It was 65 years ago that the world tuned in to watch as the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, set a revolution in motion. Where U.S. citizens all over this country watched as courageous and bold freedom fighters set in motion an uprising against discriminatory practices in public schools in the United States. These forward- thinking revolutionaries fueled a movement; a war against segregation as the norm in the U.S. known as the fight for Civil Rights.
Just as those freedom fighters of that day in 1954, we now have seven brave young Detroit students, Gary B.; Jessie K.; Cristopher R; Isaias R.; Esmeralda V.; Paul M.; Jaime R., challenging Michigan and the world to do something that, appallingly, is yet being seen as radical, calling for our state government to make our inequitable education system just. These seven young students filed a lawsuit in 2016, demanding a basic constitutional right to an education, which at least provides a minimum of literacy. They called on the State of Michigan and this country to recognize them as equals to their counterparts who live in more affluent mostly non-white neighborhoods. They have awakened our consciousness by demanding that we recognize the urgency of the matter of addressing the inequalities that yet remain in our school system and hinder their future and full potential.
These seven young freedom fighters have put us on notice that their revolution will not be put on hold any longer. Though their movement has been silenced and their cries suppressed, they have remained steadfast in moving their case forward. They have continued their fight even as a Detroit U.S. District Judge acknowledged the validity of their complaint but still granted the request from former Michigan-Attorney General to dismiss their case.
They've remained steadfast in their fight against an unjust educational system even after current Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer joined the former Attorney General in urging the U.S. Court of Appeals to dismiss their lawsuit. This was a heavy blow because as a candidate, Governor Whitmer, declared her commitment to their fight if elected Governor of the State of Michigan. However, the attorneys for Governor Whitmer and other State defendants later presented an argument that the case is moot because the Detroit Public Schools are no longer under the direct control of the state through its appointed emergency manager. But this cowardly assertion callously ignores the fact that the "after-effects" of the same state appointed emergency management system that caused the devastating Flint Water Crisis continues to plague Detroit Public Schools and its ability to raise the $500M funds needed for capital funding repairs.
Additionally, the State's argument dismisses the fact that even after the end of emergency management, the state continues to exercise a great deal of control over the education of Detroit's youth by having control over the funding of all Michigan schools. This funding mechanism has cut back on at-risk funds for the poorest of Michigan's children, who are majority African American and concentrated in urban areas like Detroit. Detroit School District is noted as the most economically segregated in the country. Even after great efforts by Governor Whitmer to bring weighted funding for at-risk districts, the legislature has refused and funding per at-risk student has plunged 60% since its peak in 2001, placing Michigan last among all 50 states in per-pupil revenue growth between 1995 and 2015.
What is very important to note is that the State of Michigan has enacted legislation and approved projects which diverttaxes to the pockets of billionaire developers. This is local property taxation that could be used to lift the conditions in Detroit schools to institutions fit for learning, or at least to meet a minimal level of educational value in order to guarantee the right to literacy. However, the State of Michigan has opted to put these funds into the hands of billionaire developers like Dan Gilbert, the Ilitch family, Ford family, and others. In a Crain's Detroit Business article, it is noted that public funding accounted for $324.1 million of the $863 million in cost to build the new Little Caesar's Arena in downtown Detroit. This diversion of funds is done without consultation of the State Board of Education, despite its direct impact on the quality of school facilities particularly in the City of Detroit and similar predominantly African American cities in Michigan like Benton Harbor, MI.
Any discussion of the conditions of Detroit's schools, and whether or not they provide a basic level of education so as to at least meet a constitutional standard of achieving literacy, must include an examination of the funding of the schools, and how state policy has impacted that funding. In July, Attorneys Jerome Goldberg, Vanessa Flucker, and Ben Crump filed an Amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, on my behalf, in hopes that it will contribute to that discussion.
Though, in my capacity as Vice President of the Michigan State Board of Education, I am named as a co-defendant in the case of Gary B., et al. v. Gretchen Whitmer, et al. case, as a longtime children's advocate elected by the people, nothing within me will allow me to align myself with the wrong side of this monumental case; to choose again to preserve the stench of racism that has reeked in Michigan, and the nation, for far too long. I know that until we fight this matter head on, addressing the root of the problem, we will continue to get the same thing, an education system that fails our Black and Brown children and mislabels them as the failures.
In the words of Detroit native and longtime school activist Helen Moore, "The conscious, intentional destruction of public education for children of color over the last 20 years has not aroused sufficient public condemnation even among those who profess social equality goals. If Michigan and the nation are allowed to continue the degradation and dismantling of education for Black and Brown children under the claim that there is no constitutional right to literacy, then all the victories for justice over the last century will be hollowed out."
Tomorrow, October 24th, in Cincinnati, OH, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in support for Gary B., et al. v. Gretchen Whitmer, et al., or the Detroit Right to Literacy case. This is a cultural moment that cannot be tuned out. This is an opportunity for us to all to "stand tall" and firm for the future of our children; to use our presence, our voices, our positions to gut out the spoils of racism, to dismantle policies, practices, and acts that further perpetuate discrimination and inequality. We cannot cease in the fight to assure the well-being and equitable/adequate education for ALL children set in motion by Brown v. Board of Education. And that's why we must choose, today, to stand unwavering with Gary B.; Jessie K.; Cristopher R.; Isaias R.; Esmeralda V.; Paul M.; and Jaime R. In the case of Gary B., et al. v. Gretchen Whitmer, et al., we must choose to be on the right side of history. We must show up for this revolution with much fanfare and noise to pledge to our children that their cry for a revolution in education so not go unheard, that they receive the public attention deserved.
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