About 40 bilingual education supporters rallied at the state Capitol Wednesday evening against a bill in Congress that, if passed, could affect how Denver teaches Spanish-speaking students to speak English.

“It is a mean-spirited and racist law,” said Ricardo Martinez, coordinator of Padres Unidos, a local parent group that filed a complaint against Denver Public Schools over its bilingual education program.

Martinez and the others protested HR 3892, the so-called English Language Fluency Act, and also denounced the vote this week by Californians that all but dismantled bilingual education in that state.

HR 3892, among other things, would void all consent decrees regarding bilingual education, a key piece of the bill that would influence many students in DPS, ralliers said.

DPS has been under a consent decree, which requires it to provide adequate bilingual education for non-English speakers, for 14 years. Federal officials ruled last year that DPS was not living up to the court order. The case is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department.

The bill, which would repeal the Immigration Education Act, would also replace the Bilingual Education Act with a block grant program. Under that plan, school districts would receive funding for bilingual programs that require students to be proficient in English within two years.

DPS officials said the outcome of the bill will not affect how it teaches English to its 13,000-plus students who do not speak the language. DPS has proposed mainstreaming bilingual students into regular classes after three years, but providing support and safeguards for students who need more help.

“We have a commitment to educate all children in our district, the consent decree notwithstanding,” said DPS board President Sue Edwards, who knew nothing about the bill. “We have a responsibility to children who come to the district who do not speak English to help them acquire English skills and subject-matter content.”

The bill is to go before a full congressional committee today for consideration and is sure to draw attention both nationally and here in Colorado before it comes up for a final vote in the next few weeks.

“This bill is the wrong bill at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons,” said Rep. Penfield Tate, D-Denver, who attended the rally in support of bilingual education. “This bill goes the wrong direction.”

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