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CRB: English Exam Is 'Reasonable' to Get Pell Grant

by Robert Friedman

October 20, 1998
©Copyright 1998 The San Juan Star

WASHINGTON - Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló said Monday that requiring Puerto Rican students to pass an English exam to qualify for a Pell Grant was a "reasonable" proposal.

He was commenting on a bill filed by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., which included possible congressional legislation to condition federal education funds to the island, "including English instruction requirements for federal Pell grant recipients."

Although the legislation will not be considered in this Congress, which could end today, its introduction is a way of expressing concerns of some members of Congress over federal funding for the island. Besides the Burton measure, another bill was introduced that indicates a phase-in of federal taxes for the island under commonwealth.

That bill, introduced with minimum fanfare by Rep. Phil English, R-Pa., would require a Treasure Department report on federal program costs to the island and the possibility of Congress imposing federal taxes in Puerto Rico.

While introducing the bill on Oct. 9, English said the federal "subsidization of the current commonwealth relationship...must end one way or the other" and proposed a federal tax phase-in.

Romero said the notion of federal taxes for Puerto Rico, whether the island becomes a state or not, was gaining ground in Congress.

The Barton bill, meanwhile, also filed on Oct. 9, calls for an Education Department study and subsequent report on the availability of English language instruction in the island's public schools.

In a statement accompanying the bill, Burton said that "the federal government needs to know if it is subsidizing an education system in which the students of Puerto Rico, who want greater access to English language education, are being denied the opportunity."

The bill says that "it is imperative for Congress, which presides over the present commonwealth system, to promote English for the student citizens of Puerto Rico."

The suggested Pell Grant English requirement would jibe with the Rosselló administration's policy to turn out bilingual citizens, Romero said. "I don't think it is something that should, or would, be required immediately," the resident commissioner said.

In fiscal year 1997, Puerto Rico received $833.8 million in federal funds from the Department of Education.

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