August 20, 2007
What Does Your State Require You to Do To Prepare For the First Day of School?
Posted by Christine Hurt

Happy First Day of School!  Today is the first day of Fall classes at the College of Law, and also at my kids' school.  Everyone was excited and happy, and I am relieved to have a stable schedule for awhile!  Preparing for the first day of school always gets me a little feisty, though, especially now that we have moved to Illinois.  In Wisconsin, enrolling children in school required a lot of forms, most of them duplicative, and of course the required physician/immunization form.  Although our children were immunized (actually over-immunized, because we had come from Texas), I was relieved that parents that did not want to immunize could at least check a "conscientious observer" type box and still send their kids to school.  (Of course, there are some negative effects of this policy, including an outbreak of mumps in MIlwaukee public schools, etc.  But this post is not about the cost/benefits of an individual choice to immunize one's children or on the cost/benefits of mandatory immunization policy.  I'm sure there are many other blog fora for that conversation.) 

However, in Illinois, vaccinations are mandatory and so is (drumroll, please) a dental exam.  Children enrolling in kindergarten and other selected interval grades must have a dentist sign off on a recent dental exam.  OK, this reallly bothers me.  Not because I don't send my kids to the dentist.  My kids have gone to the dentist since they were three, gotten sealants on baby teeth, gotten fillings on baby teeth because a laser showed a "weakening" of the enamel, etc.  This is my choice, and I fortunately have the wherewithal to pay for it.  I also sign them up for sports programs, feed them 100% fruit juice and organic milk, and pay for music lessons.  These are things that I think might make them healthier but that I know come at a cost.  I'm willing to pay the cost.  However, I don't think the state should mandate expensive dental care for baby teeth or even for adult teeth.

When I've ranted about this to other Illinoisans, they have countered that because the dental exams are mandatory, government programs provide them for free.  So, I have been watching the paper for these free programs.  I have seen both public programs and private ones run by dentists in private practice.  These exams are free for children on Medicaid and children without dental insurance.  Well, I pay for dental insurance for my kids, but my bill for 2 examinations was $130 and change.  So, this mandatory requirement creates an indirect taxpayer cost and a direct out-of-pocket cost for me.  And for what?  What are the benefits?  Some individual dental benefits -- I do believe in dental hygeine, I'm not a caveman.  But societal benefits that would support the costs?  Unlike communicable diseases, a kindergartener who has never been to the dentist isn't going to create a cavity epidemic in Champaign-Urbana.  What's next?  The dermatologist lobby is going to get the legislature to approve mandatory dermatological exams to enter middle school?

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