Victory for bilingual ed
English-immersion plan goes down to surprise defeat
Rocky Mountain News
November 6, 2002
By Nancy Mitchell And Holly Yettick,
Coloradans minced no words with the message they sent by voting down a
constitutional amendment that would have
changed the way non-native children learn the English language.
In plain and simple English, voters said "no" to Amendment 31. It would have
required English learners in Colorado public schools to spend no more than a
year in intensive English courses before moving to mainstream classes.
"The message from Colorado voters, in my opinion, is that we need to teach our
students English as quickly as possible, but that the initiative was too extreme
and too punitive for our state," said Denver School Board President Elaine
Berman, who campaigned against the amendment.
With final counts not yet in, the amendment's chief proponent refused to
"It clearly indicates probably close to half the population is saying bilingual
education is bad," Rita Montero said as she wrapped food after a party on the
33rd floor of Barclay Towers in LoDo. "By no stretch of the imagination, this
debate is not going away."
Manolo Gonzalez-Estay, campaign manager for the No on 31 campaign, agreed on
"Clearly, there are some concerns about bilingual education," he said. "With the
bipartisan support we have, it's important to address those issues so we don't
have to do this again."
The Colorado defeat was in stark contrast to victories for similar initiatives
all backed by the same California businessman - Ron Unz.
Unz initiatives passed by more than 60 percent in California in 1998 and in
Arizona in 2000.
On Tuesday, Massachusetts voters approved Unz-backed Question 2 by the biggest
margin yet - more than 70 percent.
This was not lost on the cheering Amendment 31 opponents who crowded into the
Sevilla nightclub/restaurant to dance to a mariachi band.
"Do you know what we have done?" opponent Gully Stanford asked the roaring
crowd. "You have stopped the juggernaut. You have stopped Ron Unz. And you have
done it here in Colorado where we care about diversity, where we care about our
Unz said there was one big difference between Colorado and Massachusetts: a $3
million donation to opponents from medical equipment heiress Pat Stryker.
Stryker's daughter attends Harris Bilingual School, where students learn English
and Spanish. Her gift is thought to be the largest individual donation to a
ballot initiative in Colorado history.
Unz poured just over $340,000 worth of loans into supporting the amendment.
"Obviously," said Unz, who was attending a victory party in Massachusetts
Tuesday, "it's very disappointing. And it does show how one billionaire can
certainly affect elections to an extraordinary extent."
Though the Colorado and Massachusetts measures were virtually the same, both
were tougher than the California and Arizona initiatives. Colorado and
Massachusetts proposals make it easier for parents of English learners to sue
educators who violate the law. That provision became a highlight of the No on 31
campaign as political ads warned that teachers would face lawsuits.
Opponents also warned that the measure would cost millions of dollars and would
restrict parental choice.
Pro-31 advocates, meanwhile, concentrated on claims that students in bilingual
classes often languish for years without learning English. They also hit on the
simple premise that U.S. schools should focus on English.
In Colorado, pollsters had predicted a tight race over the hotly contested
issue. The months-long campaign included claims of vote-buying, the shoving of
campaign workers, vandalism and even arson.
Support for the amendment initially was strong, but slipped in the weeks before
the election. Supporters of Amendment 31 blamed a TV ad blitz launched in late
September thanks to Stryker's donation.
"$3 million bought a lot of deception," Montero said. "It was money and lies."
Unz had no immediate plans to back another initiative against bilingual
education in Colorado.
"I really will have to think very carefully about that," he said. "I think the
results may move this issue to the national stage.
"Any issue that can win 70 percent of the vote in Massachusetts without a dollar
spent on advertising, I think, is an issue an awful lot of Republicans - and
Democrats for that matter - will take a very close look at."