Original URL: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/election/article/0,1299,DRMN_36_1453075,00.html

Owens decries bilingual plan: Amendment 31 has fatal flaws, governor says

By John J. Sanko, Rocky Mountain News
October 2, 2002

Gov. Bill Owens added his voice Tuesday to those opposed to the
ballot measure that would replace bilingual education in
Colorado's public schools with English immersion classes.

"If there ever was a case of the devil being in the details, it's Amendment 31,"
Owens said in a brief statement announcing his opposition.

The governor said he struggled before coming to a decision.

"Proposals to make proficiency in English a top priority in our schools have merit,
and I support them," he said. "Unfortunately, Amendment 31 is strikingly different
than English immersion proposals enacted in California and Arizona."

Owens specifically cited a section of the ballot measure that would give parents up
to 10 years to sue school officials.

Amendment 31 allows parents to request waivers for their children to enroll in
alternative programs. However, if the parents decide the waiver was granted in error
or "injured" their child, they could sue the official who granted it.

The initiative's proponents said in California and Arizona the waivers were abused
by districts trying to get around the law. The 10-year window was to protect the
right of immigrant parents who might not be familiar with the legal system.

"It's a shame that such a worthy goal to help Colorado's children is being
sidetracked by unnecessary language that, ultimately, is a fatal flaw," Owens said.

The news was hailed by opponents of the ballot measure, who last month had plenty
to cheer about after Fort Collins philanthropist Patricia Stryker gave $3 million to
the fight against Amendment 31.

But it was a bitter disappointment, although not a surprise, for former Denver School
Board member Rita Montero, who has led the fight for its passage.

Amendment 31 would replace bilingual education in public schools with
English-immersion classes that students would take for a year before joining other
English-speaking classmates.

"I assumed that's the way he would go," said Montero, who predicted rank-and-file
Republicans will back the measure, even if GOP officeholders like Owens do not.

"Republicans always come out saying people should be a part of this country and
they should speak English. But leadership refuses to acknowledge that rank-and-file
of their base," Montero said.

"It's unfortunate their leadership is too cowardly to support this when they know it's
the best thing for kids. Being successful in this country means being able to speak

But critics of the measure said they were pleased to have the governor on their side.
They argued schools should be allowed to determine what's best for each child -
bilingual programs in some cases, English immersion in others.

Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat who opposes the amendment, praised
the governor's stand. Salazar said he and Owens have had "passing conversations"
on the issue.

"I think the governor is doing the right thing here," Salazar said. "I think he
recognizes in the statement that English is important - it's a laudable goal - but
Amendment 31 isn't the way to do it."

Salazar said he personally felt it had other flaws than what the governor mentioned,
"including the fact that it totally destroys parental choice."

Denver School Board President Elaine Berman cheered when she heard the
governor's decision.

"That's great, that's fabulous - it's the best news I've heard since I learned about
the $3 million," Berman said when reached at home.

Berman, whose board has voted to oppose the ballot issue, said she was concerned
that the governor might be leaning the other way. She did not speak to him
personally, however.

"This could make a real difference in the election," Berman said, adding that she
hoped the governor would take an active role in speaking out against the measure.

California businessman Ron Unz, who has given more than $350,000 in loans to
back the issue, similar to measures he pushed in California and Arizona, could not
be reached for comment.

He won support for his proposals in those two states, despite opposition from

Montero said Owens "made no attempt to try to seek us out and ask our side - he
doesn't understand the initiative. He doesn't understand what kids have been

She said only a month ago she visited a class of Spanish-speaking youngsters, and
every one of them raised a hand when she asked who wanted to speak English.

"A little girl said, 'If I learn English, I'm going to be able to go to college, get a good
job and make a lot of money,' " Montero said. "I wish the governor could have heard
her and those other children."

Rollie Heath, the Democrat who is challenging Owens for the governorship in
November, criticized the governor for not acting earlier, but said he applauded the

"It's about time Bill Owens took a stand on this," Heath said. "But better late than
never. It's interesting that he waited until after $3 million was put towards defeating
the amendment."

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