Does Whitmer’s “Right to Literacy” Settlement Go Far Enough?

University of Michigan School of Education Dean Elizabeth Moje was heavily involved in Detroit students’ suit against the state. She joins Detroit Today to react to the historic settlement.

Years of legal wrangling over the conditions in Detroit public schools between the state and Detroit students has come to an end with a historic settlement of the lawsuit.

“I’m very pleased that there will be action taken. It’s been a long time coming.” — Dr. Elizabeth Moje, University of Michigan School of Education.

The settlement calls for almost $95 million in funding for future literacy education, the creation of two task forces to oversee the quality of education for Detroit students, and the seven plaintiffs in the case will share a $280,000 dollar payout.

The lawsuit has been widely known as the “right to read” or “right to literacy” lawsuit, because it claimed the state has a constitutional obligation to provide students with a basic education. Plaintiffs said the state failed to do so for years as school buildings crumbled and student achievement suffered under state control.

Listen: University of Michigan Dean of Education Dr. Elizabeth Moje reacts to the “right to literacy” settlement.

Jake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET


Dr. Elizabeth Moje is dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Education.

She has been heavily involved with the “right to literacy” lawsuit from the beginning, and drew from her own research and observations while working with Detroit Public Schools classrooms. She says while this settlement does not amount to the numbers needed to completely restore the deficits in the Detroit school system, she’s happy to see progress made.

“This is years of a lack of attention to children’s learning that has to be made up, it’s a really expensive endeavor to educate children in normal conditions, it costs a lot” says Moje.

“There are school districts and communities with economic challenges [struggling] to keep up. More funding matters.”

Moje describes the importance of the state formally recognizing Michigan public school students’ right to a basic education, and how the core of that education revolves around literacy. Students who are not sufficiently literate by the third grade experience a snowballing effect of difficulty with keeping up with the schools’ curriculum.

“I’m pleased with the attention to books, it’s difficult to learn to read without actual reading material and that’s something that we documented was absent. Now the question is how do we put this into action?” Says Moje.

Because the current COVID-19 pandemic, Moje expresses concern about the struggling state budget, which was already worn thin. 

“We know there are school districts and communities with economic challenges and as those districts struggle to keep up, the expense gets greater so we need to inject more funding into those settings. More funding matters” says Moje.

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