Arizona Superintendent Wants to Kill School's Hip-Hop History Course

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Photo of KRS One in 1990.

The head of Arizona public schools says the Tucson Unified School District is violating a state ban on ethnic studies and risks losing state funding.

Superintendent John Huppenthal announced Friday -- his last day in office -- that he was seeking sanctions against the school if it does not correct course by March 4.

He cited an introductory course on hip-hop from the African-American perspective and lyrics from the rock band Rage Against the Machine as violations.

The state enacted a ban on ethnic studies in 2010. It was met with resistance by teachers and students who said the ethnic studies program increased student achievement.

The Tucson Unified School District board voted to dismantle the program in April 2012 because funding would be cut off if it continued. A group of students and teachers sued the state, saying the law was overly broad and violates the right of free speech.

A year later, a federal court upheld the Arizona law that prohibits courses if they promote resentment toward a race or a class of people, are designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of peoples as individuals.

The federal court found courses only "designed primarily for peoples of a particular ethnic group" to be unconstitutionally vague and upheld the other standards under which Tucson's Mexican-American Studies program was eliminated.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case on Jan. 12 in San Francisco.

A study by University of Arizona researchers found a link between increased graduation rates and standardized-testing results for students who participated in the program from around 2006 to when it was dismantled in April 2012.

Huppenthal says the district has until March 4 to correct course or lose 10 percent in state funding. He made the announcement on his last day of office after having lost a re-election bid. Voters elected Republican Diane Douglas.