Let's get this straight: Tom Horne has for years sought to burnish his bona fides as a conservative by maligning TUSD's ethnic-studies program. He's railed against it, campaigned against it and even wrote hyperbolic legislation aimed at ending it.

And now he's decided to come to Tucson to find out what is being taught in these classes.

Make note of the time element: NOW he's decided to come to the Tucson Unified School District - ostensibly to learn what students are actually being taught in these classes he's worked so hard to obliterate.

If Horne, as the state's top education official, were serious about the educational implications of his actions against the TUSD program, he would have made this trip years ago. He would have talked to students, sat in on classes, asked graduates and teachers about it.

But Horne, a Republican running for attorney general, didn't.

He spread his uninformed views about the ethnic-studies classes. Over the years he's looked at some materials and talked to some opponents, and made it clear that he was going to do whatever he could to shut down the program, calling it an example of "ethnic chauvinism." He's colored himself as the savior of educational equality fighting against those who think that the history textbooks don't tell our nation's whole story.

Ethnic-studies courses are electives classes open to all students, and they don't replace any other material or courses - it's not like students aren't learning about, say, the Civil War because they need to make time for Mexican-American or African-American history. The roots of the ethnic-studies program are in the federal desegregation court case from the 1970s that has just recently been ended. The initial program was necessary, the court agreed, because students were not receiving equal educational opportunities, and these targeted programs were designed to help fix the problem.

Horne's belated fact-finding mission came well after he after he pushed through a law, which he has made clear is intended for TUSD's ethnic-studies program. The law, which gained international attention after Gov. Jan Brewer signed it this week, makes it illegal to offer programs "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group," to promote the overthrow of the United States government or to promote resentment toward a class or race of people.

The ethnic-studies law is unneeded and inflammatory. It also bestows the state superintendent of public instruction with far too much power to determine if a program runs afoul of the broad criteria, and then permits withholding significant funds from a school district that's found to be in violation.

Horne said he knows enough about the Mexican American Studies (it's no longer called Raza Studies) program to oppose it, but that he wants to know more about TUSD's other ethnic-studies programs: African-American studies, Native American studies and Pan-Asian studies.

This sudden quest for knowledge about TUSD's ethnic-studies programs could prove dangerous for Horne - he could, after all, discover that what he believes isn't the truth.

The situation has escalated beyond the classroom, however. Students and supporters have publicly protested the law and Horne's planned visit, while opponents who believe they know what goes on in the classrooms have protested against the ethnic-studies programs. Neither position is helpful. All sides would benefit from an in-depth study of the ethnic-studies program by a group of knowledgeable people not affiliated with TUSD. The program has much to be proud of, but it may also have facets that could be improved - information is the power here.

The ethnic-studies law should be struck down, but in the meantime TUSD must be forthright about its programs. Any public education program must withstand legitimate and honest examination.

The current accusations back and forth have reached such a pitch that it's essentially a playground fight of "am not/are too" - and that argument has only losers. We need facts.

Arizona Daily Star