No Right to Literacy

Last week a federal district judge ruled that students in Detroit could not sue their governor for the shabbiness of their schools.

They claimed that the United States Constitution guaranteed them a chance to read and write. Their poor schools denied them that right, they argued.The judge agreed their schools were deplorable. He agreed that literacy is “incalculably” important. But he could not find a ‘fundamental right’ to an opportunity to learn. He said the chance to read and write is like the chance to live in a safe and healthy home: people need it, but the Constitution does not compel the government to help them get it. Our country has not always had state-run schools, he wrote, so the chance to learn is not fundamental in that sense. And the opportunity is not an essential part of freedom, either; as odd as it sounds, states could choose to close their schools.

The ruling echoes our state Supreme Court’s recent decision on school funding. In January it held that students in Connecticut could not go to court make their town spend more on its schools.