Let the language battle begin.
A Colorado Supreme Court ruling has cleared the way for an initiative virtually eliminating bilingual education in the state’s schools to go before voters in November.
All that remains is the collection of more than 80,000 signatures by Aug. 5.
The initiative’s sponsors, English for the Children of Colorado, have said that will not be a major problem. Pollster Paul Talmey of Talmey-Drake Research & Strategy in Boulder agrees.
“It’s not like it’s hard to get people in agreement,” he said, referring to recent Rocky Mountain News/News4 polls showing strong support for the initiative.
“So if they get their circulators out, they’ll certainly get the people to sign it and get it on the ballot,” Talmey said.
Rita Montero, local chairwoman of English for the Children, said the group has hired a professional petition-circulating company and will begin collecting signatures immediately.
“We really should have started in May, if not earlier,” Montero said. “We did have our petitions printed so we’d be ready to go.”
English-plus, the group which twice challenged the initiative in the state Supreme Court, promises vigorous opposition.
Co-chairman Gully Stanford pledged to spend “every waking moment between now and August” trying to discourage people from signing the petitions.
Under the ballot initiative, English-language learners would spend no more than a year learning English alongside children with similar English skills. After that, they’d be sent to mainstream classes unless they got a waiver from the school.
The state Supreme Court on Thursday approved a language change for the ballot title, allowing the group to start circulating the petitions.
English-plus had challenged the proposed title of the ballot initiative, arguing it didn’t sufficiently inform voters that it would mean the dismantling of bilingual education in Colorado schools.
The court initially agreed with English-plus and sent the proposal back to the state’s Title Board for correction. But this week, the court approved the revised title with language stating it would be very difficult for students to obtain waivers.
English-plus supports bilingual education, which typically means some instruction takes place in the student’s native language. In Colorado, nearly one in 10 students is learning English.
A similar fight over teaching English language learners already has been waged in Arizona and California, where California millionaire Ron Unz helped pass anti-bilingual education initiatives. This year, Unz is assisting campaigns against bilingual education in Colorado and Massachussetts.
Contact Karen Abbott at (303) 892-5188 or abbottk@RockyMountainNews.com.