- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

Congress should cut off funds to Puerto Rico if its school system refuses to teach English as well as Spanish, the U.S. territory’s Senate president said during a visit to generate congressional support for making the island a state.

“All federal appropriations should be conditional,” said Puerto Rican Senate President Kenneth McClintock, a Democrat. “Otherwise, it’s going to cost generations of Puerto Rican families.”

Mr. McClintock says some of Puerto Rico’s public schools are refusing to teach English, which shares official-language status with Spanish, and that millions of dollars in U.S. appropriations spent on supplemental material has been wasted.

“As soon as they save up the money, families are pulling their kids out of public schools,” Mr. McClintock told The Washington Times, referring to parents’ desire to have bilingual children.

Much like the debate over statehood for the District, Mr. McClintock said a congressional referendum on Puerto Rico’s potential status has been delayed over Republican fears that granting statehood would simply be a giveaway of Senate and House seats to the Democrats.

Mr. McClintock says that unlike the nation’s capital, Puerto Rico is too large and politically diverse to be entirely committed to one political party.

“It’s not a city, it’s a state. There’s greater diversity,” he said. “The Bush family has always been favorable to statehood. It would offer politicians the chance to show they’ve integrated Hispanics into the political process. I think Republicans need that more.”

The commonwealth island has been an unincorporated territory of the United States since 1898, following the Spanish-American war.

“It’s been a festering wound in the nation’s body politic for 108 years,” Mr. McClintock said.

If a statehood referendum wins enough support in Congress, residents of Puerto Rico would then be able to vote on a nonbinding resolution outlining whether they support their current status as a commonwealth or to support change.

“They would vote overwhelmingly for change,” Mr. McClintock said. “There is overwhelming support for statehood.”

After a successful vote for change, Puerto Ricans would then be given specific options, including statehood. Mr. McClintock said there was already strong support for the referendum in the last Congress and that support should continue to grow now that Democrats are in control.

He said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and other leading congressional Democrats, including South Carolina’s James E. Clyburn, have listed themselves as co-sponsors of a bill allowing the referendum to go forward. Some Republicans, including Alaska’s Don Young, have signed up as well.

In the Senate, the referendum has received co-sponsorship from Sen. Mel Martinez, Florida Republican, and Ken Salazar, Colorado Democrat, he said.

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