TUSD must decide how to proceed with ethnic studies program

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Tucson Unified School District is facing a 10% cut in its state funding due to a ruling against its controversial Ethnic Studies program.

In a statement released Friday morning, State Superintendent of Public Education, John Huppenthal, upheld a judge's decision that the program violates a state law passed in 2010.

He says TUSD's Mexican-American studies program violates House Bill 2281, a law passed by the state legislature in Phoenix, banning ethnic studies programs throughout the state.

"I think today is a very sad day, it's a tragic day for Arizona," said Ethnic Studies lawyer Richard Martinez.

In his statement Huppenthal says, "A troubling, common theme arose time and time again in course and instructional materials, books and lesson plans: Latino minorities have been and continue to be oppressed by a Caucasian majority. This harmful, dispiriting message has no place in public education."

Now the district faces three options, scrap it, modify it or fight the decision in court.

"I voted against the first round of litigations, we spent more than $180,000 in outside attorney's fees in that round, so yes we can afford it, but I'm not sure it's worth it," said TUSD Board President Mark Stegeman.

"That's the price of freedom," said Martinez.  "The price of litigation and the price of freedom is you have to commit to resources."

If it does nothing, the district will face a 10% cut in state funding. That's about $15 million a year.

"I think its important for us to get past this issue, this has consumed a lot of oxygen around the district for the past year and a half since the bill passed," said Stegeman.

Huppenthal didn't suggest how exactly to move forward, but whatever the district decides to do, ethnic studies supporters are skeptical.

"There does not exist three votes on the school board to keep Mexican American studies, to take on the battle that needs to be fought to preserve Mexican American studies," Martinez said.

"Because it was never properly created in the first place, and because of the issues, I think it makes sense to start over," Stegeman said.

The funds owed to the state board of education are retroactive. The first payment, $4.9 million, is due in February.  The rest by the end of the school year.

The district will take up the issue at Tuesday's school board meeting.