Letters to the editor

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April is Water Conservation Month in Florida

April is Water Conservation Month in Florida, an observance intended to heighten public awareness about the variety of ways we all can reduce our water use and preserve this critical resource for future generations of Floridians and visitors. Counties and cities across our 18-county region are adopting Water Conservation Month proclamations to show their commitment to protecting our water resources.

The St. Johns River Water Management District works to strike a balance between the needs of our residents and the needs of the environment. Even during the wettest times of the year in Florida, it’s still vitally important to conserve our water.

We have made strides in water conservation! For example, from 1995 to 2017 water use in our district decreased by 13 percent largely due to water conservation, while the population increased by 44 percent. Water conservation cost-share investment by the district in the last four years for agriculture and public supply tops $14 million and has resulted in water savings of more than 12 million gallons per day.

However, as our population continues to grow the need to protect our water supply grows as well. About half of the residential water used is for outdoor irrigation and year-round watering restrictions help ensure efficient use of water. Be smart and turn off the “automatic” sprinklers. Water according to the current seasonal watering restrictions and only if it hasn’t rained.

Individually and collectively, we can make a difference. It starts with changing old habits and can be as easy as following watering restrictions, using water-efficient appliances and replacing landscape materials with drought-tolerant plants and mulches. Water conservation is a way of life, and saving water is the simplest and least expensive way to protect our precious water resources.

Ann B. Shortelle, Ph.D.

Executive Director

St. Johns River Water Management District

Clay pastors oppose diverting public funds through vouchers

Clay County has a strong history of excellent schools. The majority of these are public schools, providing a free, quality education to all students regardless of their income, their ethnicity, their religion, or any other factor. We are proud of our public schools and voice our support for the teachers, administrators and staff called to teach and nurture our young people.

We are also concerned for the future of our public schools. The Florida Constitution properly proclaims that it is “a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” Our Constitution furthers states that this duty will be fulfilled through a “high quality system of free public schools.”

And yet…

Talk to a teacher. Sit down with a principal. Strike up a conversation with parents. We are at risk of losing this precious gift of a high-quality public education.

In 2018, Florida received a D+ grade for school funding in the Quality Counts report from Education Week. Now there is a renewed push to further divert funds from our public schools through vouchers. These are surreptitiously labeled as “scholarships” in Senate Bill 7070, which is now in the Appropriations Committee chaired by our State Senator, Rob Bradley. Vouchers are also being considered in House Bill 7075, already approved by the Appropriations Committee chaired by our State Representative Travis Cummings.

As pastors in Clay County, we are alarmed by these bills. We stand against any efforts to further privatize education in our state or take funds away from public schools. We also laud efforts to provide quality education through private schools, and many of our churches help provide this. Yet private education should be funded privately by offerings, donations, tuition and fees.

Public dollars should be used for public purposes. Vouchers would knowingly divert tax dollars to private, sectarian institutions. Vouchers would also undermine our system of public schools already crippled by continuing cuts. Quality religious education would also suffer under the entanglements brought by receiving state money. The religious liberty we champion for all Floridians would also be violated. For this reason, the bills are likely unconstitutional. They are backed by interest groups with ulterior motives, many from outside our state. Passage of these bills would oppose the will of a substantial majority of Floridians, including a majority of people of faith. You are now hearing from us, and you will continue to hear from us until these bills are withdrawn or defeated.

We call upon all of our elected officials to reject these bills, including Gov. DeSantis, Sen. Bradley and Rep. Cummings. We celebrate the gift of public education as a God-given right that should be fully funded and available to all. We oppose the expansion of vouchers and call on those we elect to do the same.

The Christian writer G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” Jesus once asked his followers, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Money from state coffers would certainly be welcomed by sectarian institutions and the for-profit groups clamoring for these bills in the legislature. But what is to be gained for a society that turns its back on a generation of school children?

Rev. Kevin Collison

Pastor Island View Baptist Church

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