Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Time for TUSD to move on from Ethnic Studies fight

The Tucson Unified School District board will meet tomorrow to determine what to do about last week’s ruling by an administrative law judge that its Mexican American Studies program violates state law.

It would be wise to do away with the overall Ethnic Studies program and instead come up with some other way to effectively address the problem the program was created to fix in 1999 – the high dropout and failure rate of Latino, African American and Native American students. A problem, by the way, that persists.

The law proscribes education programs tailored for one ethnic group, that promote ethnic solidarity or that create racial resentment. The judge found that the district violates all three prohibitions.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal has until the end of the month to accept or reject the ruling, but he’s widely expected to accept it since the judge’s ruling was the result of a district appeal of Huppenthal’s ruling last January that TUSD violated the law.

The TUSD board is short a member after the death of Judy Burns in October leaving four members who appear to be evenly divided over MAS.

Board members Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman want the district to do away with MAS, or at least the way it’s currently configured, while members Adelijta Grijalva and Miguel Cuevas want to keep the program, which would require appealing Huppenthal’s ruling to Superior Court.

The tie-breaking vote will eventually be cast by University of Arizona economics professor Alexandre Sugiyama, who will attend his first board meeting tomorrow after being appointed Dec. 30 from a list of 54 applicants.

It’s not known where Sugiyama stands on the issue of Ethnic Studies but he’ll get a baptism-by-fire into the issue Tuesday when the board discusses it in a closed session.

His vote is crucial. At risk is 10 percent of the district’s state funding, which this year would have amounted to roughly $15 million. That’s a crippling loss of funds and not worth risking by pursuing an appeal of Huppenthal’s decision.

Morever, Ethnic Studies’ persistence is far from the most pressing issue in the district considering the meager amount of students in the MAS program.

The district has a shrinking enrollment, which stresses the district budget due to the state’s per student funding formula. It has too many poorly performing schools and students. It has an entrenched, dysfunctional administrative bureaucracy that hinders reform efforts. Its educational technology is outdated, some of it decrepit. The list is endless.

Both sides of the Ethnic Studies issue have dug in, fighting a zero sum game. That doesn’t serve the district’s interests or the students enrolled in MAS.

The best for all is to lose the battle – killing MAS as it currently exists – but win the war – creating an effective program that improves Latino student performance and lowers the dropout rate.

Sugiyama will be brutalized by partisans no matter which side he falls on, but he’ll start off serving the district well by putting an end to the Ethnic Studies battle and moving on to the next problem on the district’s long list.

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