Editorial Roundup: Florida

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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The Miami Herald on reopening schools in Miami-Dade County in August:

The monumental decision on whether to reopen Miami-Dade schools in August — and how — is not on Wednesday’s School Board agenda, but it’s likely to pop up. After all, how to deal with this pandemic is the district’s most crucial decision in ages.

The burden of deciding whether we continue with online schooling whether we physically return to class — even partially — return to class physically, falls largely on Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and the elected members of the School Board, who rely on his counsel.

Carvalho has maintained that he will follow the advice of health experts and the coronavirus dashboard on what is best for the district’s 350,000 students, parents, teachers and staff — and the community. His is the most pragmatic, and empathetic, approach to this scary eventuality, which the The Editorial Board supports.

And that should continue to be Carvalho’s guiding light, despite the reprehensible pressure from Tallahassee and Washington, where President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have threatened to cut funding to schools that don’t reopen this fall.

Come on, that doesn’t even fall under their authority, though Florida’s compliant governor and the Republican-led Legislature might somehow, irresponsibly, make it happen. DeVos even suggested, idiotically, that only a few students might die, so what’s the worry?

Miami-Dade public and private schools won’t be able to reopen, as a state order calls for, if the county is still in its Phase 1 reopening stage and experiencing a frightening, record-breaking spike that saw more than 15,000 new cases reported in a single day this week.

The fact is that South Florida is the epicenter of the nation’s — the nation’s! — COVID-19 cases. And the start of school is just six weeks away. Making the best decision is a matter of life and death. Literally.

“The academic, social and emotional benefits that result from children being in the schoolhouse are indisputable. However, there continues to be a consensus at the federal and state and local level that individual districts need flexibility to tailor their opening plans, based on regional conditions, in a manner that ensures the health and well-being of students and employees,” Carvalho told the Editorial Board. Absolutely.

If conditions continue on the same upward trajectory in Miami-Dade, Carvalho said he did not foresee public and charter schools being able to resume traditional schooling. And if the county remains in Phase 1 by the start of school on Aug. 24, classes would be held entirely online. That’s a difficult call in light of what is called the “COVID slide” of student learning that can occur with online teaching.

Locally elected school boards ultimately decide whether to open or close schools. The insistence from the state and federal government that they reopen, for the sake of the economy and regardless of the infection numbers, is irresponsible folly.

Carvalho is on the right path, keen to make the most informed decision. On Tuesday, he met with county leaders to determine the criteria to allow a return to the classroom — based on science and the guidance of county health experts.

At a time when we see the coronavirus migrating to children, some of whom have died, the threat that the state or federal government will financially punish school districts for not reopening is bullying at its worst and, possibly, its most deadly.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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July 14

The Florida Times-Union on responding to the U.S. Census:

Of all the dangerous fallout from the pandemic, failure to respond to the U.S. Census may be one of the worst outcomes for Florida.

Our failures this year to respond will last for a decade in fewer services for Floridians.

Bottom line: When fewer people are counted, Florida receives less money.

The Sunshine State lost billions in the 2010 Census for needs like health clinics, Medicaid, school lunches, college grants, roads, water and sewer plants, affordable housing, the arts, the environment and many other services.

In fact, Florida in fiscal year 2015 received less federal money per capita than any state in the nation, according to a Florida TaxWatch study.

The largest chunk of the state budget, Medicaid, is directly impacted by the census. That means Floridians receive less help for basic health care and for mental illness and substance abuse. Even in the best circumstances, a fast-growing state like Florida falls behind in federal funding.

Florida adds about 640 new residents per day, with 3.3 million new residents by 2030. Many of them can benefit from the services funded by the federal government.

Since the census is only conducted every decade, the failure to respond in 2010 produced a 10-year shortage of funds for this fast-growing state. In fact, Florida lost $226 million a year.

Many children are not counted, yet they rely on many of the benefits of federal funds in-school services like school lunches.

Florida’s leaders have been slow to press for everyone to respond to the census, especially compared to states that are losing population like Illinois.

With governmental leaders getting a late start running campaigns to encourage people to reply to the census, a group of nonprofits had to step up. California, for instance, has been spending $187 million on a census campaign.

