Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Aug. 7

Ocala Star-Banner on Florida schools:

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We've looked at state rankings before, trying to determine the quality of Florida schools against others nationally. Certainly there are as many ways to measure something as nebulous as "educational quality" — and we've reported on a few on these pages.

A new study is out. It looks at the question in a different, if not more comprehensive, way: examining 25 relative metrics diverging from two core areas — safety and quality.

Those involving quality included Blue Ribbon schools per capita, graduation rates, dropout rates, median SAT and ACT scores, pupil-teacher ratio and more.

Safety metrics included share of high school students with access to illegal drugs, share of threatened or injured students, students participating in violence, bully incidence rate, youth incarceration rates and more.

How did Florida fare? Perfectly average. Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, we ranked 26th in the nation.

Here's the core breakdown:

. 17th - Math Test Scores

. 9th - Reading Test Scores

. 30th - Pupil-Teacher Ratio

. 46th - Median SAT Score

. 39th - Median ACT Score

. 49th - Percent of Licensed/Certified Public K-12 Teachers

. 37th - Dropout Rate

. 3rd - Bullying Incidence Rate

. 39th - Percentage of Threatened/Injured High School Students

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What does all this mean? We are not completely sure, but we can't help but wonder how the metric might have been influenced if funding per student was added to the mix.

The July 31 edition of "Education Week" just released the 2018 funding breakdown for the nation. Vermont spends $20,795 per student per year. Utah is last with $7,207. Florida spends $9,737. The national average is $12,526. All figures are adjusted for regional cost differences.

We know throwing money at education isn't necessarily a fix. But starving it, as is the case in Florida, certainly heightens the problems.

Online: http://www.ocala.com

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Aug. 7

The Lakeland Ledger on possible litigation facing the state's orange juice producers and processors:

What is about food that sometimes inspires ridiculous lawsuits?

For example, this year marks the 25th anniversary of when McDonald's got sued because its coffee was too hot. A couple years ago, Subway was sued by someone who claimed its "footlong" subs were actually only 11 inches. About a decade ago litigation hammered the makers of Cap'n Crunch cereal after someone argued that "crunchberries" were not real berries found in nature.

Florida's orange juice producers and processors might soon be joining this list.

As The Ledger's Kevin Bouffard recently reported, a Brooklyn woman, Alexandra Axon, has sued the Lake Wales-based Florida Natural Growers in New York City, asserting that the processors' signature product is not as "natural" as the group or its labeling maintain. One reason, argued in the lawsuit, is that a lab test of the OJ revealed traces of glysophate, the herbicide engineered by Monsanto and the key ingredient used in the popular weed killer Roundup.

The presence of this chemical should not be surprising. Developed four decades ago, Roundup is the most widely used weed killer in America, if not the world. It's applied to wheat, soybeans, corn and other staple fruits and vegetables. It's safe to say that our food supply would be in bad shape if farmers did not use this chemical to protect crops.

At issue in this case — and apparently in 300 additional lawsuits brought against Monsanto, according to Bouffard — is whether glysophate is a carcinogenic.

Three years ago, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer fed that belief by suggesting that glysophate was a "probable" cancer-causing agent. That finding undercut the position long held by federal regulators. Twenty-five years ago, for instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report noting a "lack of convincing evidence of (glysophate's) carcinogenicity in adequate studies." The EPA also "concluded that the chronic dietary risk posed by glyphosate food uses is minimal."

The WHO's determination, however, ramped up fear of Roundup, and likely fueled the lawsuit mill against Monsanto.

Yet there was a problem. Last December the EPA angered activists by overturning the WHO's opinion and declaring glysophate safe. One reason had emerged six months earlier. As it turned out, according to Reuters, a leading epidemiologist from the Obama administration had failed to notify the WHO's panel about unpublished studies he had been privy to that indicated glysophate was unlikely to cause cancer.

That would seem especially relevant to Axon's lawsuit. And this point was summed up well, as Bouffard recounted, by Gene Albrigo, emeritus professor of horticulture at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, who testified in court that "it's all safe, and people live to be much older than they used to thanks to better nutrition and medicine so (herbicides) are not wiping out the world."

True enough. Life has certainly gotten better for most of the world since Monsanto began producing Roundup.

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So, on the surface, it seems neither farming nor processing refutes the fact, as stated by Bob Behr, Florida Natural Growers' CEO, that "Our juice is made from just one ingredient, Florida oranges." Let's hope the judge sees it that way and tosses this lawsuit, which uses up valuable resources and only builds on the misery recently suffered by Florida's much-beleaguered citrus growers. We should end the war on food.

Online: http://www.theledger.com

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Aug. 2

The Daytona Beach News-Journal on preserving wildlife:

Every day, birds, plants, fish and animals face competition for the resources they need to survive.

Volusia and Flagler county residents experience the impact of the Endangered Species Act all around them: The sea turtles that nest on local beaches. The manatees that charm visitors to Blue Spring State Park in the winter. The wood storks that have become an increasingly common sight along local roadsides.

These species, and many others, were once considered potentially doomed. But decades of protection have turned things around. Sea-turtle nestings on local beaches have more than doubled from lows in the early 2000s. Florida's manatee counts have topped 6,000 for the last three years — once, the population was thought to number just a few hundred. The number of wood storks in the southeastern United States was once declining at the rate of 5 percent a year, and scientists grimly predicted the species was headed for extinction. Now pairs of storks are visible throughout Volusia and Flagler counties, wading in roadside ditches and shallow lakes.

These are success stories, but the stories are not finished yet. Every day, birds, plants, fish and animals face competition for the resources they need to survive from the ever-increasing number of people who want to make Florida their home. The federal Endangered Species Act and the state's species-protection programs have nurtured these, and many other species: As The News-Journal's Dinah Voyles Pulver reported, the state is home to 93 species considered endangered under the federal rules, and another 44 that are threatened. Endangered species are considered in danger of extinction; the threatened status — which the manatee was recently elevated to — includes species that are likely to become endangered in the future.

There's little doubt, however, that the Endangered Species Act has levied a considerable cost for the protections it guarantees.

Volusia County learned that the hard way in the 1990, when a lawsuit over sea turtles and shore birds threatened to capsize the county's beach-driving tradition. The good news is that the county successfully worked out a habitat conservation plan that protected turtles while preserving beach driving. The bad news is that the battle (and eventual resolution) cost millions — and the lawyer who led the fight says she's not optimistic about the county's chances of renewing the permit in 2030.

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But the history of the Endangered Species Act includes some episodes where the case was not nearly as clear — such as the controversy over an undeniably endangered Mississippi frog that was "rebranded" as being from Louisiana, leading to a debate as to whether federal officials could designate private property as critical habitat for a species that hadn't been found in that area in more than 50 years, and might not survive there.

The Trump administration says it wants to revamp and streamline the Endangered Species Act, leading to cries of alarm from environmental groups who fear that "streamlining" will be akin to swinging a wrecking ball at the ESA. That pushback is a good thing — conservation-minded groups should keep a close eye on the proceedings and call foul if endangered-species protections will be legitimately weakened.

At the same time, however, these groups should acknowledge that, after four and half decades, the Endangered Species Act might benefit from an overhaul that whittles unnecessary regulation while preserving the law's core mission and protecting the plants, animals, fish, reptiles and birds whose very lives depend on the law.

If environmental groups work with federal officials in good faith, they might just produce a law that both sides can agree is an improvement.

Online: http://www.news-journalonline.com