It has been more than three years since Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promised the Detroit school district $94.4 million to settle a 2016 lawsuit alleging that the state denied the city’s schoolchildren a basic education by failing to teach them to read.
Now that money is finally on its way to Detroit.
The funds were included in the $21.5 billion K-12 school aid budget that the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed last month and Whitmer is expected to sign.
Under the settlement terms, negotiated in 2020, the money will go toward increasing reading instruction and support for students in the Detroit Public Schools Community District to address longstanding challenges with literacy. DPSCD officials have already shared proposals to use the money to hire academic interventionists to provide one-on-one support to students struggling with reading.
“Every child in Michigan deserves access to a quality public education regardless of their ZIP code,” Stacey LaRouche, press secretary for Whitmer, said in a statement. “Governor Whitmer has worked to reverse decades of disinvestment in our state’s K-12 schools by securing more funding in every aspect of a child’s education to ensure that they have what they need to be successful.
Here’s a look at how the legal case arose, what the settlement provides, and how the district is preparing to spend the money.
Settlement grew out of ‘right to read’ lawsuit
The federal case settled in 2020 is called Gary B. v. Whitmer, but it dates back to the period when the Detroit school district was under state oversight during Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, and was originally filed as Gary B. v. Snyder.
The plaintiffs were seven Detroit public school students who alleged that they were denied the opportunity to have a quality education because of poor building conditions, a shortage of textbooks and other learning materials, and poorly qualified teachers.
In the 136-page lawsuit, students describe learning in classes of 50 or more children, inadequate education for English language learners, and rodents and cockroaches in classrooms.
The lawsuit specifically called out Michigan’s deployment of emergency managers to control the city’s public schools between 2009 and 2016. Those managers created conditions so awful, the plaintiffs alleged, that students were denied what they claimed was their constitutional right to a basic reading education.
Reading scores among Detroit students have ranked among the lowest in the nation over the past decade and a half. In fourth- and eighth-grade reading, the Detroit district’s test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress have ranked near the bottom statewide and nationwide.
The lawsuit sought to establish a constitutional right to literacy for all students, but the plaintiffs agreed to a settlement in 2020 and dropped their bid to establish that right. The settlement awarded some money to each of the plaintiffs and to the district, and required the governor to propose legislation to provide more money to the district to support literacy efforts. The legislation failed to clear the Republican-led Legislature in 2021 and 2022, but it passed this year under Democratic leadership.
The legislation requires the district to spend the $94.4 million by Sept. 30, 2027.