Democratic U.S. Sen. Stephanie Murphy said Monday she intends to introduce legislation that would rework how the federal government provides funding for English as a second language programs, in order to account for incoming Spanish-speaking students from Puerto Rico.
Appearing at a Puerto Rico forum in Orlando Monday morning, Murphy, of Winter Park, said the current federal formulas weigh students moving in from foreign countries who do not speak English, but do not account adequately for Spanish-speaking students who move from Puerto Rico.
Last year more than 1,200 new Puerto Rico students enrolled in English as a second language programs in Orange County alone.
“Puerto Rico, of course, is not a foreign country. So students who move from the island to Florida are not sufficiently counted in that formula,” Murphy told the gathering. “And therefore Florida and Central Florida specifically does not receive the amount of funding it should. In the coming days I will file a bill in Congress to fix this formula. Our children deserve a first-class education, and I hope this bill, if enacted into law, will help.”
The panel discussion, which included Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando, Orange County School Board Member Joie Cadle and Republican Anthony Suarez, president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association of Central Florida, provided a broad chat on issues ranging from statehood, to equality in federal funding, to migration to Florida, but not much depth.
Murphy reiterated her position of supporting statehood as “the next logical step for Puerto Rico,’ cautioning, however, “you’ll never hear me criticize those who support independence.”
Torres raised questions he said Puerto Ricans are asking about the potential of statehood – notably, will it help or hurt islanders?
Citing curiosity from his uncle recently visiting from Ponce, Torres offered, “What we need to know in Puerto Rico is, what is statehood gonna do to us? What is the benefit of statehood? Is this deficit going to be addressed? The Medicaid problem? The other issues we face here?”
Observer Peter Vivaldi, a Republican who ran against Torres last year, expressed disappointment afterwards that Murphy continues to express support for statehood but said she offers no action on the issue.
Prior to the panel discussion, when a reporter asked what Congress might do about potential statehood, or what she might do to promote it, Murphy did not answer specifically. When another reporter asked about a Republican-dominated Congress showing no interest in Puerto Rico becoming a 51st state, she replied, “I believe that now that they [Puerto Rico voters] have overwhelmingly voted for statehood, it’s not a question of whether Puerto Rico becomes a state, but when. I look forward to supporting the government of Puerto Rico as well as their delegate in Congress as they try to seek to advance that.”
Vivaldi said he thought there would be more discussion about statehood, but much of the panel discussion covered other Puerto Rico topics.
“I heard the congresswoman’s statement, where she stands. I understand she is for the people of Puerto Rico…. She understands the issue going on, but I also would like to hear more of the fight in her,” Vivaldi said. “Just coming out and doing a press conference, or doing statements is not enough. We want to see the vote. We want to see Congress in action.”
That also underscored an exchange earlier between Torres and Suarez, with Torres blaming Republicans for holding up any Puerto Rico action in Congress, and Suarez reminding him that the Republican platform actually calls for statehood for Puerto Rico.
“The proof will be in the pudding,” Suarez said.