The Arizona Department of Education on Friday ordered severe funding cuts for the Tucson Unified School District over its Mexican-American studies curriculum, saying the ethnic studies program is a violation of state law.
John Huppenthal, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, said he's cutting state funding by 10 percent and making it retroactive to August, leaving the Tucson district facing an immediate $4.9 million funding loss and a more than $14 million loss by June, the Tucson Citizen reported.
The state has long been at odds with the Tucson district over the Mexican-American program, with state officials contending the classes promote reverse racism, according to the Citizen. An Arizona law passed last year -- which directly targeted Tucson's program -- bans classes designed for a particular ethnic group or which "promote resentment toward a race or class of people."
Huppenthal told the newspaper he gave the school district ample time to improve its program and address the state’s concerns, but finally had no choice but to impose penalties.
“The district hasn’t dealt with the issue,” he told the Citizen. “The problems are so deep and so wide, it would be almost impossible to cure the program."
In a statement, Huppenthal said the classes teach that "Latino minorities have been and continue to be oppressed by a Caucasian majority," the Los Angeles Times reported.
But the program's proponents say the classes simply teach the truth, and claim students who take them perform better in school -- something those who oppose it dispute.
"Unfortunately our history is filled with major mistakes," Richard Martinez, a lawyer for the program told Tucson NBC affiliate KVOA-TV. "Things that we could have done better."
He said he hopes a federal judge will rule that a law prohibiting certain types of classes is unconstitutional. An Arizona judge ruled in December that the program does indeed violate the law, paving the way for Huppenthal's decision to withhold funding.
Loretta Hunnicutt, part of the organization Tucsonans United for Sound Districts and an opponent of the program, said she supports Huppenthal's decision.
"The classes do create resentment and do politicize children's education," Hunnicutt told KVOA. "And that's inappropriate."
In a news release, Hunnicutt urged the district to accept Huppenthal's decision and suspend the classes immediately.
Tucson district board member Miguel Cuevas told the LA Times the district can't handle such a huge financial loss, and has to consider several options, including eliminating the program. It can also appeal the decision to Arizona's Superior Court.
"I cannot go down the path of losing $15 million," he said. "That is something I cannot see happen."
The board will discuss what it intends to do at a meeting Tuesday.