Measure recalls Amend. 31 fight
DENVER POST, Jan 18
By Monte Whaley
Denver Post Education Writer
Saturday, January 18, 2003 - Immigrant students in Colorado would be immersed in English-only classes for two years under a bill introduced Friday that recalls the brutal campaign over Amendment 31.
Rep. Richard Decker, R-Fountain, said he hopes his proposal will not be as divisive as the failed measure, which pitted English-only proponents against backers of bilingual education in an expensive campaign in fall.
But it still would force schools to make sure non-English speaking students learn English as soon as possible. "I don't think that's an unfair expectation, whether it is a child from a German, Czech or Russian family," Decker said.
Amendment 31 would have required one year of English immersion, while Decker's bill allows for two.
The ballot measure also would have allowed lawsuits against bilingual teachers whose students failed to learn English.
Decker's bill also would let parents sue to force a school to teach only English to their children.
But he said he would allow that provision to be taken out without much objection.
"I'm not going to fall on my sword on that issue," said Decker, a retired teacher. "The greater good might be served to put the bill through without that language."
The bill provides that once an English-language learner acquires "reasonable" fluency and is able to perform regular school work in English, the student would be transferred to a mainstream classroom.
Parents could request a waiver from the English-immersion requirements if:
The child has lived in the United States for three years or less.
Their child already possesses good English-language skills as measured through testing.
Parents, principals and teachers believe an alternative program would be better suited to teach the student English.
School districts that don't comply with the bill's provisions could have funding for English-language acquisition classes eliminated.
The bill mimics Amendment 31 because it still would take away a school district's control over the education of immigrant students, said Jane Urschel, associate executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
Cutting off a district's funding for not meeting the bill's requirements is too harsh of a punishment, Urschel said. "It's very directive," she said. "That was part of the problem with Amendment 31."
Still, Urschel said, her group will work with Decker to soften the bill while still ensuring that students will learn English. "The public and educators want to address this problem," she said. "We're just not sure this is the way to address it."