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In federal court and the Michigan legislature debate continues over the right to literacy


Should literacy be a fundamental right for Michigan students?

That’s a question still being considered by federal courts, and now by the Michigan legislature.

A group of lawmakers introduced a measure last week to alter the state constitution, and make literacy a fundamental right.

Democratic State Representative Darrin Camilleri introduced the measure. He said literacy should be a right.

“The one thing that we can guarantee, that we should be able to guarantee for all of our students, is right to learn how to read. Which will open up all kinds of opportunities for kids here in Michigan.”

Camilleri said adding the language would give students and families ways of holding the state accountable when it fails to deliver an adequate education.

“At the end of the day we believe that we need more funding for our classrooms but there is not mechanism to hold the state accountable to make sure funding reaches those classrooms.”

In order to change the state constitution, Camilleri’s legislation would have to pass both the senate and house with a two-thirds majority, and then be approved by Michigan voters.

The legislation responds, in part, to a federal court ruling last year which found that Detroit students suing the state did not have a fundamental right to literacy.

Mark Rosenbaum is a lawyer representing the Detroit students. He said Governor Gretchen Whitmer campaigned on the issue, saying that literacy was a right.

“Now as the state is filing papers the Governor is saying she will take no position on that. So it’s not just falling back she is leading the fight against these children.”

The state, in a filing with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last week, argued that the case was moot because there is a new administration and because Detroit schools are no longer under state control.

Rosenbaum said those filings are a renege on the Governor’s promises.

“Because they are the children of Brown V. Board she can make statements during campaigns and not just fall back on them but renege on them altogether and lead the fight against these kids.”

Tiffany Brown is a spokesperson for the Governor. She said Governor Whitmer absolutely stands by her belief that every child has a right to literacy.

Brown said the Governor’s proposed budget will address concerns about education and includes more than $22 million for Detroit Public Schools.

She also pointed out that the Governor signed off on part of the lawsuit arguing that under a new administration the state of Michigan is not the right party to bring the suit against, but did not sign off on the argument that literacy was not a fundamental right.

You can read the full statement from the Governor’s office below:

The Governor absolutely stands by her belief that every child in the state has a birth right to a great education/literary.

The Governor’s Office signed onto the first part of the lawsuit only, which argues that the State of Michigan is no longer a proper party to the lawsuit due to changed circumstances and the fact that local control has been restored.

The Governor’s Office did not not join the second part that argued children did not have a right to literacy.

The governor believes that every student deserves a quality public education. That’s why her proposed budget will make the biggest investment in public school operations in a generation of kids, including more than $22 million for Detroit Public Schools. Her budget will allow us to do things like triple the number of literacy coaches in Michigan, improve buildings and facilities, and help schools raise teacher pay, reduce class sizes, and upgrade technology. The governor’s budget will also provide more funding for low-income and at-risk children and help them get on paths to good-paying jobs.