Washington, D.C.– Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) education task force, sent a letter yesterday to top federal education officials urging an investigation of whether an Arizona state law violates federal standards by targeting Tucson Unified School District’s successful Mexican-American Studies (MAS) program. The letter, sent to assistant secretary of education for civil rights Russlynn Ali and other Department of Education and Department of Justice officials and co-signed by CHC Chairman Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), calls Arizona Revised Statute (ARS) 15-122 “bad public policy and fundamentally flawed,” especially as it has been applied in targeting and shutting down the MAS program.
ARS 15-122 forbids schools to encourage “overthrow of the U.S. government” or prioritize ethnic identity over teaching students as individuals. Despite a 2011 audit of the MAS program finding “no observable evidence [. . .] to suggest that any classroom within Tucson Unified School District is in direct violation of the law,” Arizona schools chief John Huppenthal deemed the program illegal last June. Schools in the area have subsequently canceled related classes.
“Using the law to attack the MAS Program, with its proven educational successes, will only serve to exacerbate the already harmful anti-Latino sentiment in Arizona,” the letter reads. “We urge you in the strongest terms possible to open an investigation of ARS 15-112 and to ensure state compliance with federal law.” A provision giving Huppenthal and his successors sole authority to withhold 10 percent of a district’s state funding if he determines a district violates the law has proven especially controversial, especially after Huppenthal ignored the results of the audit he had requested.
“This is not about one group of people wanting special treatment,” Grijalva said in sending the letter. “This is about a successful educational program with a high graduation rate being shut down for purely ideological reasons. Public education isn’t supposed to be politicized in this country, but that’s exactly what’s happened in Southern Arizona and the students are losing out because of it. The Department of Education would do a great public service by conducting a full and fair investigation into whether this power grab is authorized under federal law.”
“Attacking the Mexican American Studies program sends the wrong message to Arizona’s students and denies the state’s rich history,” Rep. Gonzalez said. “Policy makers cannot look at history the way they look at items at a cafeteria, selectively picking what works for their agenda. It is critically important to teach history that treats minorities as an integral part of states’ development and to understand the contribution of minority communities of the past and present day. ARS 15-122 only serves to intensify the sentiments against Hispanics and I urge the Department of Education to investigate this ill-conceived statute.”
The full letter is available at http://1.usa.gov/yVhsAI.