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Bilingual education battle resumes

Although Amendment 31 went down to defeat, many of its critics agreed that the issue of bilingual education needed to be addressed.

It’s just that it shouldn’t be addressed through a constitutional amendment, they said, much less one that threatened teachers with the possibility of lawsuits.

So now along comes state Rep. Richard Decker, R-Fountain, with plans for a bilingual education bill of his own. If it was a sedate and focused debate on the subject that he wanted, he got off to a rocky start this week.



Decker has proposed banning bilingual education, as in Amendment 31, but replacing it with a two-year English immersion program, rather than the one-year program that was before voters. While he also promised to do away with the severe teacher sanctions, he threw in quite a twist: He questioned teaching any foreign languages in middle school, and particularly in elementary school.

“I would like to protect my native language,” he said.



By Wednesday, Decker was backtracking, saying he doesn’t intend to keep English-speaking students from foreign language instruction, or even ban bilingual ed. Apparently Decker realized, from early reaction to his comments, that he had gone too far.

English as our native language is safe. And we should be encouraging, not discouraging, our youth to learn other languages. Such knowledge boosts employability and cultural awareness, and is most easily attained by youngsters who have the time and the supple brains to learn.

School districts should be reviewing whether bilingual education is coming up short in meeting the needs of those who don’t speak English. They should consider immersion as another option for some students.

But as Amendment 31 also revealed, local control is a vital part of this whole discussion. It’s far better for local districts to be taking the lead in re-evaluating bilingual education than for state lawmakers – including some seemingly loose cannons – calling the shots for them.


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