Arizona Law Makes Ethnic Studies Classes Illegal

A new Arizona law banning ethnic studies courses in public schools went into effect on January 1st and it’s already wreaking havoc. The Tucson Unified School District currently stands to lose $15 million in funding for refusing to shut down its controversial classes.

Outgoing state school superintendent Tom Horne, in one of his last acts before he leaves for his new post as the AZ Attorney General, announced today that Tucson has 60 days to comply with the new law or have 10 percent of its $149 million budget withheld. But he said the final decision will be up to his replacement, John Huppenthal, who has supported the measure in the past.

Expect this showdown to get uglier this month, as Huppenthal takes office and the Tuscon school district—which filed a lawsuit in October saying that the law targeted one district (theirs) and one ethnic group (Mexican Americans)—prep for an appeal.

At issue: Courses like one offered district-wide in Tucson, which teaches American government from a Mexican American perspective and serve about 1,400 students, mostly of Mexican American descent. The district also offers much smaller African American and Native American courses.

Horne says the courses encourages anti-American hatred and hostility and foster a mentality of victimization. "It is fundamentally wrong to divide students up according to their racial group, and teach them separately," he said in a statement. Governor Jan Brewer signed the law in May, barring Arizona public schools from providing classes “designed for a particular ethnic group, that advocate ethnic solidarity or that promote resentment toward a race or group of people.”

Critics say that the law is just another form of legislated racism from the state that passed the controversial immigration law SB 1070.

Roberto Rodriguez, a University of Arizona professor who is on the district’s Mexican American studies advisory board, says the measure is a direct attack on Latinos and calls the state “the new South,” adding in several interviews that “it has no business telling the local school board what to teach. “The state superintendent is overreaching – meddling, literally.”

John Pedicone, the district’s superintendents, told newspapers that Mexican American studies department boasts “some pretty significant achievement results," citing data that shows that more than 70 percent of students that take the department’s courses go on to college. “It’s done some very important things, we believe, for an underserved population," says Pedicone. "The students that go through the program seem to do very well.”