Tom Horne to Withhold Funds Over Ethnic-Studies Controversy

By Mary Ann Zehr — January 03, 2011 1 min read
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Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne announced today that Tucson Unified School District is in violation of a new state law that bans public schools from offering ethnic-studies courses that are designed for a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity.

The law went into effect on Dec. 31 and Horne took action on the matter just hours before he was expected to leave his post as state schools chief to become the state’s attorney general. He sent out a press release saying he was to hold a “lame-duck session with himself” today and announce in a press conference his findings that Tucson Unified violates the new ethnic-studies ban. To the press release, he attached a statement saying that the Tucson Unified School District has 60 days to eliminate its Mexican-American studies courses or have 10 percent of its state funds withheld.

“It is fundamentally wrong to divide students up according to their racial group, and teach them separately,” Horne wrote in the statement. The press release estimates that Tucson Unified could lose $14.9 million if it doesn’t comply, but the law permits the district to appeal Horne’s decision.

Back in October, teachers and administrators from Tucson Unified filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the state ban on ethnic studies. The teachers “believe that the act is the product of racial bias aimed specifically at Hispanics, is unlawful, results in impermissible deprivations of rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit says. It contends the law violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, including the equal protection and due process clauses. The lawsuit also contends that Horne doesn’t have evidence to show that the 60,000-student Tucson school district has violated the state’s ethnic-studies law in the way that it has designed and teaches the courses.

In a visit to Tucson Unified last September, teachers and students told me that the Mexican-American studies courses help to make the curriculum more relevant for students of Mexican-American heritage, though some students of other backgrounds were also taking the courses.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.