A group made up mainly of business people asked businesslike questions Thursday about a proposed constitutional amendment that would require English language learners to be taught in English.
Among the questions asked during a debate at the Denver Rotary Club luncheon: How much would the initiative cost? What kind of legal liabilities might arise? Would the measure help immigrants succeed in America?
Rita Montero, a former Denver school board member and chairwoman of English for the Children of Colorado, represented initiative supporters.
Gully Stanford, a state school board member and co-chair of English Plus, represented initiative opponents.
The two disagreed on nearly every point raised, including how much the measure would cost if approved by Colorado voters in November.
Montero said the measure would save money because schools would no longer need to buy books in Spanish or recruit Spanish-speaking teachers from Latin America.
The initiative includes a new requirement to test English language learners using a nationally normed exam.
Stanford said that would mean using 12 separate nationally normed exams – one for each subject for which Colorado has state standards – at a cost of $15 per test for 70,000 English language learners.
Stanford says it would require an additional $13.4 million to start intensive English classes where students would spend a period not normally to exceed one year.
Stanford also said the measure would create legal problems because it allows parents to sue for 10 years if their children are wrongly granted certain types of waivers from the initiative’s requirements. School officials who “wilfully and repeatedly” violate the measure cannot use insurance to pay legal costs.
Montero said the strong legal language is necessary to prevent schools from violating the measure, as they have in California and Arizona, where similar initiatives have passed. No parent in those states has sued a school official for violating the measure.
As for the insurance measure, that’s a “relatively simple legal concept” that is already outlined in most insurance policies, said Charlie Schmidt, spokesman for the Alliance of American Insurers, a national trade association representing 340 property casualty insurance companies. That concept? Don’t expect your insurance to cover you if you willfully violate the law.
Montero said the measure is needed to help immigrant children succeed in this country.
“Let us speak English,” she said. “Let us be like everybody else.”
But Stanford said the measure’s one-size-fits-all solution won’t necessarily accomplish that goal.
“This is unfortunately an e-mail with a virus in it,” he said.