing for the others refers to them as “self-employed.”
Contributions also poured into Well’s account from lobbyists who represent the Missouri Optometric Association.
Ethics Commission documents also indicate Wells received numerous gifts from lobbyists whose clients include the Missouri Optometric Association, including two trips with hotel stays paid for by Lee Ann Barrett.
Wells’ reasons for sponsoring the extension of the full screenings were reported Sunday in the Post-Dispatch:
One proposal, sponsored by Rep. Don Wells, would extend indefinitely the mandate for full examinations before kindergarten. It would not do anything about the expiration of the state's screening program. Wells, R-Cabool, said the requirement is necessary because vision problems can hinder a child's ability to learn important concepts, such as letters and numbers.
He said his support for the mandate is partially driven by his two grandchildren, who he said have vision problems that were not detected in screenings, but only later in full examinations.
I have no reason not to believe Wells’ explanation, but the money trail leave some room for doubt. Especially since this is the same Don Wells who lists in his biographical information on the Missouri House of Representatives website a bachelor’s degree in political science from Cambridge University.
I addressed that subject in 2009 when Cabool, who operates a business that makes payday loans, allowed only people who favored the industry to testify about a bill before his committee that would have restricted the loans. The bill, of course, never made it out of committee.
This is what I discovered about Wells’ degree:
I have been unable to find a Cambridge University in the United States, but there is a Cambridge State University, which has no affiliation with any of the reputable accrediting groups, and which has quite a reputation as a purported diploma mill.
The following information on Cambridge State University is featured on the Better Business Bureau page:
The company provided this office with a booklet about Cambridge State University, which tells about this company's programs. This was postmarked from Santa Anna, CA. On page 3 of this booklet it states CSU is a member of the World Association of Universities and Colleges with accreditation pending. At this time we have no information on World Association of Universities.
855 Pierremont is a shopping center. The first three numbers of the dept. number for Cambridge University is 128, which is Mail Boxes, ETC. which means the last three numbers 189 is a box number where mail is received and picked up or forwarded.
Cambridge University has no physical presence at 855 Pierrmont Shopping Center.
On August 18, 1998, Caddo District Judge John Mosely of Shreveport, issued a temporary restraining order against CSU and it's owner and president, Allan Park, citing unfair and deceptive trade practices. A hearing was held October 26, 1998. The state presented arguments for a permanent injunction. A permanent injunction against Cambridge University was granted October 26, 1998.
Court orders were issued in Louisiana keeping Cambridge State University from operating in that state.
I don't know how long it took Rep. Wells to obtain his degree, but perhaps he had the same kind of expedited education touted in Cambridge State University brochures that was noted in a complaint with the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection, which led to a permanent injunction against the "university":
"You may earn a legal, government-approved college degree in a short time without quitting you (sic) job or attending classes!"
"But they, and you who are already involved in earning a living and raising a family and trying to better your position, can earn a legal Bachelor's Degree--a real degree--in as little as 90 days! And you may earn an advanced degree (Masters or Doctorate) that same way, with added work and Study."
And returning to the eye examination bill for a moment, it should be noted that while Wells’ bill is moving full speed ahead, a bill that would put the emphasis on eye screenings has been bottled up by Speaker of the House Steve Tilley, a term-limited representative who will return to his full-time job…as an optometrist…next year.