Detroit Literacy Lawsuit


“The recognition of a fundamental right is no small matter. This is particularly true when the right in question is something that the state must affirmatively provide. But just as this Court should not supplant the state’s policy judgments with its own, neither can we shrink from our obligation to recognize a right when it is foundational to our system of self-governance.

Access to literacy is such a right. Its ubiquitous presence and evolution through our history has led the American people universally to expect it. And education—at least in the minimum form discussed here—is essential to nearly every interaction between a citizen and her government. Education has long been viewed as a great equalizer, giving all children a chance to meet or outperform society’s expectations, even when faced with substantial disparities in wealth and with past and ongoing racial inequality.

Where, as Plaintiffs allege here, a group of children is relegated to a school system that does not provide even a plausible chance to attain literacy, we hold that the Constitution provides them with a remedy. Accordingly, while the current versions of Plaintiffs’ equal protection and compulsory attendance claims were appropriately dismissed, the district court erred in denying their central claim: that Plaintiffs have a fundamental right to a basic minimum education, meaning one that can provide them with a foundational level of literacy.”

Michigan Advance:

“We respect everything the Governor has, and is, trying to do for traditional public education throughout the state and in Detroit. However, it is time for her to stop listening to her attorneys and rely on her instincts. She knows the state was wrong,” Vitti said. 

Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown said the office is reviewing the court’s decision.

“Although certain members of the State Board of Education challenged the lower court decision that students did not have a right to read, the Governor did not challenge that ruling on the merits,” Brown said in an email. “We’ve also regularly reinforced that the governor has a strong record on education and has always believed we have a responsibility to teach every child to read.”

Attorney General Dana Nessel has supported the students and filed an amicus brief stating that she believes basic education should be a fundamental right. However, the brief was rejected by the court, which noted attorneys from her office are representing the state. 

Nessel praised the court’s decision Thursday.  

“I am overjoyed with the Court’s decision recognizing that the Constitution guarantees a right to a basic minimum education,” Nessel said. “This recognition is the only way to guarantee that students who are required to attend school will actually have a teacher, adequate educational materials, and a physical environment that does not subject them to filth, unsafe drinking water and physical danger. Education is a gateway to exercising other fundamental rights such as free speech and the right to citizenship, it is essential in order to function in today’s complex society, and it is a necessary vehicle to empower individuals to rise above circumstances that have been foisted on them through no fault of their own.”

Detroit Mayor Duggan also praised the ruling, calling it a “major step forward.”

Literacy is something every child should have a fair chance to attain. We hope instead of filing another appeal, the parties sit down and focus on how to make literacy available to every child in Michigan,” Duggan said. 

Helen Moore, a Detroit resident who has been vocal in her support for the plaintiffs, told the Advance Thursday, “It’s been a long time coming and finally, we may see justice for our Black and Brown children. The court was right.”

Appeals court finds Constitutional right to literacy for schoolchildren in Detroit case:

The ruling comes in a 2016 lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of students from some of Detroit’s lowest-performing public schools. The crux of their complaint was that without basic literacy, they cannot access other Constitutionally guaranteed rights such as voting, serving in the military and on juries.

“It’s a thrilling and just result,” said Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer who represents the students. “It’s an historic day for Detroit.”

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results:

Under your leadership, the Wisconsin d.p.i. granted Mulligan’s to thousands of elementary teachers who couldn’t pass a reading exam (that’s the “Foundations of Reading” elementary teacher reading content knowledge exam), yet our students lag Alabama, a state that spends less and has fewer teachers per students.

What message are we sending to parents, citizens, taxpayers and those students (who lack proficiency).

It is rather remarkable that Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results have remained litigation free.