Two-thirds of Colorado voters support a ballot proposal to clamp down on bilingual education, according to a Rocky Mountain News/News4 poll.
A telephone survey of 541 Colorado voters showed 68 percent in favor, 26 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided.
The poll was conducted between Feb. 8 and Feb. 20 by Talmey-Drake Research and Strategy of Boulder. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.
That early support for the proposed initiative will erode, predicted one of its main opponents.
“At this point in an election cycle, it’s typical to find voters expressing their frustration in a call for change — i.e. anything is better than the current situation,” said Gully Stanford, co-chairman of English +, a committee that opposes the initiative.
Stanford is confident that over the summer, his group will convince voters “this is a complex issue and the proposal is not the right thing.”
Not so, says Rita Montero, who heads English for the Children of Colorado, which supports the initiative.
“There are a whole lot of people who believe that bilingual education, for whatever reason, just hasn’t worked for 20 years and they think it’s time for a change,” Montero said.
The initiative would require English language learners across Colorado to join mainstream classes after no more than a year of intensive English instruction. Parents could opt out of this requirement, requesting bilingual education, which generally means at least some instruction takes place in a child’s native language.
But Stanford called this opt-out solution “wildly impractical” and “almost impossible to administer in an equitable manner.”
School districts’ budgets, he said, would be severely strained as they paid to re-tool their current classes while also maintaining other options. Stanford also balked at the initiative’s requirement that the state increase its testing load by requiring English language learners in second grade and higher to take a “standardized, nationally normed” test each year.
But English language learners should take such a test, if only to ensure they are keeping pace with peers in other states, according to Ron Unz, a California businessman who is backing Colorado’s English immersion plan after helping pass similar initiatives in California and Arizona.
Unz also challenged the argument that his initiative would be a financial drain.
“It didn’t cost anything in California,” he said. “None of these things happened in California. It’s hard to see why they would suddenly happen in Colorado.”
However, Stanford maintains that what is right for California is not necessarily right for Colorado.
“We must do more to provide immigrants with English language proficiency,” he said. “The problem exists, but the solution is too simplistic. Immigrants are not widgets to be instructed on a production line. They are individuals with different needs.”
Two versions of the initiative are before the state Supreme Court. If the ruling, expected in the next few weeks, is favorable, supporters can start collecting signatures to get the initiative on the ballot this fall.