Colorado’s highest court delivered a setback to bilingual education opponents Monday, calling their proposed statewide initiative “misleading” and not ready to go before the voters in November.
Proponents of the initiative, a group called English for the Children of Colorado, must scramble if they are to correct the language and collect more than 80,000 signatures by Aug. 5 to secure a spot on the November ballot.
“It’s better than having it thrown out,” said Rita Montero, the group’s chairwoman. “It’s an obstacle that perhaps we can get over. I think there’s still time. That doesn’t worry me.”
But members of English-plus, the group that opposes the initiative, said Montero’s group is “under the gun” and may not have enough time to get on the ballot.
“Technically, it can be done,” said Gully Stanford, the group’s co-chairman. “But we will challenge them again every step of the way.”
Monday’s decision marks the second time the court has ruled against a proposed initiative to limit bilingual education. Citing similar problems, the court effectively knocked a similar measure off the ballot in 2000.
The most recent initiative would have required public schools to place their English language learners in intensive English classes for a year, then transfer them to mainstream classes.
A provision would allow parents to opt out of the requirement and request bilingual education, which typically means some instruction takes place in a student’s native language.
But the state Supreme Court, agreeing with an appeal from English-plus, said the proposed initiative title creates “confusion” and is “misleading” because it does not sufficiently inform voters about the waiver option.
The title that appears on the ballot gives voters a summary of what the initiative would do if it became law.
Further, the court said the proposed title does not sufficiently inform voters of the “virtual elimination” of bilingual education as an option for parents and schools if the initiative passes.
However, the court disagreed with English-plus in its claim that the initiative addresses more than one subject, which would have been a violation of the state constitution.
The court’s action returns the initiative to the state’s three-member Title Board to “fix” the title in accordance with the ruling.
Ron Unz, a California millionaire who is assisting Montero’s group and who has helped pass similar measures in California and Arizona, said the solution is as simple as changing some language.
Unz said wording in the court ruling might serve as a guideline for drafting a new title that would pass legal muster.
“We, ourselves, have a very strong interest in ensuring voters have a clear understanding of what the initiative does,” he said.
The time crunch stems from the fact the Title Board’s last meeting before the November election is scheduled for May 15. English for the Children must regain the board’s approval of the reworked title before it can start collecting signatures.
State law requires the group to obtain 80,571 signatures from qualified voters by 90 days before an election to place an initiative before voters.
“We do want to move it quickly,” Montero said.
Meanwhile, English-plus has the option of appealing any new title to the Supreme Court.
“We will oppose it just as we’ve done before,” Stanford said.
Contact Nancy Mitchell at (303) 892-5245 or at mitchelln@RockyMountainNews.com