Original URL: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/opinion/article/0,1299,DRMN_38_1487354,00.html

The downfall of Amendment 31
Rocky Mountain News. October 20, 2002

Although we are declared opponents of Amendment 31, we in no way defend the indefensible practice of herding children with limited English skills into classrooms where they are mostly taught in their own language, delaying their acquisition of English sometimes for years.

Far too many Colorado children are in bilingual programs of this kind - 32 percent of English learners across the state, 42 percent in Denver, which is operating under a court order. Even three years, which is the current standard both statewide and in Denver, is too long.

No, our objections to the amendment are these:

The harsh penalties provided for educators who issue waivers allowing children to participate in bilingual education;

The muddled language, which makes it impossible to predict what will happen to the education of the remaining 68 percent of Colorado's 70,000 English learners;

The fact that this punitive and poorly drafted measure would become a part of the state Constitution, where its manifest flaws could not be corrected without another statewide vote of the people.

Penalties: Ron Unz, principal sponsor of the amendment, has said that the penalty sections of the California initiative (which passed in 1998) and the Colorado measure are "virtually word-for-word identical." That is simply not true. In California, parents can sue if their child has been denied the option of an English-language education. The Colorado amendment says parents can sue if they have by their own choice passed up the option of an English-language education and later have second thoughts. That is, parents who request a waiver of the immersion requirement (so that their children can be taught partly in their native language) can sue the people who granted their request any time in the next 10 years if the parents decide their request should have been denied.

Muddles: Most English learners in Colorado are in a pull-out program of some kind, where they spend most of their day in
regular classes, and one or two periods studying English. Those language classes are not taught in the child's native language; in fact they often mix children who speak a variety of languages. So by one reading of the amendment, they are already in English-language classrooms and wouldn't need a waiver. But by another provision, they are still English learners, and therefore must be placed in separate "immersion" classes devoted solely to teaching them English, which many schools do not now have. How are schools to resolve this ambiguity in the state constitution with the threat of legal action hanging over them?

Constitution: California's constitutional measure specifically allowed the state legislature to override some of its provisions,
although it required a supermajority. That safety valve has been removed here.

And we haven't even touched on the expensive new testing mandates, the narrowing of the grounds for waivers or the ban
on insurance for educators who issue them. There is indeed a problem with bilingual education, but Amendment 31 is not the solution.


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