- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Jan. 10

The Tallahassee Democrat on education and teaching students to read:

In today’s evolving world of education, where policymakers are keen to note that Florida’s students need to be prepared for the changing work world, much emphasis has been placed on STEM-based education, encouraging students to excel in science, technology, engineering and math.

These areas of concentration are leading our changing world, from the debate on global warming to the next developments in personal technology to breakthroughs in science and medical research.

But as important as it is for parents to push their children to excel in the sciences and technology, it is equally important for parents to spend time promoting reading. No other skill is more crucial for a child’s development in the early stages than helping that child learn to read.

Beginning Monday, schools throughout Florida will kick off programs associated with the Department of Education’s annual Celebrate Literacy Week.

A key goal of the programs planned is connecting the dots between the importance of good reading skills and being successful in the STEM-related fields.

Part of this week’s celebration includes the introduction of the comic book “Iron Man and Habit Heroes” to students in the third, fourth and fifth grades. …

Scores of volunteers will be in other schools throughout the state. The goal is to encourage reading and to promote healthy lifestyles.

While that’s one approach, it also is important that all of us get involved in helping to promote reading on an everyday basis. That can be accomplished by volunteering in our schools and libraries, or by assisting in developing a reading component in after-school programs and in community centers.

One successful program that is making a difference is the ReadingPals program created by the United Way of the Big Bend. The program is an outgrowth of the agency’s Power of the Purse Program, which provides free books to first-grade students in Leon and surrounding counties. The ReadingPals initiative targets students in the early elementary years.

Results released last fall on the program show 60 percent of the students participating improved their reading scores and 40 percent of the students in the program are on track to read on their grade level by the critical third-grade period. The program is featured in 12 local elementary schools.

Volunteer programs such as this one are critical as the state prepares to increase the standards for student achievement. A national report released in November shows that Florida students are improving in their reading and math scores, with the state’s fourth-grade students having some of the highest test scores in the country.

But teachers and classroom volunteers can’t take on all of the responsibility. Promoting the benefits of reading begins at home, with parents taking time with their children at an early age.

Some tips provided by the Department of Education include. …

Teaching a child to read is one the greatest gifts you can give.

Online:

http://www.tallahassee.com

___

Jan. 11

Miami Herald on rebuilding after the earthquake in Haiti:

Four long and painful years after a cataclysmic earthquake leveled Port-au-Prince and much of Haiti, the country is emerging from the depths of the disaster. Rebuilding is replacing recovery. A measure of order is replacing the chaos of the early years.

Most of the rubble is gone. Where once the capital’s streets and surrounding areas housed 1,500 makeshift camps for about 1.5 million refugees, the numbers were down considerably near year’s end: 175,000 remained in 306 camps. Ten new hurricane shelters are being built, the country boasts 180-plus miles of newly paved roads, there are 46 new health centers and seven new hospitals. And so on.

This is progress, but hold the applause. The numbers don’t tell the full story.

Too much time has been wasted in recriminations among the government of President Michel Martelly, donor nations and the international aid groups that receive much of the money directly. Political disarray has blocked elections. Tens of thousands were forcibly evicted from camps, with no safe place to go, and many more face the same prospect in 2014.

No new government ministries have been built to replace the ones that were destroyed, although seven are under construction. Billions of dollars in promised aid remain undisbursed, and international investment has been slow to arrive because of a lack of confidence in the government. Nearly 700,000 suspected cases of cholera have been detected, some 8,500 victims have died and the epidemic still rages.

Progress has come in fits and starts. The government is not all-powerful. Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe cannot wave a magic wand and resolve all the issues blocking the pace of recovery, but they are not helpless, either.

If Lamothe wants the international community to “trust us, give us the benefit of the doubt” - as he told Miami Herald reporter Jacqueline Charles in an interview - when it comes to receiving and disbursing aid funds, he must work harder to gain that trust by improving the transparency of his government.

