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GOP lawmakers want judges to review Detroit literacy case

Protesters honked outside Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s home on May 13. They want her to settle the Detroit “right-to-read” lawsuit.

Michigan’s Republican-led legislature is asking a federal court to reconsider its recent decision in the Detroit literacy lawsuit, calling it a “precedent-setting error of grave and exceptional public importance.”

A federal panel ruled last month that the state deprived Detroit students of a Constitutional right to basic literacy — the first time such a right has been established.

The main defendant in the case is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who is under pressure from education activists to reach a settlement out of court. Detroit school leaders hope that a settlement might help the city district repair its crumbling school buildings or lead to changes in the way schools are funded statewide. Whitmer has not said whether she intends to settle the case.

Settlement negotiations are complicated by the coronavirus, which has blown a hole in Michigan’s overall budget and is expected to cause brutal cuts to the state’s education budget.

A settlement would close the case, eliminating the chance that the long-sought right to education will be overturned in the short run.

John Barsch, an attorney for the legislature, argued that the Sixth Circuit Court should review its decision in the literacy lawsuit Gary B. v. Whitmer et al, because of the “the financial implications of the panel’s decision to the State of Michigan—and the extraordinary breadth of the panel’s holding.”

State-appointed emergency managers controlled the Detroit school district for much of the last two decades. During that time, hundreds of city schools closed or fell into disrepair, and student test scores were among the worst in the nation.

The legislature argues that it has supported the district, pointing to a $617 million aid package that helped DPS avoid bankruptcy.

The legislature is calling for a rare “en banc” review of the case, in which all 28 Sixth Circuit judges take a second look at a decision made by three of their members.

The panel that ruled in favor of the Detroit students had three judges. The two who ruled in favor of the students were appointed by Democratic presidents. The full Sixth Circuit bench leans conservative, and observers have suggested that it would likely reverse the panel’s ruling.

On Tuesday, the Democrat-controlled state board of education voted to support the outcome of the lawsuit. The two Republicans on the board voted against that resolution, and they joined the state legislature in asking the Sixth Circuit to review the decision.

Read the legislature’s full request for review here:

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