Arizona’s new schools chief is keeping up the pressure on the Tucson Unified School District to change or eliminate its Mexican-American Studies program.
A statement issued Tuesday by Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal said he agreed with his predecessor that the program as it now exists is illegal under a new state law. A noncompliance finding was issued by former schools chief Tom Horne hours before he left office to be sworn in as state attorney general on Monday.
The district’s board passed a resolution last week saying it believes the program complies with state law without any changes. District superintendent John Pedicone did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Details of the program posted on the district’s website clearly show that it is designed for Latino students and therefore violates at least one of the four prohibitions in the law, Huppenthal said.
“Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the board insisted that the program in question was already in compliance,” his statement said.
The finding that the program is illegal triggers a 60-day period for the district to change or eliminate it. Huppenthal said he will review the program during that time and work with the district to help it meet the new law’s requirements.
If they are unsuccessful in resolving the issue and an appeal to an administrative law judge is unsuccessful, the district could lose up to 10 percent of its state funding until it complies, roughly $15 million per year.
Horne fought for years to get the district to eliminate its Mexican-American ethnic studies program, which he says promotes racial resentment toward whites while segregating students by race.
The state Legislature passed a law last year banning classes designed primarily for students of a particular race, that advocate ethnic solidarity or promote resentment toward a certain ethnic group. It also prohibits classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.
The law was designed by Horne to specifically target the Tucson school program.
Horne said on Monday that he found that the Tucson district’s program violated all four prohibitions in the law, although only one violation can trigger the financial penalties.
The law went into effect on Dec. 31, so Horne used the window before his swearing in to issue the formal finding it requires. As attorney general, he will be able to represent the state education department if Huppenthal decides to pursue financial penalties.