‘Access to Literacy’ Is Not a Constitutional Right, Judge in Detroit Rules

Do students at poorly performing schools have a constitutional right to a better education?

On Friday, a Federal District Court judge in Michigan decided that they did not when he dismissed a class-action lawsuit filed by students at troubled schools in Detroit.

The suit, filed in September 2016, argued that students at some of the city’s most underperforming schools — serving mostly racial minorities — had been denied “access to literacy” because of underfunding, mismanagement and discrimination.

The complaint described schools that were overcrowded with students but lacking in teachers; courses without basic resources like books and pencils; and classrooms that were bitingly cold in the winter, stiflingly hot in the summer and infested with rats and insects.

Conditions like those, the lawsuit said, contributed to dismal test scores and left students woefully underprepared for life after high school.

“The abysmal conditions and appalling outcomes in plaintiffs’ schools are unprecedented,” the complaint said. “And they would be unthinkable in schools serving predominantly white, affluent student populations.”

.. Judge Stephen J. Murphy III said that “access to literacy” — which he also referred to as a “minimally adequate education” — was not a fundamental right. And he said the lawsuit had failed to show that the state had practiced overt racial discrimination.

But he conceded that the conditions at some Detroit schools were “nothing short of devastating.”

.. “Historically, access to literacy has been a tool to subordinate certain groups and certain communities and to keep those communities down,” he said.

.. A dilapidated history book at Osborn High School with a publication date of 1998, in photographs provided by a law firm.

.. He also agreed that giving students the opportunity to learn to read was “of incalculable importance,” adding that some level of literacy was necessary for voting, applying for a job and securing a place to live.

.. “But those points do not necessarily make access to literacy a fundamental right,” he said.

.. Paul Tractenberg, an expert in education and constitutional law and a professor emeritus at Rutgers Law School, said lawsuits like this one are typically filed — and have a better chance of success — in state-level courts.

“In theory, it would be a great breakthrough to have the federal courts recognize education as a fundamental right,” he said. “But I see no chance of that happening in my lifetime.”

Trump Threatens Nafta, Honduras Aid Over Migrant ‘Caravan’

In tweets, the president brings trade deal into play over annual protest that has caught his attention

President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned that the North American Free Trade Agreement was “in play” and threatened to end aid to Honduras and other Central American countries if an organized protest march of 1,000 asylum seekers traveling through Mexico reaches the U.S. border.

.. “Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!”

.. The “caravan of people” Mr. Trump attacked Tuesday is an annual event that leaders say aims to raise awareness about the tens of thousands of Central Americans who, facing gang violence and political unrest in one of the world’s most violent areas, flee every year to Mexico or the U.S. Many are turned back, extorted or kidnapped along the way.

.. Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray responded to Mr. Trump’s comment Sunday with a tweet of his own denying that his government was doing nothing to control migration. “Every day Mexico and the U.S. work together on migration throughout the region. Facts clearly reflect this,” he said. “Upholding human dignity and rights is not at odds with the rule of law.”

.. Mexican and U.S. officials, facing national elections this year, have pressed for a relatively quick deal on Nafta, while their Canadian counterparts have held out for an agreement that would preserve key structures from the existing Nafta, including a dispute-settlement system that can challenge tariffs levied by the Trump administration.

.. Mr. Trump’s threat to cut aid to Honduras is one of a series of such warnings he has issued in the first 14 months of his administration, on which he hasn’t always followed through.

The U.S. plans to send $65.8 million in aid to Honduras in fiscal year 2019, according to the State Department, though none of those funds have yet been obligated or spent.