State's high court may hear ballot issue
Wording of proposal dismantling bilingual education in dispute

John Sanko
Denver Rocky Mountain News
Thursday, December 20, 2001

The battle over whether dismantling bilingual education should be on the November ballot appears headed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Opponents said they will go that route after a state board Wednesday rejected their argument the proposed ballot measure is unconstitutional because it contains more than one subject.

"We have five days in which to file a motion (with the Supreme Court), and we will do so," said attorney Edward Ramey, who represents a group opposed to the effort.

Backers must gather 80,571 signatures to get the question on November's ballot.

Former Denver School Board member Rita Montero wants voters to reject the state's current bilingual education program and to replace it with a program of English-language immersion.

"Our children have been denied an education in English for as long as I can remember," she told the board that approves the ballot language.

Teaching youngsters in Spanish rather than English, she warned, only results in their remaining in "a language they cannot function in in this country."

She had support from George Chavez, a Denver-area resident who argued bilingual education should be abolished.

"It has been a total failure for 30 years," Chavez said. "This entire hearing is being conducted in English. Teaching kids how to speak English -- that's the whole thing."

The board denied a rehearing on the single-subject challenge on a 2-1 vote with only Solicitor General Alan Gilbert voting in opposition. It unanimously rejected challenges to the wording in the ballot title itself.

Supporters have presented two variations of the same proposal; they plan to circulate petitions for only one of them, but haven't decided which one. Both dismantle the current bilingual program, replacing it with a one-year English immersion program. But one also creates a $5 million community-based tutorial program as well.

"This initiative is set up to kill bilingual education," Ramey said, despite the fact it includes a waiver provision for school districts that think bilingual education is useful. "It's quite obvious that's its intent."

But attorney Matt Briscan, representing Montero and proponents, argued the subject matter clearly involved one subject -- a constitutional right for all children to have an education in English. And he said the ballot language was "clear, fair and accurate."

"This is a constitutional amendment being proposed," Briscan said. "It's going to change the status quo. That is up to the public to decide."

Montero said all she wanted was for youngsters in Colorado's public schools to "have the same opportunities as all children whether they are born here or not."