Arizona Legislation Targets Lawbreaking Universities, Proposes Ethnic Studies Ban

A new proposal would penalize colleges and universities that violate state law will be penalized with the loss of 10 percent of state funding

A Republican state lawmaker said Thursday he will target Arizona colleges and universities that violate state law with a new proposal that would penalize them with the loss of 10 percent of their state funding. 

Rep. Bob Thorpe of Flagstaff said his legislation, House Bill 2119, was prompted by decisions by community colleges and the state university system to offer lower in-state tuition to immigrants granted deferred deportation under an Obama Administration policy.

Although Thorpe said he's targeting colleges, the proposed legislation makes no distinction between K-12 schools and higher learning institutions, leaving them at risk too.

A judge has held that deferred deportation recipients qualify for lower tuition, although the state is appealing.

Thorpe is also proposing legislation, H.B. 2120, to expand a state ban on ethnic studies programs in K-12 schools to colleges and universities. Violations also come with a 10 percent funding penalty. 

Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada calls both proposals "scary stuff."

The proposal comes as a new state law to withhold all state funding from cities that violate state laws is being challenged in the Arizona Supreme Court.

Thorpe said targeting colleges and universities that offer in-state tuition is a pushback against President Barack Obama's 2012 program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

That program has given work permits and relief from deportation to more than 700,000 young immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally, about 27,000 of them in Arizona. Last month, 240 state university students got lower tuition because they were DACA students. 

"We're not talking about a law that was enacted by Congress and signed by the president. They're executive orders," Thorpe said. "My concern is that we have a voter protected law on the books that says you have (to be authorized to be in the U.S.) to get in-state tuition."

Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne contended that a 2006 law known as Proposition 300 barred lower in-state tuition for those students after a Phoenix area community college adopted the practice. A state judge ruled in 2015 that DACA recipients do qualify.

The state Board of Regents quickly approved lower tuition for DACA recipients attending the three state universities. Current Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is appealing that ruling.

The proposed expansion of the ethnic studies ban comes seven years after lawmakers barred such studies in K-12 schools. Thorpe said he is concerned that some university classes are being designed that promote racial divisiveness. 

"The intention of the bill is Martin Luther King," Thorpe said. "The strides that we made in the 1960s I think are being diluted."

Quezada said the ethnic studies proposal also includes student activities.

"So if you've got a student activity celebrating the 16th of September, the traditional Mexican Independence Day, and just having a prideful celebration, that would be impacted by this," Quezada said. "It would really put in danger teaching about the causes of the Civil War, those types of things." 

"It's beyond just bad policy, this is a scary type of very Eurocentric type of thinking that we should have moved beyond as a nation a long time ago," he added.

Thorpe said the financial penalties are needed to force compliance.

"The message that needs to be sent to our state funded institutions is, 'Please be in compliance with state law,'" he said. "I hope that these are never used."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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