Anti-Bilingual Ballot Measure Lauded, Praised at City 'Debate'

A proposed ballot measure that would eliminate bilingual education in Colorado drew praise and criticism Saturday during a debate at a downtown Denver hotel.

The debate, sponsored by La Promisa, was scheduled as part of the organization’s convention at the Doubletree Hotel.

Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., proposed the “English immersion” initiative for the November general election ballot.

The measure would change the state constitution to mandate school districts offer English immersion programs for students who do not speak English as their first language. Supporters began collecting petition signatures June 1 to put the initiative on the ballot.

Opponents contend the proposal takes decisions away from teachers and local educators who best know the needs of students. About 50 protesters gathered outside the hotel Saturday with signs like “Down With English Only.”

The protesters later joined about 150 people in the hotel ballroom to debate the proposal.

Chavez and Tancredo were scheduled to speak at the debate but did not appear – a fact that angered some people. Chavez had a family emergency, and Tancredo was on vacation.

Replacements Jeanine Chavez, a Hispanic activist, and Joe C de Baca, an instructor at the University of Pheonix, argued for English immersion, saying the initiative does not mean English only and that children should be able to “learn English in a year or two.”

C de Baca said the bilingual education system is an experiment that doesn’t work because kids can stay in the program for more than three years if they want.

Initiative opponents Jorge Garcia and Kathy Escamilla said the ballot measure is too vague. They asked about the structure needed to make the initiative work and how much it would cost.

Escamilla also questioned if the initiative is age-appropriate for all students, and she said the initiative would take control away from schools and open the floodgates for more loss of local control.

There are an estimated 50,000 limited-English students in Colorado who mostly speak Spanish. Approximately 17,000 are in Denver Public Schools, which is in the first year of a program to mainstream non-English speakers into English classes within three years.

The initiative may not affect Denver Public Schools because the district’s program is governed by a federal court order, Chavez has said.

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