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Is Literacy A Constitutional Right?

Students in Detroit are arguing they've got a constitutional right to literacy, but the state says they don't.

By Ethan Weston | November 26, 2016

Back in September, a group of Detroit schoolchildren sued Michigan education officials and Gov. Rick Snyder, claiming they were being denied their right to literacy.

Now attorneys for the state are asking the court to drop the lawsuit, claiming the students have no such fundamental right.

California public counsel law firm is representing the kids. The full complaint accuses the state of Michigan of "systemic, persistent and deliberate failure to deliver instruction and tools essential for access to literacy in Plaintiffs’ schools." It says the state is depriving students — the majority of which are low-income students of color — of "a fighting chance."

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"I'm getting cheated, like I'm getting cheated out of education, like I'm not getting the same opportunity as everybody else," student Jamarria Hall told Newsy's partner WXYZ.

The Detroit public school district ranks last when it comes to literacy among major school districts in large U.S. cities.

SEE MORE: Schools Nationwide Face Tight Budgets — In Detroit, Teachers Go Unpaid

The students and their attorneys cite the 14th Amendment and the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education as evidence that literacy should be a constitutional right.

But an assistant attorney general for Michigan claims the students' complaints go beyond basic access to education and says the state  hasn't been in control of Detroit's school since 1999.

The schools have been under a state-appointed financial manager since 2009.

The students' lawsuit also addresses poor conditions in Detroit's schools — something that's been plaguing the city's public school system all year.

In January, teachers districtwide called in sick to work to protest the awful conditions present in some schools.

SEE MORE: Court Rules Detroit Teachers' 'Sickouts' Were Legal

Certain schools in the district are so bad that teachers worry the schools are making them, and their students, sick.

Around the same time as the protest, Detroit's schools were facing a debt crisis — a debt that would fall on the state's shoulders if the city had to file for bankruptcy.

The lawsuit calls on the state to monitor and fix those conditions in order to give students greater access to learning.

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