Bilingual ed issue won't be on ballot

July 11, 2000 – A proposal to end bilingual education in Colorado won’t go before voters in November because the state Supreme Court on Monday rejected the ballot wording as “unclear and misleading.”

The 7-0 decision said a title and description of the ballot issue approved by state officials also include improper sloganeering and might cause “confusion.” The court said the measure cannot go on the ballot in its present form.

Proponents of the initiative called the decision “deeply disappointing” and said it doesn’t leave them enough time to start over and still meet the Aug. 7 deadline for submitting petition signatures.

“The odds are stacked against us” for this year, said Jennifer Collins, a spokeswoman for One Nation Indivisible and its local arm, Colorado English for the Children.

But, she added, “If it doesn’t happen this November, it’ll happen in 2002.”

The group, based in Washington, D.C., was behind a similar initiative that passed in California in 1998 and also is supporting an Arizona ballot issue this year.

“I believe this decision was motivated more by politics than by good legal reasoning,” said Linda Chavez, president of One Nation Indivisible. She and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican from Littleton, were spearheading the Colorado effort.

“Both state and federal courts have upheld the constitutionality of the California initiative, which includes the very language the Colorado Supreme Court objected to,” Chavez said.

Tancredo called the ruling “completely predictable.

“I warned Ms. Chavez that this court has a proclivity to postpone a decision until it’s too late to proceed,” he said.

Tancredo called the court “the most political entity in the state of Colorado.” The ballot issue would require all public school students to be taught in English and prohibit any school district from being required to offer a bilingual program.

Students who don’t speak English would go into a one-year “English-immersion” program. Parents who wanted bilingual education could ask for a waiver.

Kathy Escamilla of Common Sense Colorado, a group formed to fight the initiative, said that only about 12,000 of the 52,000 Colorado public school students who don’t speak English are in bilingual programs. Others are in English as a second-language (ESL) classes.

She said 95 of the state’s 176 school districts have bilingual education programs.

Escamilla and other members of the group vowed to fight any 2002 initiative, too.

“If they come back, we’ll be ready,” said Lorenzo Trujillo, one of the attorneys representing the winning side.

The 16-page opinion, written by Justice Gregory Hobbs, said the three-member state board that sets ballot titles used misleading language in phrasing the 268-word ballot question.

The ballot title fails to mention the provision that no schools shall be required to offer bilingual programs, he pointed out.

“This omission of a key feature … is material and renders the titles and summary misleading,” the court said.

It “promotes confusion” and could be interpreted as offering a choice between bilingual and immersion programs.

Justices also said that including a phrase that children must be taught English “as rapidly and effectively as possible” improperly generates support without contributing to voters’ understanding.

The words constitute “a prohibited catch phrase,” the court said, and “because they operate as a slogan, the Title Board is not free to include them in the titles.”

But the court rejected opponents’ arguments that the proposal violated the state’s single-subject rule for ballot issues.

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