Whitmer Settles Detroit Students’ “Right to Read” Suit

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Image credit: Laura Herberg/WDET

The state of Michigan is proposing $94.4 million in funds for Detroit public schools, which would need to be passed by the legislature. Superintendent Vitti says the district still faces almost $1 billion in repair costs.

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Governor Gretchen Whitmer has settled a lawsuit over conditions created in Detroit schools while under state control.

This settlement does not make the students or the school district whole after the abomination of emergency management.” — Nikolai Vitti, Detroit Public Schools

Vitti: Settlement not enough.Jake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

Vitti: Settlement not enough.

As a part of the settlement, Whitmer will propose legislation that provides “at least” $94.4 million dollars to the Detroit Public Schools Community District for literacy programming. It also creates oversight for school programs. Whitmer’s office announced the settlement overnight. 

I have always said that every student, no matter where they come from, has a birthright to a quality public education,” said Whitmer in a statement. “Students in Detroit faced obstacles to their education that inhibited their ability to read – obstacles they never should have faced.” 

In a statement, DPSCD superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the settlement does not make the students or district “whole after the abomination of emergency management.”

Vitti says the district still faces almost $1 billion in building repairs.

Dilapidated, Rodent-Infested Buildings

The lawsuit was filed by Detroit Public Schools students in 2016 against former Gov. Rick Snyder. The students said dilapidated and rodent-infested buildings, a shortage of class materials and a shortage of qualified teachers contributed to an environment that deprived them of a basic education.

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.”  — Jamarria Hall, plaintiff

Last month, a federal court ruled the state is obligated to provide a basic education to public school students. A lower court previously ruled with the state which argued it no longer operated Detroit schools and so was no longer responsible.

We know that a good education leads to all different kinds of opportunities. It means that there’ll be less crime and less poverty. It’s a win-win-win,” said state Attorney General Dana Nessel, after the court ruling. Nessel’s office defended the suit in court, although she supported the plaintiffs argument.

Education activists have asked for more money to fund city schools and schools across the state. Critics argue the case encourages schools to turn to courts to resolve budget concerns and policy disputes.

Students, Parents React

Community organization 482Forward led a "car parade" to encourage Whitmer to settle the suit.482Forward
482Forward

Community organization 482Forward led a “car parade” to encourage Whitmer to settle the suit.

Education advocates and parents of Detroit public school students are reacting to Whitmer’s settlement of the “Right to Literacy” lawsuit. 

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 the suit, in a statement. “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.” 

482Forward, an education-focused community group in Detroit, led a “car parade” past the governor’s residence yesterday. Their goal was to encourage Whitmer to settle the case. 

A big part of the lawsuit was the detrimental and awful conditions our kids are going to school in everyday,” said Molly Sweeney, director of organizing at 482 Forward. She said she supports the terms of the agreement, but the ability to raise money for school improvements should have been restored. “The buildings that are over 100 years old and we don’t have the ability to raise capital for our buildings.”

I think it’s got everyone thinking about what can we do to make our education system better.” — Arlyssa Heard, parent

Sweeney says removing oversight of the district by the state’s Financial Review Commission should have been a part of the lawsuit settlement.

Arlyssa Heard has a son in eighth-grade. She said it’s the right time to re-evaluate how the district is run.

These kinds of cases help to set some other things in motion and I think it’s got everyone thinking about what can we do, what do we need to do, to make our education system better.”

Heard says Detroit is moving in the right direction as the settlement creates education committees that take input from students, parents and the community.

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Eli Newman, Reporter/Producer

Eli Newman is a Reporter/Producer for 101.9 WDET, covering breaking news, politics and community affairs. His favorite Motown track is “It’s The Same Old Song” by the Four Tops.

eli.newman@wdet.org Follow @other_eli

Sascha Raiyn, Education Reporter

Sascha Raiyn is Education Reporter at 101.9 WDET. She is a native Detroiter who grew up listening to news and music programming on Detroit Public Radio.

sraiyn@wdet.org Follow @raiyn

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