Florida Seeks Funds for Puerto Rican English Learners

With backing from a slew of Florida lawmakers, bipartisan legislation has been proposed to ensure that the state receives a greater share of federal funding for English-language learning programs due to the growing influx of Puerto Ricans. The Ensuring Linguistic Excellence and Vocational Aptitude by Teaching English (ELEVATE) Act, H.R. 3609, would increase the resources that Florida has available to provide English-language instruction to students and their families.

The act which would “amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to provide that children that have relocated from Puerto Rico to the States are fully considered for purposes of State allotments under the English language acquisition grants.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla, introduced the ELEVATE Act after speaking to constituents and reading local press reports about how public schools in central Florida are struggling to provide instruction to the state’s English-language learner student population.

“I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill to give Florida its fair share of federal resources to improve English-language instruction. I grew up in an immigrant household where my parents spoke only Vietnamese. I learned English in school, and I know how challenging it can be, but also how important it is. Becoming proficient in English opens many economic and social doors that would otherwise remain sealed shut. I want every student learning English in central Florida and around the country to have the same opportunities I did,” said Murphy.

The bill would increase the amount of funding that Florida—and certain other states—receive each year under the U.S. Department of Education’s English Language Acquisition grant program (Title III), by allowing Puerto Ricans to be counted as immigrants from outside the U.S. for the purposes of assessing “the number of ‘immigrant children and youth” in the state as a percentage of the national total of immigrant children and youth,” which accounts for 20% of the funding allocation.

The bill notes that: “Applicable federal law defines “immigrant children and youth” to include children born outside of the 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico—even though the primary language of instruction in Puerto Rico’s public schools is Spanish. Note that students who move to the states from the four other U.S. territories—the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands—do meet the definition of “immigrant children and youth,” even though the primary language of instruction in their public schools is English. This differential treatment between Puerto Rico and the other territories makes little sense from a public policy perspective.”

Florida receives about $40 to $44 million a year under the federal program. The state’s allocation has remained stagnant over the last decade, even though the Puerto Rican population in Florida has increased by over 120 percent since 2000.

Cosponsors of the ELEVATE Act include Democrats and Republicans from the Florida delegation, Reps. Darren Soto, Carlos Curbelo, Charlie Crist, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, and Alcee Hastings.

Rep. Murphy, a top target for Republicans next year, called for Puerto Rican statehood earlier this year.

 

 

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