Scared farmworkers, high-achieving teens | Editorial
And here are some other highs and lows of the week across Florida.
Two farmworkers tend to crops in Homestead.
Two farmworkers tend to crops in Homestead. [ ALIE SKOWRONSKI | Miami Herald ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Sept. 16

Farmworkers coming back? Like that fresh salad? Might want to enjoy it while you can. Immigrant workers and farmworker advocates fear a new state immigration law could worsen labor shortages in South Florida’s agricultural industry, making it harder and costlier to plant, harvest and ship the fresh fruits and vegetables that consumers have grown to expect. The new law, which took effect July 1, cracks down on workers without proper Florida documentation through a variety of means, from invalidating certain out-of-state driver licenses that immigrants use to subjecting new hires for some companies to background checks. The law also requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask patients about their immigration status. Taken together, the law has a chilling effect on workers and producers alike, and growers and farmworkers told the Miami Herald the impact could be far-reaching as workers prepare to return to Florida to harvest winter and spring produce. Even a special federal visa for agriculture, called H-2A, might not fill the gap because of the expense of attracting workers through the program. Will farmworkers and their families avoid Florida en masse? Will growers pull back on planting? This was a self-made mistake that Florida lawmakers and employers need to address.

College thought police. Speaking of misfiring, Florida has temporarily suspended a highly controversial statewide survey of political bias on college campuses after only one year. A new state law requires public colleges and universities in Florida to annually ask students to identify political bias in college classrooms. But Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida’s college of journalism and communications, reported this week that the “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” surveys were being suspended for 2023 and will be distributed again in the spring. Officials cited a scheduling change for skipping the survey, but that makes little sense; a more likely reason is that the Republican-backed law in 2021 didn’t perform as intended. Only about 2% of students and 10% of faculty and staff completed the first surveys in 2022, and most described a politically moderate environment on campus where differing views were generally accepted. Students and state employees are not legally required to participate, which makes this little more than a fishing expedition and a waste of time and resources. It’s good to see students ignoring this exercise. Nobody should be surprised that our young people are thinking for themselves.

It’s our money. Research and advocacy organizations are right to call for greater transparency as Florida expands its school voucher program with taxpayers picking up the tab. More than 30 organizations, spearheaded by the Florida Policy Institute, have banded together in asking for more information from the Department of Education, the Tampa Bay Times’ Marlene Sokol reported this week. The information is essential in evaluating the impact of a law passed this year that made state-funded private school vouchers of about $8,000 available to all school-age children, regardless of income. The groups seeking the information, which include Democratic clubs, the Florida PTA and eight chapters of the League of Women Voters, want a demographic picture of who’s receiving the scholarships, and a report on the number of new private schools that have applied to accept them. The education department’s snarky response to this reasonable request was as inappropriate as it was bewildering. The state has an obligation to account for every dollar. If you’re going to orchestrate a giveaway, prepare to defend it.

Bright young locals. And finally, we hear a lot — and rightly so — about what’s wrong with Florida’s education system and the people who mismanage it. But there are success stories everywhere, and we heard about scores of them again this week in the Tampa Bay area alone. Of the more than 16,000 students announced this week as National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, 153 are from schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties, Sokol reported Friday. A semifinalist must have an outstanding high school academic record and be endorsed by a school official, among other requirements. This pool includes the highest-scoring entrants in each state and represents less than 1% of high school seniors in the nation. Semifinalists must meet other criteria to continue competing for some 7,140 National Merit Scholarships worth nearly $28 million that will be offered next spring. About 95% of the semifinalists are expected to attain finalist standing, and about half of the finalists will win a National Merit Scholarship. Whatever the final outcome, these are achievers who already have brought distinction to themselves, their schools and their communities. Check them out here.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.