A Fort Collins philanthropist whose daughter is learning Spanish in a public dual-language program is giving $3 million to help fight to keep bilingual education alive in Colorado schools.
Friday’s donation by Patricia Stryker, a medical equipment heiress who is ranked 234 on Forbes’ 2002 list of 400 richest Americans, is believed to be among the largest political contributions in the state’s history.
The recipient is English Plus, a group formed to fight Amendment 31, the proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot to virtually eliminate bilingual instruction in K-12 schools statewide.
“Pat is a mom, and she is devoted to family and to enriching the lives of children,” said Stryker’s spokesman, Tom Hacker. “She thinks that parents and children all over Colorado should keep the same freedom of choice that she and her daughter enjoy.”
Rita Montero, chairwoman of English for the Children, the proponents of Amendment 31, likened Stryker to a “vampire.”
“You’ve got this rich, liberal woman who wants to educate her kid off of the backs of our kids by having our kids teach her child how to speak Spanish,” Montero said. “She’s sort of like a vampire sucking blood out of our kids and walking away with a smile on her face.”
Stryker was “out of reach” Friday and unavailable for comment, Hacker said. Her youngest daughter attends Harris Bilingual Immersion School in Fort Collins, a K-6 school that teaches its 285 students in English and Spanish.
The school’s future, if the amendment passes, is uncertain. That’s because Amendment 31 would require virtually all English-language learners to be placed in English-immersion classes for a year before they are moved into regular classrooms.
Parents at Harris Bilingual have actively campaigned against Amendment 31, earlier donating $1,000 to English Plus. In July, Stryker donated $75,000 to the group – its largest contribution until Friday.
English Plus officials say they will use the $3 million gift to fund an advertising blitz against Amendment 31. They said it will begin “soon” but declined to release details.
Both sides – English Plus and English for the Children – believe the money could make a significant difference. Earlier surveys have shown a majority of Colorado voters favor Amendment 31.
“We have known all along that if we could get our message out, the voters would listen,” said English Plus co-chair Gully Stanford. “Now we have the opportunity to expose the flaws in this proposed constitutional amendment.”
Montero’s group had been ahead in contributions. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz, who also has led anti-bilingual campaigns in Arizona, California and Massachusetts, has been the sole donor with more than $350,000 in loans.
Unz said Friday he could not top Stryker’s gift.
“That’s 2 ? times as much as I’ve spent on all the campaigns, combined,” he said.
Montero said Unz had committed financial support through the gathering of more than 80,000 signatures to secure a spot on the ballot. But she is unsure how much more he is willing to contribute.
“We have not created a budget for media (advertising),” Montero said, adding: “It sure does put things in a different light.”
Stryker, whose worth is estimated at $960 million by Forbes, is the granddaughter of Homer Stryker, an orthopedic surgeon who invented medical devices such as the Stryker saw used for cutting bones or casts. He founded what would eventually become the Stryker Corp., based in Kalamazoo, Mich.
Hacker said Patricia Stryker attended the University of Northern Colorado and is a longtime resident of Fort Collins. She had headed foundations there that have awarded more than $6 million in grants in the past six years, many targeting youth and school programs.
For example, the Stryker Short Foundation, renamed the Bohemian Foundation in April, once donated $35,000 to two elementary schools to implement a Spanish-language component.
But Hacker emphasized Stryker’s gift Friday was personal and not from her foundation.
“Pat wants the world to know that,” he said. “She has firsthand experience with the benefits of bilingual education because her child is enrolled in Harris.”