Bilingual ed might wind up on ballot

Proposal's backers say English-immersion programs would work better for students

Colorado voters might be asked to dismantle bilingual education programs that critics say have created generations of “bi-illiterates.”

Bilingual opponents unveiled proposals Tuesday they want to put on next year’s ballot.

“We’re here to put a stop to bilingual education,” Rita Montero, a former Denver Board of Education member, said on the west steps of the Capitol.

“We’re here to ask that our kids be taught in English so that they can be competitive with other kids and have the same opportunities to go to college and to get decent jobs.”

She said Colorado has gone from one extreme — punishing students who don’t speak English by slapping their faces or putting soap in their mouths for speaking their native tongues — to keeping students in bilingual programs where they continue to speak their native language and never master English.

Montero is the chairwoman of English for the Children of Colorado, a group that wants to replace bilingual education with special immersion programs followed quickly by English-speaking classes.

Hispanic activist Paul Sandoval, who pushed for bilingual education while a Denver school board member and a state senator, denounced the campaign.

“I think it’s a travesty,” the Denver businessman said. ‘You have a good program working in this state right now. All they are going to do in my opinion is create animosity, friction and divisiveness.”

Montero said she expects opposition from Hispanic activists who view bilingual education as “the last bastion of the Chicano movement.”

Montero was flanked by several Hispanic parents who said their children fell behind in most subjects after being placed in bilingual programs.

And Joseph C’De Baca, who teaches social studies at Denver’s Grant Middle School, said some sixth-graders in bilingual programs still had not mastered English by the time they reached high school.

“Now they’re bi-illiterate,” he said.

Backers of the 2002 initiative submitted two proposals Tuesday to the Legislative Council, which must review proposals before sending them to the secretary of state.

One proposal replaces bilingual education with the immersion program while requiring taxpayers to spend $5 million annually over 10 years to teach English to immigrants, primarily parents or other community members who pledge to help tutor non-English-speaking students.

Campaign strategists worried that state officials would eventually decide that proposal was illegal because it bundled together two issues.

The law limits a ballot initiative to a single subject.

So to be safe, Montero said, they submitted another proposal that simply requires that English immersion programs replace bilingual education.

The initiative is similiar to one that failed to get on Colorado’s 2000 election ballot because of a technical problem.

Supporters will need 80,571 signatures to put the issue on next year’s ballot.

Contact Lynn Bartels at (303) 892-5405 or [email protected]

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