Governor Whitmer Agrees to Settlement in Historic Literacy Case  

“I have always said that every student, no matter where they come from, has a birthright to a quality public education. Students in Detroit faced obstacles to their education that inhibited their ability to read – obstacles they never should have faced. In the future, I will remain committed to ensuring paths to literacy for children across Michigan.”

And with those words Governor Gretchen Whitmer took her place on what many consider the “right side “of history as she announced her decision to settle the Gary B. literacy case.

On Thursday, May 14 (almost 66 years to the day that Brown v Board of Education was decided), the Detroit community and Governor Gretchen Whitmer forged a historic settlement recognizing the constitutional right of access to literacy. Governor Whitmer and plaintiffs signed a settlement agreement that resolves all of the plaintiffs’ claims against all of the defendants. This settlement marks a first step toward ensuring children in Detroit and all across Michigan – regardless of where they live – have the right to a quality education.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Initially filed against Governor Rick Snyderthe Gary B. literacy caseargued that Michigan, which had taken emergency control of the Detroit district for years, was responsible for system wide failures that the plaintiffs say have deprived Detroit children of their right to literacy, left many classrooms and buildings in terrible condition, and left teachers without the resources they needed to do their jobs thereby creating an atmosphere where learning to read was near impossible.

 “The importance of this lawsuit, its last victory in court, and this settlement is that history will need to speak truth to the destruction that emergency management and state control had on our children, the school district, and the city,” saidDr. Vitti, Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District.“No one can reasonably question that fact—it is now established through the court system with this settlement.”

Mayor Duggan acknowledged the importance of this case saying, “Today’s settlement is a real step forward for Detroit children “The City of Detroit strongly supported this litigation as an amicus because literacy is a right that every child should have the opportunity to attain,” said Mayor Duggan. We are very supportive of the Governor’s actions today in committing to ensuring that every child in Detroit has a fair opportunity to learn how to read and write.”

The settlement puts an end to a battle that started in 2016 when seven students came forward to fight for their right to literacy. This victory is their victory, and in this moment the children and their families and the teachers of Detroit have shown a nation what it means to wage an uphill battle and win.

Jamarria Hall, a 2017 graduate of Osborn High

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

TERMS OF THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT INCLUDE:

  • Proposed legislation: The Governor agrees to propose legislation during her first term that would provide Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD) with at least $94.4m of funding for literacy-related programs and initiatives.
  • Financial payment: The state agreed today to provide $280,000 to be shared among the seven individual student-plaintiffs to access a high-quality literacy program or otherwise further their education. The Detroit Public Schools Foundation will hold these funds in trust for the student-plaintiffs. The state also agrees to provide $2.72m to be paid to DPSCD to fund various literacy-related supports.
  • Guidance on evidence-based literacy strategies: The Governor will request the Michigan Department of Education to advise school districts throughout the state as to how they might use evidence-based literacy strategies, initiatives, and programs to improve access to literacy and literacy proficiency, with special attention to reducing class, racial, and ethnic disparities.
  • Recommendations from task forces: The governor will receive recommendations from two Detroit-based tasks forces that will be created to help ensure a quality education for students:
  • 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.
  • The Detroit Educational Policy Committee will focus on the stability and quality of the overall educational ecosystem in Detroit; the accessibility of a quality school to all children in Detroit; and school improvement, facilities, teaching, and educational materials. The governor will either create this advisory body or recognize an already existing body to perform this function.

The 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. However, it is worth mentioning that the path to reconciliation is a long one and there is still much work to be done a point acknowledged by Dr. Vitti.

“Unfortunately, this settlement does not make the students or the school district whole after the abomination of emergency management. Full accountability for DPS children and the community has not been provided with this settlement. Our extensive facility challenges (nearly $1B) best define the lack of investment under emergency management,” said Vitti. “The creation of DPSCD and the restructuring of the DPS debt did not solve challenges and is being paid overtime by Detroit taxpayers. The work and fight continue to not only restore quality public education at scale in Detroit but once again become a leader nationally.”

 

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