So far, Florida’s 59 percent response rate on the census has been lower than the national average of 62 percent.

Here are local county response rates: Clay (69.9 percent), St. Johns (66.8 percent), Duval (63.4 percent) and Nassau (57.6 percent).

These self-response figures are more important than ever because the next step for the census is to knock on the doors of houses where there has been no response. That will be more difficult during this pandemic.

This is the first year that the census can be filled out online, but this only increases the disparity between people who have technology at home and those who don’t.

The first census was taken in 1790. The main reason is to set the number of members of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives. Fast-growing states like Florida usually add members of Congress while states losing population lose them.

Florida expects to gain two more seats in Congress from the 2020 Census and a third seat is possible.

A total of 316 federal programs use census data, according to a report from George Washington University. These programs touch almost every part of daily life from the roads we use to the water that we drink.

But private businesses also use census data to help determine where to develop factories and offices, add retail businesses.

This is a zero-sum game. If Florida does not receive its fair share of federal funds, the money is available to go elsewhere.

Watch out for scam artists. The Census will never ask for Social Security numbers, bank information, money or donations or anything on behalf of a political party.

Information also must be kept confidential by federal law. No law enforcement agency may use personal census information. The penalty for violations is severe: Five years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.

Completing the census is easy. It takes just a few minutes.

Online: https://www.jacksonville.com/

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July 10

The Tampa Bay Times on protests and police reforms in St. Petersburg, Florida:

Memo to the protesters who barged into the St. Pete Pier’s rooftop restaurant Thursday night: Take your skateboards and go home. You’re hurting the cause.

Sparking a physical confrontation and a barrage of F-bombs hardly bolsters public support for those demanding social justice. Worse yet, the ugliness was a sharp contrast with real achievements taking place down the street the same day, as St. Petersburg police responded to the reform movement by agreeing to a new method for handling nonviolent emergency calls.

Protesters marched from City Hall on Thursday night to the newly opened Pier, a frequent protest destination this week given its inaugural crowds. On arriving, the demonstrators presented their admission tickets to Pier employees and were ushered in, chanting on the Pier lawn before heading to the rooftop bar.

Some protesters who arrived on skateboards and bicycles took them upstairs and into the restaurant, ignoring requests from management and security to leave. The confrontation began when a patron said one of the bikes struck his wife. Amid the noise and chaos, blows were exchanged and a torrent of curse words erupted between a protester and a diner. Police said one patron required medical treatment.

We’ll let the authorities sort this out. But it’s a long way from the scene only weeks ago when Beach Drive diners stood and applauded the protesters, in communion with their peaceful methods, if not their cause. The big question since George Floyd died after being pinned down by a white Minneapolis police officer in May has been whether this outcry over police brutality had any staying power.

Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support the demonstrations that have mushroomed nationwide. And that broad support by people of all races, ages and partisan identity has already produced real gains and the groundswell for further reform.

On the same day that protesters at the Pier were trading in harassment and obscenities, St. Petersburg city and police leaders announced that nonviolent calls to police would soon be handled by social workers rather than uniformed officers.

That’s a key concession to critics in the Tampa Bay area and nationwide who believe that counselors are better suited than law enforcement for dealing with people who are intoxicated or undergoing a mental health crisis.

The Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association supports the move, which union president Jonathan Vazquez said would free up officers to handle more traditional calls and lead to “better outcomes to the most vulnerable citizens that we serve.” Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan praised St. Petersburg’s plan, calling it a “great idea” and vowing to follow up on what could become a model for the region.

St. Petersburg also announced it would double deescalation training for officers, expand cultural awareness programs for recruits and civilian employees and add a representative from a local civil rights group to its hiring board.

Thursday produced two very different outcomes on different ends of town. The protests have undeniably nudged St. Petersburg in a better direction — as they have in Tampa and countless other communities.

But public support can evaporate overnight if demonstrators forget the end game and make the protests a spectacle by themselves. The leverage of social justice is working. There’s no sense in becoming the problem or overplaying one’s hand.

Online: https://www.tampabay.com/