Tucson public schools at risk of losing funding over Mexican-American studies

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The outgoing Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne, says that the Tucson Unified School District should lose a portion of their funding over their refusal to end its Mexican-American studies program which he says promotes racism. Horne said the classes “teach kids that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperial power structure that wants to oppress them.”

A new law, House Bill 2281, signed by Governor Jan Brewer in May, prohibits public schools from offering special classes aimed at specific ethnic groups. The law also bans classes that advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment towards a race or class or people, or advocate ethnic solidarity. The law went into effect on Jan. 1.

The bill was passed after three years of effort by Horne in the hopes of terminating the ethnic studies curriculum at TUSD, which he claims divides the students by race. “A fundamental role of the public schools is to take students of different backgrounds and teach them to treat each other as individuals and not of the race they were born into. Tucson Unified District does it the opposite,” Horne said. “They divide (students) by race and teach each group about its own background only.”

“These kids’ parents and grandparents came to this country, most of them legally, because this is the land of opportunity and they trust their kids to our public schools,” Horne said. “And we owe it to them to teach these kids that this is the land of opportunity and, if they work hard, they can achieve what they want to and not teach them that they’re oppressed.”

If the 53,500-student school district refuses to end the classes, the law provides a penalty of 10 percent in the reduction of their state aid, which would cost the district $15 million per year.

The new TUSC superintendent, John Pedicone, said the courses teach about the injustice and oppression committed against Mexicans in the same manner that African-American history classes include slavery. Pedicone intends to continue with the classes and hopes to reach an agreement with incoming state education superintendent John Huppenthal, that would permit him to do so.

The Mexican-American studies program is integrated in the district’s curriculum from kindergarten through high school. Although the classes are offered to all students, most of those who take the courses are Hispanic.

The director of the program, Sean Arce, and nine other teachers in the department filed a federal lawsuit in October to preserve the curriculum, saying the new law violates provisions of at least two constitutional amendments, including freedom of speech.

Horne, who was elected the state’s new Attorney General, said he will declare the district to be in violation of the new state law, triggering a 60-day grace period in which the district can correct or eliminate the program. He said it will then be up to his successor, Huppenthal, whether or not to withhold the state education funding.

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