Most in poll favor bilingual-class limit

Limiting bilingual classes in public schools to one year is favored by a slim majority of Coloradans in a recent poll.

Opponents of a ballot proposal to eliminate bilingual education in favor of a one-year English immersion program say that poll result could spell doom for the initiative.

A bare majority, 51 percent, either “definitely” or “somewhat” supports the proposal to limit bilingual education. That compares with 39 percent opposed and 10 percent who don’t know how they’d vote, according to the poll by Ciruli Associates of Denver.

Ciruli’s question about limiting bilingual education to a year was a reference to the so-called English for the Children initiative, which would ban, not limit, bilingual education in most circumstances.

Bilingual education includes a variety of strategies for using students’ native language in the classroom. English for the Children would replace such techniques with a one-year “sheltered” English class – also called English immersion – then put non-native speakers of English into regular classes with native speakers.

“There’s confusion there because the initiative doesn’t limit bilingual classes to one year,” said its chief organizer, California businessman and politician Ron Unz. “Speaking in crude terms, it eliminates bilingual education and limits English immersion to one year.”

Unz said he commissioned a poll in Colorado over a year ago that showed far greater support for his initiative.

“We usually poll on, “Legislation is proposed which would require all public school education to be conducted in English and for students not fluent in English to be placed in an intensive English immersion program,'” Unz said.

If the poll reflects Coloradans’ views on English for the Children, it’s bad news for the initiative, said Steve Welchert, a political consultant for English Plus, a group formed to fight the initiative.

“For a ballot question not to be over 60 (percent) when it gets out of the gate is troubling at best” for its supporters, Welchert said.

Similar initiatives passed by big margins in California and Arizona, Welchert noted.

“Colorado has got a phenomenal history of local control, and to wrest local control away from local parents and local school boards requires a pretty significant problem, and at least in these early numbers that problem isn’t reflected,” he said.

Ciruli Associates polled 452 likely voters in late June and said the poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

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