No on 31: It's a poison pill
Denver Post Editorial
Sunday, October 06, 2002 - One peril of the initiative process is that
Colorado voters may be hoodwinked into passing a constitutional amendment that
on its face seems worthy but actually contains a corrosive poison pill with dire
ramifications in the future.
That's our principal (but by no means only) beef with Amendment 31, championed
by "English for the Children," which has coyly wrapped itself in an
altruistic-sounding name. The proposal mandates English immersion programs to
put non-English-speaking students on a fast track to fluency.
Under English for the Children, students will be taught English from day one.
With rare exceptions, they'll get one year in so-called "sheltered immersion"
classes before being mainstreamed.
The most onerous part of the proposal is that teachers and administrators who
fail to abide by the amendment can be sued, fired and prohibited from working in
education or holding a position of authority in Colorado government for five
years. Also, "offenders" can't be indemnified by districts and are barred from
buying private liability insurance. Such a Draconian measure is so unreasonable,
disproportionate and vicious it has no place imbedded in our constitution.
Parents would have the right to request waivers permitting their children to be
in bilingual programs. If the waiver is granted, the child would likely be
transferred to a class where subjects are taught through traditional bilingual
But a major pitfall of the initiative is that if parents later decide their
child should have been immersed, they retain the right to sue the administrator
who granted the waiver for up to 10 years. Those eligible for waivers are
children who already know English, children age 10 or older who are having
academic problems learning English and children with proven physical and
The repercussions of Amendment 31 could be immense. There are 70,000 non-English
speaking children in Colorado schools. Sixty-eight percent are in English as a
Second Language courses with no other native-language support and 32 percent are
in classes with some form of native-language support.
Taking children out of bilingual instruction too soon and forcing them into
mainstream classes could have a phenomenal impact on an already-dreadful dropout
In addition to social costs, Amendment 31 also requires an additional layer of
testing that could cost $16 million - money that should be spent in the
classroom. In Arizona, where an immersion initiative passed, it's costing $30
million to run the program.
We believe intensive English immersion can help many kids acquire the language
sooner, but it's no panacea: There must be flexibility so districts can tailor
programs to meet the needs of children, not to please zealots who want to
inflict their concepts on others. Amendment 31 is seriously flawed because it
seems focused more on vengeance than on its stated goal.