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Lawmakers Seek Funding Fix to Help Students Who've Left Puerto Rico


Schools that have welcomed students relocating from Puerto Rico after devastating storms in 2017 are not receiving their fair share of federal aid, according to a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers. But they've introduced a bill they say will correct the issue.

These lawmakers, who represent Connecticut and Florida in Congress, say their Elevate Linguistic Excellence and Vocational Aptitude by Teaching English (ELEVATE) Act will help account for recent population trends affecting both Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. From 2010 until the present, they note, the number of people of Puerto Rican heritage living on the mainland grew from 4.7 million to 5.6 million. 

The ELEVATE Act deals with a federal formula that funds English-language acquisition programs through the U.S. Department of Education. Under that set-up, 20 percent of the money distributed is allocated for "immigrant children and youth," but does not account for the large number of children who've moved to the states from Puerto Rico—where the primary language of school instruction is Spanish. 

The legislation was introduced late last week by Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., along with Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Their states have seen notable upticks in the number of people of Puerto Rican heritage; from 2010 to 2017 in Florida, for example, the Puerto Rican population grew by 27 percent, from 864,000 to 1.1 million. 

"Therefore, students from Puerto Rico are not counted under the second part of this formula, even though they are English Learners, and states do not receive [English-language acquisition] funding for the costs of supporting these students," a fact sheet about the legislation states.

In essence, their bill would require that section of the funding formula to account for Puerto Rican students in the same way as it does immigrant students; Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. The bill contains a hold-harmless provision to prevent states from losing grant money if the proposal were to become law. Federal education funding for English-language acquisition under Title III stands at $737 million for fiscal 2019; in fiscal 2010, it was $750 million, not adjusted for inflation. 

Hurricanes Irma and Maria—the latter in particular—devastated Puerto Rico and threw its public education system into tumult. From the 2017-18 to the 2018-19 school years, enrollment in public schools there declined by roughly 15 percent, accelerating a long-term decline. 

See Our In-Depth Coverage: Putting Puerto Rico's Schools Back on Track

By one recent estimate, since 2006, the combined enrollment of Puerto Rican public and private schools has plunged by 44 percent.  

In the months after Hurricane Maria, school districts receiving a spike in enrollment of Puerto Rican students scrambled to find additional resources. And parents who moved with children often faced tough housing markets and language barriers. 

Read the fact sheet about the bill below:

Photo: Diego Ignacio Cordero Sanchez, left, and Lorenzo Alberto Cordero Sanchez with their father, Giovanni Cordero, in Homestead, Fla. The boys came to Florida after Hurricane Maria to attend school. (Josh Ritchie for Education Week)

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