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Law firm argues on behalf of Detroit students: ‘constitutional right to literacy’

The latest attempt at “fixing” broken education systems has come in the form of a lawsuit filed by several students in Detroit’s public schools.

Backed by the Los Angeles-based firm Public Counsel, the students’ suit is “seeking to establish a legal right to literacy based on the 14th amendment of the constitution,” reports ABC News.

“The 133-page complaint claims students who attend poorly-performing schools have been denied their basic rights, and references the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which called education ‘the very foundation of good citizenship.'”

One of the suing students, Jamarria Hall, had said that “he sees a lot of inequality in the way the state doles out resources for students in wealthier school districts versus inner city districts.”

[Jamarria adds] he can’t even seem to get a teacher in every class, noting that he is sick of being sent to the gym to play basketball during Spanish class because he has no Spanish teacher.

“I just hope it leads to change,” he told WXYZ. “I feel like I am getting cheated”

He says there have been times when he didn’t have an English teacher either. Hall says he learned to read because of support at home, but he says other students aren’t as lucky.

“We don’t even have books for them to practice reading,” he told WXYZ.

The lawsuit says the state has created an unequal education system where inner city schools are less likely to provide opportunities for all kids. It names the state, state education officials and Governor Rick Snyder as defendants, WXYZ reports.

“By under-funding education,” the article says of the lawsuit, “the state is denying kids their constitutional rights.”

But are Detroit’s schools underfunded?

According to the 2014-2015 “Bulletin 1014” from the Michigan Department of Education — “Michigan Public School Districts Ranked By Selected Financial Data” — Detroit schools are ranked 50th in the state at $13,743 in per-pupil spending. This out of 841 total districts. (“District,” according to the tables, also includes many individual academies).

$13,743 puts Detroit schools in the top six percent of per-pupil expenditures in the state.

But even though the schools technically aren’t “underfunded,” I don’t doubt Mr. Hall’s claim that the district is short on teachers. As I wrote last December, “The real ‘elephant in the room’ always seems to avoid the so-called ‘experts’”:

“… it is not uncommon for veteran teachers to feel that they are fending for themselves without instructional support or consistent, school-wide expectations for student behavior.”

The unfortunate reality is that student discipline in many urban schools is a serious problem, one only exacerbated by woefully foolish administrative measures in dealing with it.

Polls of teacher opinions and attitudes about student (mis)behavior and school discipline are incredibly consistent. …

Even teacher “combat pay” is ineffective in attracting educators to troubled schools. In California, $20,000 signing bonuses couldn’t keep 20% of the staff from exiting the profession completely, while others continued to flee to better districts where they could actually … teach.

And Detroit was mentioned in the highlighted Washington Post report in that post, which noted its school district needed 135 teachers — 5% of the total force — as of last November. Not so ironically, the article also dealt with educational lawsuits similar to that filed by Public Counsel.

Let’s be real — no lawsuit, however creative, however well-meaning — will make increased funding lead to greater academic achievement, nor will it make teachers teach in areas they don’t wish to be.

Arguing that there’s a constitutional right to be able to read in just upping the ante of the absurd.

MORE: The real ‘elephant in the room’ always seems to avoid the so-called ‘experts’

MORE: ‘Liberal discipline policies’ are making schools dangerous

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 18 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.