Martelly, for his part, must strive harder to work with Haiti’s divided and often selfish political parties to put together overdue legislative elections.

The failure to hold elections has done much to tarnish Haiti’s political class and undermine confidence in the government. The voting has been delayed for more than two years, which is simply unacceptable.

A lot has been done to put children back in school, for which the government deserves credit, but education and child welfare must remain priorities. Last year, according to U.N. figures, 6.5 percent of children under age 5 suffered from acute malnutrition - an increase from 5.1 percent in 2010.

The United States has led the way among donor nations to help the country recover, but it has failed in one area where it can, and must, do better. As of Nov. 1, nearly 110,000 Haitians had been approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for family-based visas to the United States, but they remain on yearslong wait lists in Haiti.

The administration has promised Haitian-American leaders in Miami and elsewhere that it would speed up family reunifications, but there’s been little action so far. On this fourth anniversary of the earthquake, the Obama administration could take no better action to demonstrate its avowed concern for Haiti than to make good on its promise.

Online:

http://www.miamiherald.com

___

Jan. 12

The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla., on the speedway deserving the same breaks other stadiums get:

A Florida Senate committee has rightfully advanced a proposal to grant Daytona International Speedway $60 million in tax incentives over 30 years, meaning that perhaps this year the track will get the same kind of benefits given to football and baseball stadiums in Miami, Orlando, and Tampa.

They are incentives the Speedway has earned in light of its $400 million “Daytona Rising” renovation, which began construction in July.

The massive investment in the Speedway is the kind of economic heft that led the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee to pass the incentive bill on a unanimous vote on Wednesday.

The bill in the Florida Senate is being sponsored by state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange. A similar proposal in the state House of Representatives is being co-introduced by Reps. David Santiago, R-Deltona, and Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford.

The bill would grant $2 million in sales-tax rebates to the Speedway over 30 years, for a total of $60 million in tax breaks.

Hopefully, this year’s proposal won’t become bogged down in legislative mire as it did a year ago.

During the 2013 session, the Speedway asked for $10 million in one-time tax rebates for its Daytona Rising project. Then the request got tied with similar proposals from Miami and Jacksonville, and the effort died. The request did not seem to have a lot of momentum on its own, partly because the Legislature has looked at motor sports venues as having less economic impact than other large sports venues.

But the Speedway isn’t some local track. It’s the home to the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s biggest race and one of the nation’s largest sporting events each year. International Speedway Corp. generates an annual $1.6 billion economic impact on the Sunshine State.

This time, the Speedway’s construction - begun after the defeat in the 2013 legislative session - should improve the track’s chances of getting a different set of tax incentives.

The Speedway’s “Daytona Rising” project will renovate the front-stretch grandstands, add special social areas, and include 101,000 permanent and improved seats, more restrooms and three times as many concession stands. Notably, the renovations will enable the Speedway to host other major entertainment events outside of racing.

The Speedway’s renovation project also will eventually employ 6,300 workers and create $300 million in labor income and $80 million in tax revenue. Proposed legislation would only ask that the Speedway commit to $250 million in improvements; “Daytona Rising” will easily surpass that benchmark, likely by early 2016 when the massive project is scheduled to be completed.

The $400 million investment in the Speedway is the kind of economic heft that led the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee to pass the incentive bill on a unanimous vote on Wednesday.

Any time such tax incentives are offered, there is criticism that the tax breaks land in the pockets of wealthy sports owners. Such incentives should rightfully be scrutinized by legislators and citizens.

But in this case, the Speedway’s owner, ISC, has made a massive front-end investment of its own.

In addition, ISC has announced its One Daytona commercial-and-retail development across International Speedway Boulevard from the Speedway. Phase one of that project will add 1.1 million square feet of retail and residential space, and will add 4,200 permanent jobs.

It’s logical to keep that economic growth going by offering the same kind of tax breaks to the Speedway that other major sports venues in Florida have so successfully used.

Online:

http://www.news-journalonline.com

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