WEST GARFIELD PARK — The mayor cheered the expansion of the Chicago Public Schools eye program in a visit Friday to Sumner Elementary Math & Science Community Academy.
"Two years in a row, we created it and we expanded it, and we're gonna continue," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.
The mayor pointed out the city had spent $1.4 million to create the program last year, and upped it to $2 million this year, with the added funding coming from an increase in the cigarette tax. It is on track to provide eye exams for 45,000 CPS students this year, a 50 percent increase over last year's 30,000.
"If you want to look at our values, look at our budget," Emanuel said.
"There's a definite link between health and academics," added Dr. Stephanie Whyte, CPS' chief health officer.
Emanuel emphasized that the increased city funding came as state and federal funds for such programs were being cut. The increase in the cigarette tax, he added, also went to help enroll Chicago children eligible for Medicaid.
"If you smoke, you're gonna pay for the health care of our children," Emanuel said.
"We are scratching the surface," he acknowledged, in that the 45,000 exams will cover just over 10 percent of the estimated 400,000 CPS students. He called on state and federal governments to "step up" to expand such programs.
"I do believe we made bad choices that had real consequences," he said of the government funding cuts. "In the past, our politics prevented the progress in putting our kids first. For whatever reasons, we didn't do that, eye exams and eye care.
"We allowed our politics to get in the way," he added. "The adults did everything they wanted to do, and then they forget the one priority, which is our children."
Whyte stressed that CPS administered 175,000 eye screenings last year. Kindergartners are required by state law to have an eye exam by mid-October, and the exam program targets kindergartners, first-graders and those who fail screenings.
Glasses for those who need them are provided through Medicaid. "So if you need glasses, we'll get them to you," Emanuel said.
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