Colorado Court Kills Bilingual Initiative

Published September 1, 2000

The Colorado Supreme Court on July 12 unanimously rejected a pending ballot initiative which, if approved, would have virtually eliminated that state’s bilingual education programs. Initiative backers are criticizing the timing of the court’s decision, which came too late for a revised measure to be filed in time to qualify for the November ballot.

The court held that wording contained within the title and summary of the proposed state constitutional amendment was “unclear and misleading and employed a prohibited catch phrase.” The title and summary were not drafted by initiative proponents, but were written by a three-member appointed Title Board.

The court found the summary neglected to articulate the amendment’s provision that no school district or school “shall be required to offer a bilingual program.” The ruling also held that the initiative’s title, which called for “all children to be taught English as rapidly and effectively as possible” employed the catch phrase “as rapidly and effectively as possible.” Under state law, the use of that catch phrase disqualified the initiative from appearing on the ballot.

The Colorado proposal was based on California’s Proposition 227 and very similar to a measure slated for this fall’s ballot in Arizona. Organizers of the initiative already had collected more than half of the 62,000 signatures required by August 7 to qualify for the November ballot.

Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado), a leader of the group organizing the reform effort, called the decision a politically motivated one. He noted he had warned his bilingual reform allies that “this court has a proclivity to postpone a decision until it’s too late to proceed.”

The reformers vowed they would be back again in 2002, the next opportunity provided under Colorado law for ballot initiatives.