- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Oct. 4

News Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on homelessness:

Community leaders appear to be in the honeymoon phase of their relationship with Robert Marbut, the Texas-based consultant who last week publicly presented his report on homelessness in Volusia County.

That’s good. But once the initial glow fades, as with most marriages, success will depend on commitment and compromise.

Marbut was hired by Daytona Beach earlier this year (with financial contributions from several other cities) to study the county’s homeless problem and come up with a detailed plan of suggested remedies. Wednesday, he discussed his 39-page report of conclusions and recommendations with the City Commission. On Thursday, he gave a presentation at DeLand City Hall to more than 100 assembled community leaders, social service agency heads, elected officials from throughout Volusia County and members of the public.

The gist of his report is that homelessness is a county-wide problem that requires county-wide solutions and the participation of every local government, agency and charity. His recommended strategy is to a create centralized, one-stop-shop complex of buildings in the middle of the county where homeless adults can receive services, similar to facilities he has helped develop in San Antonio, St. Petersburg and elsewhere.

The response from the public was overwhelmingly positive, at least toward Marbut’s view of the scope of the problem and the need for universal buy-in to solve it.

However, there’s a substantial distance to travel between saying everyone needs to contribute and getting them to do that. Once the discussion turns from generalities to specifics, the effort is bound to encounter resistance from at least some quarters regarding costs and surrendering autonomy.

That’s what happened in Sarasota, which hired Marbut last year. Initially his proposals were supported by the city and the county. In July, though, the City Commission voted unanimously to end its partnership with the county on building the centralized homeless facility, primarily over disagreements about its location.

And as always, money is sure to be an issue. A lack of fiscal commitment has plagued Marbut’s Safe Harbor shelter, which opened in 2011 in St. Petersburg with the financial support of 16 of 24 cities in Pinellas County. That number has since dwindled to six.

Those experiences should help guide Volusia County in avoiding the same pitfalls as it proceeds with its homelessness plan. If Marbut’s vision of a one-stop complex is modified - or doesn’t even come to fruition - the community still must do the hard work required to find alternative solutions.




Oct. 7

Miami Herald on victory for equality:

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has green-lighted gay marriage in 30 states and the District of Columbia, it’s time for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to throw in the towel. There is no good reason to deny equality of marriage for all the people of the Sunshine State, and no sensible reason for Ms. Bondi - and Gov. Rick Scott -to support the ban.

By leaving intact five favorable marriage rulings in three separate federal appellate courts, the court sent the strongest signal possible that the indefensible gay marriage ban is all but dead. Ms. Bondi surely knows that, and no amount of political grandstanding to appease conservatives prior to the upcoming election can make it otherwise.

The court’s action has been a long time coming for those who believe in marriage equality. Ever since the nation’s highest tribunal declared laws against racial intermarriage unconstitutional almost 50 years ago (Loving v. Virginia, 1967), the court has been moving incrementally in the direction of fairness and equality for all.

In this century, the 2003 decision striking down anti-sodomy laws and last year’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act - effectively, the last legal barrier - should have made it obvious to all but the most stubborn defenders of an unjust system that the handwriting was on the wall.

Opponents of same-sex marriage have lost a string of decisions ever since.

Public opinion has shifted remarkably in support of fairness in the law, a trend that the court’s justices must surely have been aware of. But the change in popular feeling is not why the advocates of gender equality in marriage won the day. They won because they had the law and the U.S. Constitution on their side.

Sooner or later, marriage equality will be the uncontested law in Florida. Ms. Bondi might be able to delay the effective date, but she cannot stop it.




Oct. 2

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on school superintendents’ concerns:

Once again the state’s school superintendents are calling on Florida lawmakers to take a reasoned approach to the standardized tests that educators must contend with each year.

The superintendents want the state to slow down and exercise some caution as a number of significant changes are thrown at them, including a new standardized test to replace the FCAT.

With so much riding on that test and others, we hope lawmakers and state education officials will listen to the superintendents. They are closer to the classroom and have the best understanding of the consequences of rushing into a new testing regimen.

The superintendents made their feelings known when the state’s Board of Education met in Tampa this week. As the Tribune’s Erin Kourkounis reports, they are asking the state to suspend the school grading system while adjustments are made to the new tests and to delay the consequences for students.

And they don’t think student test scores should count for as much as 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation and salary.

Students this year will take the new Florida Standards Assessment for reading, writing and math, and they will take district end-of-year exams on other subjects as well. Though Florida’s new assessment test has not been field-tested in the state, officials still plan to use the results to evaluate schools.

Gov. Rick Scott recently ordered a review of all state standardized tests after protests were raised by parents and educators. If he’s truly interested in making the right decisions about testing, he could begin by instructing his education commissioner to listen to the superintendents.

The state is forcing significant changes upon the state’s superintendents, who should be given time to make the necessary adjustments.

Failing to do so might bring a testing fiasco next spring that will do far more damage than good.



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