In September, seven Detroit school children filed a lawsuit claiming that the state’s neglect of Detroit’s schools has denied them access to literacy. Fox News in Detroit reported on November 25 that the Michigan Attorney General requested that a federal judge dismiss the suit. The Attorney General argued that in Michigan there is no fundamental right to literacy. Specifically, the Attorney General argued the Michigan Constitution only requires the state to provide a system of free public schools.

Without speculating on how the federal court might rule, there are at least four points that Ohioans should ponder:

1. The state of Michigan took over the Detroit system in 1999. With all its moves to privatize the system, educational opportunities have not improved. That should be a lesson for Ohio as Youngstown and now Lorain have been placed under a plan that removes control from the local board of education.

2. Ohio’s constitution provides that the state is responsible for securing a thorough and efficient system of common schools-not just a mere system. A ring leader in the attempt of some members of the Education, Public Institutions, and Local Government Committee of the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission to eliminate the Ohio “thorough and efficient clause” used the Michigan amendment as a sample for how Ohio’s Constitution should be revised.

3. Ohio’s thorough and efficient clause seems to confirm that education is a fundamental right in Ohio.

4. The federal court ruled in 1973, in the case of Rodriguez v. San Antonio, that education under the federal constitution is not a fundamental right. That decision could be revisited if the Michigan case goes forward.

It is amazing that a public official in Michigan argues that children have no right to literacy.


William L. Phillis, Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding