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State: TUSD to lose 10% of funding over ethnic studies
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State: TUSD to lose 10% of funding over ethnic studies

Schools chief orders retroactive withholding

  • Demonstrators outside a TUSD board meeting, May 3.
    Kevin Asher/TucsonSentinel.comDemonstrators outside a TUSD board meeting, May 3.

TUSD will lose 10 percent of its state funding until it complies with a law that essentially bans its ethnic studies program, state schools chief John Huppenthal announced Friday.

The district could temporarily lose up to $8 million already this school year, said TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone. If a full year's funding is cut by 10 percent, the loss could be $15 million.

The Tucson Unified School District's ethnic studies program was targeted by a new law last year which bans courses that are designed primarily for one ethnic group, that advocate ethnic solidarity or promote resentment toward a race or class or people.

The district's Mexican American Studies program does all three, said Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.

In a move that surprised members of the district's Governing Board, Huppenthal said TUSD will lose 10 percent of its state funding, tallied from Aug. 15 through the present:

The assertion that TUSD’s Mexican American Studies Program was designed and implemented only to promote cultural diversity and a greater understanding of the role of Mexican Americans in this nation is inaccurate and incomplete. Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies Program courses, curriculum and classroom materials have been found to (1) promote resentment toward a race or class of people; (2) be designed primarily for the pupils of a particular ethnic group; and (3) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

Pursuant to Arizona state law, and until TUSD comes into compliance with A.R.S. § 15-112, I have directed the Arizona Department of Education to withhold ten percent of the monthly apportionment of state aid that would otherwise be due to Tucson Unified School District effective from August 15, 2011 through the present.

For the educational well-being of all TUSD students and to ensure its schools receive the adequate resources they need to deliver a quality education, I strongly urge the TUSD governing board to take decisive and immediate action to come into compliance with A.R.S. § 15-112.

TUSD's Governing Board has 5 days to appeal the decision.

Board member Michael Hicks, an opponent of the program, said he and other board members were never told that the district could have money withheld retroactively.

"That wasn't mentioned to me," he said. Depending on how the state calculates the amount, up to $8 million dollars could be withheld, Pedicone said. The money would be available to be restored once the district is found to comply with the law, he said.

Hicks said he will move to "suspend the classes pending time to come into compliance" at a board meeting Tuesday.

"I'd like to see American and Arizona history taught from multiple perspectives, not just Hispanic perspectives" in the classes, he said.

Board President Mark Stegeman also said the retroactive holdback was a surprise move.

The district "would have great difficulty coping" with the lose of that much funding, he said.

"It's safe to say that they are trying to increase the pressure on the board take immediate action," he said.

Stegeman said he is "unlikely to vote for an appeal" but doesn't want to "make any black and white statements until we've had the chance to discuss it as a board."

The board has been effectively split 2-2 on support of the MAS program, and it's unknown if newly appointed board member Alexandre Sugiyama will vote to appeal.

On Dec. 27, a administrative law judge rejected an appeal by the district of an earlier determination by Huppenthal.

"For the educational well-being of all TUSD students and to ensure its schools receive the adequate resources they need to deliver a quality education, I strongly urge the TUSD Governing Board to take decisive and immediate action to come into compliance," Huppenthal said in announcing his ruling.

Huppenthal offered no guidance as to how the district might comply with the law.

He said TUSD should develop "a transparent, public process to insure that all curriculum and course materials align with state education standards and applicable laws and are thoroughly vetted by educators, curriculum experts and the local community."

Pedicone said the district would ask the state Department of Education for guidance on how to change the program.

"I'm not expecting a whole lot," he said.

"I'd like to shut the program down and start over," said Stegeman last month, explaining that he supports the program's concept, but not its implementation. On a 3-2 vote, the Governing Board ousted Stegeman as president in 2010 after he proposed revamping the program. He was returned to his leadership position in a similar vote earlier this week, after Sugiyama was sworn in.

"The achievement gap (between low and middle-income students) is real. Some of the content is narrow and Euro-centric," he said in December. "Poor families, in poor neighborhoods, don't do as well. In our district, that means a lot of Latino kids."

The MAS program's status as a linchpin of a court-ordered desegregation program may tie the board's hands in making changes, Stegeman said. A federal appeals court ordered further oversight of TUSD's decades-long deseg efforts in July.

"We'd probably have to go back to the judge and have any modifications reviewed," he said.

"It'll be very hard to make adjustments" to the MAS program Pedicone said.

For ethnic studies supporters, "this runs far deeper than a course itself," he said.

"We have an obligation to not be insensitive to that perspective," he said, calling the controversy a "strongly charged emotional and political environment."

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