Archive for January, 2012
Ethnic studies case: District’s funds ordered cut
45 comments by Emily Gersema – Jan. 6, 2012 11:21 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com
The Arizona Department of Education imposed severe financial penalties on Tucson Unified School District on Friday for violating a new state law by refusing to revamp or end its controversial Mexican-American studies curriculum.
In a move aimed at forcing one of the state’s largest school districts to comply with the law banning racially divisive ethnic-studies classes, Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal said he is cutting state funding by 10 percent and making it retroactive to August, leaving the district facing an immediate funding loss of $4.9million.
The Tucson district and the state have been at odds for years over the ethnic-studies courses. The district says that they address segregation complaints filed in the 1970s, but state officials contend that they promote reverse racism.
Last year, the state put into effect the ethnic-studies law, which bans classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, encourage resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed solely for students of a certain ethnic background and advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of students as individuals.
Last week, state Administrative Law Judge Lewis Kowal upheld Huppenthal’s declaration, made last summer, that the Tucson district had violated the statute.
Huppenthal said he had given the district plenty of time to improve the program and address the state’s concerns and had no other choice but to impose penalties.
“The district hasn’t dealt with the issue,” Huppenthal said. “The problems are so deep and so wide, it would be almost impossible to cure the program.”
Under his decision, the Tucson school district, which was to receive $340million in state funds for this school year, will lose 10 percent, or slightly more than $1million, from its state checks each month, unless it complies with his demands.
If it fails to comply, it could lose more than $14million by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
The bulk of state money for schools is used for staff and operations.
The implications of the funding cuts were not immediately clear.
The Tucson school board will discuss the future of the ethnic-studies program at its scheduled meeting Tuesday, board President Mark Stegeman said. He didn’t have any immediate comment on Friday’s decision, and other board members didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
Huppenthal said the penalty is retroactive because he initially had declared the program illegal in the summer, and the funding cuts would have begun in August if Tucson hadn’t filed a complaint with the Arizona Office of Administrative Hearings asking an administrative-law judge to hear its challenge to his decision.
The program’s fate is unclear, though. A group of Mexican-American studies advocates and families suing Huppenthal in federal court asked a federal judge last month to stop the penalties from taking effect through a request for a preliminary injunction.
“We’re waiting for a decision,” said Richard Martinez, an attorney for the advocates.
“If there were ever circumstances that warranted a preliminary injunction, this is it.”
Martinez had filed the lawsuit in fall 2010 on behalf of families and supporters of the Mexican-American studies program. The case is pending.
Huppenthal said the state will not settle it outside court.
The ethnic-studies law that took effect one year ago was crafted by Huppenthal and his predecessor, Tom Horne, who is now the state attorney general. At the time, Huppenthal was in charge of the Senate Education Committee.
Horne began investigating the ethnic-studies programs in Tucson in 2006 while he was state superintendent of public instruction. He looked into it after students in Tucson booed and jeered one of his assistant superintendents speaking at the district and after residents and a former Tucson teacher, John Ward, complained that the program was creating racial tension.
Two years later, Horne began asking legislators to craft a law that would force the school district to revise the classroom lessons and teachers’ approach or end the program.
Before leaving for the Attorney General’s Office last January, the same month the law took effect, Horne said the Tucson schools’ program was illegal.
He left the task of enforcing it to Huppenthal, who succeeded him as state schools chief that month.
Huppenthal then commissioned a study of the program. In the summer, analysts involved with the study published a report saying the Mexican-American studies program was legal. Huppenthal disagreed.
After collecting various texts and materials that were associated with the Mexican-American studies program, Huppenthal said some of the texts, such as “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” written by Brazilian writer Paulo Freire and first published in 1968, were inflammatory and promoted racial hatred.
Education experts consider Freire’s book as the founding text of “critical race theory,” an approach commonly used today in higher education to analyze literature and history through the lens of people who have been oppressed.
“To create a sense of victimhood and inflame racial passions like that … I think it was completely appropriate for these issues to come to the surface and for us to deal with these issues,” Huppenthal said.
“Otherwise, these issues may never have seen the light of day. I think this public discussion is healthy.”
The Tuscon district’s ethnic-studies program has been a lightning rod for controversy for years. It was in large part borne of the district’s effort to fulfill court settlements of two segregation cases that were filed against it in the 1970s.
A judge then required the district to begin several years of improvements to end segregation and mistreatment of minority students.
The district, where more than 60 percent of the students are Latino, was released in 2010 from court monitoring in that case after a judge approved its final plan to end segregation. Ethnic-studies courses were included in that plan.
Teachers and Tucson-area professors who founded the Mexican-American studies program say that students in those courses perform better in schools.
However, Huppenthal and his staff believe there is no valid data available to substantiate that particular claim.
In fact, Huppenthal notes that the Tucson district, which has more than 50,600 students, has been a poorly performing district for many years, with students in several grades scoring below proficient levels in math, science, reading and writing.
When asked if his department will take control of the district to improve teacher and student performance to fulfill state and federal education standards, Huppenthal responded, “We’re a local-control state. We have high hopes for folks like (Tucson Superintendent) John Pedicone.
“I consider this (ethnic studies) a distraction.”
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2012/01/06/20120106arizona-ethnic-studies-case-funds-cut.html#ixzz1imaMxaKr
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