Austin Beutner is seizing his role as self-described “evangelist in chief” at Vision to Learn, with farsighted plans to bring eye exams to children in low-income neighborhoods across the nation within five years. His Brentwood nonprofit operates in five states and next fall will begin expanding into four more and the District of Columbia.

Beutner, a civic booster and former Los Angeles Times publisher, founded the program in 2012, frustrated by a lack of health care resources in public education. The organization sends busloads of eye doctors to screen students and provides glasses for those with poor vision.

“When you give children glasses, they get all bug-eyed, they kind of glow, because they see the world in a new way. It just happens right there in the moment,” said Beutner, who launched Vision to Learn in 2012.

Its efforts are funded by Medicaid, Medi-Cal, and private donations, with L.A. billionaire Eli Broad among the backers and Mickey Kantor, an L.A. attorney and former U.S. commerce secretary, serving as co-chair.

Since it launched, Vision to Learn has served more than 300,000 kids in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, and Iowa, and distributed glasses to more than 40,000. It expects to expand to Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Atlanta, and Washington next year.

Beutner, who has perfect vision, sees potential to offer more health care to public schools, such as physical and hearing exams.

“For many students, we’re the first time in their lives that they’ve received something like preventative care,” he said. “We’re bringing a message that you and your family should become part of a health plan and see doctors regularly.”

– Daina Beth Solomon

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