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History is Made: Groundbreaking Settlement in Detroit Literacy Lawsuit

May 14, 2020

A historic agreement was reached today between the plaintiffs and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the Gary B. v. Whitmer literacy suit. The agreement will preserve a groundbreaking opinion by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals which held that a basic minimum education, including literacy, is a Constitutional right, and includes an immediate infusion of resources to improve literacy education for public school students in Detroit, with a long term commitment from Governor Whitmer to secure more funding.

Read the Settlement HERE.

“This is what the force of history looks like. Almost 66 years to the day that Brown v. Board of Education was decided, the Detroit community and Governor Whitmer forged a historic settlement recognizing the constitutional right of access to literacy,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law. “By accepting the Court’s decision that a minimum basic education is a foundational requirement for full participation in our democracy, Governor Whitmer is acknowledging that no child should be denied his or her right to fully pursue the American Dream based on the color of their skin or their family’s income. While there is much work left to be done, today’s settlement paves the way for the State of Michigan to fulfill its moral obligation to provide equal educational opportunities to children that have been denied a fair shake for far too long. This victory is their victory, and in this moment the children and their families and the teachers of Detroit have taught a nation what it means to fight for justice and win.”

A summary of key terms in the settlement agreement includes:

  • The Governor agrees to propose legislation that would provide DPSCD with at least $94.4 million of funding for literacy-related programs.
  • The state agrees to provide $2.72 million to Detroit Public Schools (DPSCD) Community District to fund literacy-related supports.  
  • The state agrees to provide $280,000 to the seven individual student-plaintiffs to access a high-quality literacy program or otherwise further their education.   
  • DPSCD will no longer be prohibited by the state of Michigan from issuing bonds for capital expenditures under the same terms and conditions as any other school district in the state.
  • The creation of two Detroit-based tasks forces to monitor the quality of educationin Detroit and advise the Governor – one composed of students, parents, literacy experts, teachers, a paraprofessional, and other community members; and one composed of members selected by the Governor.

The case originated in 2016 when seven brave Detroit students filed a class action asserting that the State of Michigan had deprived Detroit public school students of their constitutional right of access to literacy. The filing was the first of its kind in the nation, and sought to vindicate the rights of Detroit students who were forced to attend unequal schools with inferior resources.

car rallyOn April 23, 2020, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Detroit students, holding that under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, all children have a constitutional right to a “basic minimum education.” This historic decision was the first time a court has held that there is a fundamental federal right of access to literacy. Read the decision HERE.

“Today, I’m overwhelmed with joy for the opportunities this settlement opens up for students in Detroit," said Jamarria Hall, a 2017 graduate of Osborn High School and part of the class of plaintiffs in Gary B. v. Whitmer. "Starting this journey four years ago, parents and students knew we wanted a better education, and now to really be heard for the first time means everything.”

The students are represented by Public Counsel, the international business law firm Sidley Austin LLP, which is handling the case pro bono, Michigan law firm Miller Cohen PLC, University of Michigan Law School Professor Evan Caminker, and University of California, Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.