Following Governor Snyder's billion dollar cut to public education, a Michigan Court ruled that students don't have to actually learn
Public school education in Michigan is under attack. After gaining control of both Houses, supported by a Republican Governor who rarely challenges lawmakers, the conservative majority is systematically gutting the public school system. Now it appears the conservative Michigan Court of Appeals is throwing legal precedent out the window to bend to the will of their conservative base.
Michigan’s public school system has been reeling lately. After taking office, Governor Snyder approved a budget that cut almost a billion dollars from public education in favor of providing tax cuts for businesses. These cuts sent many districts that were already on the bubble financially into a tail spin. Snyder’s answer to this was to declare a financial emergency in the district and appoint a financial manager. This dissolved the duly elected school board in each district and left the board powerless.
The end result of the cuts to public education, and the most tragic, is the loss of a quality public education. Michigan has fallen far behind other states in terms of producing college ready high school graduates. According to the Huffington Post “ACT test scores show little to no change under the governor’s watch, as Michigan students have the 10th worst aggregate scores compared to the other states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, Michigan children have also seen either no gain or a marginal loss in the majority of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores.”
Left with little hope, the ACLU filed a “right-to-read” lawsuit in July 2012. The suit filed on behalf of eight students attending K-12 public schools in Highland Park, MI, named the State, its agencies in charge of oversight, and the Highland Park School District.
The ACLU focused on Highland Park specifically because it fell under this emergency manager system. In response to the crisis, the state “turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter management company with no track record of success with low performing schools,” according to Kary Moss, executive director of the ACL of Michigan.
However, the Michigan Court of Appeals in a galling and chilling ruling held that “the state has no constitutional requirement to ensure schoolchildren actually learn fundamental skills such as reading, but rather is obligated only to establish and finance a public education system, regardless of quality.”
Moss sums it up perfectly, “This ruling should outrage anyone who cares about our public education system. The court washes its hands and absolves the state of any responsibility in a district that has failed and continues to fail its children.”
The lone dissent in the opinion, Judge Shapiro, took his colleagues to task and accused the court of “abandonment of our essential judicial roles, that of enforcement of the rule of law even where the defendants are government entities, and of protecting the rights of all who live within Michigan’s borders, particularly those, like children, who do not have a voice in the political process.”
The continued “slash and burn method” of funding critical services that is employed by the Republican party may make for great sound-bites on election commercials, but it is destroying our country. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. However, the average Joe does not see the tax cut promised him, only wealthy donors and corporations enjoy them.
Meanwhile, our school children are getting a substandard education, our infrastructure crumbles, and city services get slashed. Government at its most basic level is charged with protecting its citizens and if it can’t even accomplish that, it has failed us completely.