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Is Literacy a Fundamental Right? Michigan's Governor Says No

In response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of students at some of Detroit's lowest-performing schools, lawyers for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and the state's education department are asserting that there is no fundamental right to literacy.

The lawsuit alleges that decades of disinvestment in Detroit's schools has resulted in a situation in which young people are being denied their right to literacy. Detroit's public school system has long been beleaguered by financial problems, declining enrollment, and low academic performance. 

Lawyers for the state filed a motion earlier this month to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed in September.

Timothy J. Haynes, an assistant attorney general in Michigan, said in a statement about the motion that while literacy is important, it is not a right:

"But as important as literacy may be, the United States Supreme Court has unambiguously rejected the claim that public education is a fundamental right under the Constitution. Literacy is a component or particular outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the Constitution." 

The motion asserts that the lawsuit is asking courts to make decisions about funding and education policy that should be left to the state's legislature. The Detroit News reports that Haynes said the lawsuit is an "attempt to destroy the American tradition of democratic control of schools." The state rejects the claim that the state of Michigan has run Detroit's schools in the years since 1999, although the district has been under the authority of a state-appointed emergency manager since 2009.

The Detroit News reports that Kathryn Eidmann, a representative for the children who filed the case noted that in the 61-page motion to dismiss their lawsuit, "there is no mention about the fact that hardly any of the students have access to teachers or books. These are schools where no state officials or state lawyer would send their child." 

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