Libertarians Debate Amendment 31

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

Libertarians Debate Amendment 31

[Following Seebeck's press release are some comments by other libertarians.]

Amendment 31 Speaks With Forked Tongue
"Limited Government - Individual Liberty - Personal Responsibility"
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9th, 2002
CONTACT: Mike Seebeck, Public Information Director
PHONE: (719) 382-9529


The Libertarian Party of Colorado announces its formal opposition to Amendment 31 -- English Language Education.

The proposed amendment to the Colorado Constitution:

* requires that all public school students be taught in English unless they are exempted;

* requires students who do not speak English (English learners) to be taught English through English language immersion programs;

* allows parents or legal guardians to request a waiver from English immersion requirements under certain circumstances and gives schools the power to approve or deny the request;

* authorizes a parent or legal guardian to sue for enforcement of the proposal;

* requires all English learners in grades two through twelve to be tested annually in English using a nationally standardized test.

It's no secret that the Libertarian Party would like to see the end of the public-funded school domination in education in favor of a purely competitive system. Amendment 31 is just another reason why.

The Amendment's other opponents offer three reasons to vote against this proposal. We give the facts on these points below.

1) Argument: The proposal restricts parental choice and local control of education.

Fact: PARTIALLY TRUE. While it does deny parents choice in what language their children will have as their primary language, that denial is alleviated by the choices of private or home schooling. But the choice of what a primary language will be for a child belongs with the parents, and not with the government, and not with other people.

2) Argument: The speed by which a student learns cannot be mandated by law.

Fact: TRUE. Because each child is unique, they learn at unique paces. By making an expectation of completion of English-immersion in one year, the proponents of this amendment show their ignorance of the education process, and they attempt to force a one-size-fits-all approach onto learning the English language. This type of approach is the fundamental failure of public education in general, and must not be repeated here.

3) Argument: The proposal adds another layer of testing requirements for English learners.

Fact: TRUE. The CSAP is bad enough of a distraction from true education and growth in the classroom already. Adding yet another test will do nothing to improve the situation, and in fact just cause even more distraction.

The proponents of this Amendment base their arguments on the ridiculous and elitist opinion that everyone in America ought to speak English, claiming that by doing so the children will not be "left behind" and not have "segregation of children based on language." Such arguments are based in the one-size-fits-all mentality and are really designed to continue teaching to the lowest common denominator instead of challenging our children to learn and grow, which is what education is all about. Plus, such a statewide mandate usurps control of the schools from local officials, and ultimately, from the parents.

Like most government programs, this one is destined for failure. Government schools already do a poor job of teaching English to children who already speak English. Why should we think they would do a better job teaching it to those who don't?

If the required tests prove English learners are not learning fast enough, what then? Do we throw more money at the problem? Do we reward failure? Or do we attach penalties to failure? Or do we just ignore the problem, which negates the need for testing? And if we then have no testing, then how do we know whether the new program is working? If the program doesn't work, what is the next step?

As we can see, this proposal, like many for the public school system, is not well thought out.

The Libertarian Party of Colorado supports families in their right to educate their children to the best of their ability, condemns efforts by the state to suppress and hold back children in their education, and urges voters to do the same by voting NO on Amendment 31.

[Carol Hill, a Libertarian who serves on the Leadville city council, sent the following e-mail to the "lpco-chat" e-mail list on September 12.]

I just read an article on bilingual education in the fall 2002 issue of Education Next. Summarizing his recent research, the author (Joseph Guzman) includes some points I thought some of you involved in this discussion might find interesting:

"Students taught using bilingual education obtain 0.6 years less of schooling and are also less likely to obtain a college degree...

"The best performance is found among students from Spanish-speaking households who make a rapid transition to English, either through English as a Second Language programs or through English immersion. The clear indication is that any positive returns owing to bilingual instruction are outweighed by the associated costs of delaying transition to English.

"Continuing to apply a distinct and unproven education pedagogy to a large class of new Americans is an invitation to a variety of social problems. Chief among them is the exacerbation of the problems the pedagogy was orginally intended to address--namely low academic performance and limited economic opportunities. Intended or not, this has been the result of apply the unproven pedagogy of bilingual education to millions of U.S. Hispanics."

...It's been my experience that whatever happens, the educrats will find some way to spin it into a need for more money next year... Re: Amend. 31, I'm not sure the LP should have an official position. To me it seems a bit like asking a pro-lifer which method of abortion they prefer, or asking a death penalty opponent to decide on a method of execution. It seems to me the only thing the LP has to say about this Amend. is that it is a good example of why government schools don't work--via law they mandate one-size-fits-all instructional programs--however this vote turns out, the result is not going to work for everyone. I think it might be better for the LP to use this Amend. as an opportunity to highlight the flaws in govenment schools, and to state our position that parents should be making the decisions and taking the responsibility when it comes to educating their children, and to do that, parents need choices, not more mandated programs, and resources, i.e., they need to get their money back so they can spend it on the education they choose, instead of what's been chosen for them.

[Steve Gresh, a Libertarian candidate for state house, offered the following comments on September 12.]

I believe that Amendment 31 would reduce the amount of taxpayers' money that is spent on education. By eliminating "bilingual" educational services (which really means multilingual given that more than just Spanish-speaking students are currently receiving special services), replacing those services with English immersion would result in a net reduction in costs to taxpayers. One or two years of English immersion for a child is much less expensive than K-12 multilingual classes in every subject...

[Seebeck replied...]

Nope. What you forget is that not every school district currently has bilingual education. Currently it is OPTIONAL at the discretion of the school districts. Local control. This English immersion plan is MANDATORY, without the discretion of the school districts. That means that the school districts that neither have nor need bilingual will be forced to waste money implementing a program they neither want nor need. That means that either these districts raise taxes to pay for it, since Amendment 23 funds donŐt cover it, or expenses get cut elsewhere, which just won't happen, courtesy of the teachers union...

In my RURAL school district the parents want as much local control as possible and they don't want Denver to interfere in any way. These parents are my neighbors... and not some special interest group... Don't say I didn't warn you, but if this passes, taxes will go up and test scores will go down, lawsuits will happen (that ten-year liability thing that was stuck in there!), and the kids won't learn...

[The Colorado Progressive Coalition is not a libertarian group, but it supports Seebeck's argument about taxes. CPC sent out a message that included the following text.]

Amendment 31 will make costs to taxpayers skyrocket by taking funding out of our children's classrooms to fund the implementation of the amendment. We all know how hard it is to get our schools the resources they need to do a good job. Amendment 31 will make it that much more difficult in a time when Colorado faces a huge state budget shortfall.

[Michael McKinzie made the following comments.]

Am I the only the only LP-er who has experience with this issue? ...My mother is full-blood Cajun. Her entire family is bi-lingual. Except my grandmother, ( God rest her soul ). My Aunts and Uncles are all bi-lingual, English/ French. All my cousins speak only English, as do I. Some better, some worse, most accented, but English.

My Mother, Aunts and Uncles learned English starting in the first grade. They spoke Patoix at home, English everywhere else. They all raised their kids to speak English. No crying or whining about losing the culture, or the language, it had to be. They recognized that to succeed in this country one has to speak English. They taught their children, me included, English. They did this voluntarily to insure that the kids, me included, would have a better life than they had.

My Aunts, Uncles, and my Mother will tell you that speaking the native tongue is fine at home, but, if you want to live in this country, you have to speak English. They learned English through what is now called 'Immersion'. They also took the responsibility to make sure their kids learned English at home...

The Colorado Freedom