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Michigan settles lawsuit over student literacy in Detroit

May 18, 2020
Students contended that they were deprived of access to literacy because of a lack of books, teachers and poor building conditions.

A settlement reached between the state of Michigan and Detroit students calls for $94.5 million in literacy funding and the creation of two task forces to help ensure a quality education for students.

The Detroit News reports that the agreement is the latest step in a nearly four-year legal battle with the state for better school and learning conditions in Detroit public schools.

Seven students had sued the state, arguing that they were deprived access to literacy because of a lack of books, teachers and poor building conditions. 

[FROM 2016: Detroit students who lack literacy skills sue state of Michigan]

In setting the case, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer admits that Detroit students "faced obstacles to their education that inhibited their ability to read — obstacles they never should have faced."

The governor says she will propose legislation that would provide Detroit Public School Community District with at least $94.5 million for literacy-related programs and initiatives. The state also agrees to provide $2.7 million to be paid to the Detroit district to pay for literacy-related programs.

The proposal faces an uncertain road in the Republican-controlled Legislature, which has fought with the Democratic governor over budget priorities including education spending.

As part of the proposed settlement, the Detroit Literacy Equity Task Force will be created outside of state government to conduct yearly evaluations around literacy in Detroit and will provide state-level policy recommendations to the governor, according to the governor's office.

The other task force, the Detroit Educational Policy Committee, will focus on the stability and quality of the overall educational system in Detroit.

At the time of the lawsuit's filing, the plaintiffs were students at five low-performing schools in Detroit.

Last month, a federal appeals court panel reviewing the students' lawsuit ruled that the U.S. Constitution provides a remedy to “children relegated to a school system that does not provide even a plausible chance to attain literacy." 

Following the appeals court decision, Michigan's Legislature asked the full appeals court in Cincinnati to set aside the ruling by the three-judge panel and hear the case due to its "exceptional importance."

In light of that request, a question remains as to whether the settlement reached in Detroit is really an end to the case.

Some legal experts say the door remains open in the case because the full appeals court panel has not answered the legislature's request.

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