Michigan settles right to education lawsuit after court rules it a constitutional right

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the settlement Thursday.

(CNN)The state of Michigan said it settled a yearslong case with Detroit school students who sued the state, claiming abysmal learning conditions that robbed them of the right to an education.

The settlement, announced Thursday, comes weeks after a federal appeals court's groundbreaking ruling recognizing the "fundamental right to a basic minimum education" in the case.
The seven students from five public and charter schools claimed "slum-like conditions," and described decrepit and unsafe buildings with insect and rodent-infested classrooms, and inadequate and insufficient teachers and textbooks at their schools, among a long list of other things.
    "This settlement marks a first step toward ensuring children in Detroit and all across Michigan -- regardless of where they live -- have the right to a quality education," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and representatives of the children said in a joint statement.
    "I have always said that every student, no matter where they come from, has a birthright to a quality public education," Whitmer said. "Students in Detroit faced obstacles to their education that inhibited their ability to read -- obstacles they never should have faced."
    The lawsuit was first filed in 2016 against then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, and a long list of Michigan officials. Whitmer, a Democrat, was elected in 2018.
    "Today, I'm overwhelmed with joy for the opportunities this settlement opens up for students in Detroit," Jamarria Hall, one of the students in the lawsuit, said in a statement. "Starting this journey four years ago parents and students knew we wanted a better education, and now to really be heard for the first time means everything."
    In its ruling last month, the appeals court wrote: "Where, as Plaintiffs allege here, a group of children is relegated to a school system that does not provide even a plausible chance to attain literacy, we hold that the Constitution provides them with a remedy."
    The students' schools cited in the lawsuit included three public high schools and two charter schools.

    The lawsuit described appalling conditions

    The lawsuit described hallways and classrooms that smelled "of dead vermin and black mold," a paraprofessional teaching a science class who admitted she didn't understand the material she was teaching, and classrooms so hot that students fainted, according to the judgment of the appeals court that cited the lawsuit's complaints.
    The suit claimed classrooms were combined at short notice, and some had as many as 60 students, according to the court document.
    At one of the elementary schools, "just 4.2% of third-graders scored 'proficient or above' in the state's English assessment, compared to 46.0% of third-graders statewide," according to the document.
    At one school, the ninth and 10th grade class was assigned a fourth-grade-level book to read "because the students lacked the literacy skills to access more complex texts and because they were the only books available."

    Settlement details

    As part of the settlement agreement, Whitmer will propose legislation in her first term that would lead to at least $94.4 million in funding for literacy-related programs and initiatives for the Detroit Public School Community District, according to the statement.
    For the seven students who brought the suit, the state agreed to pay $280,000 to be shared among them "to access a high-quality literacy program or otherwise further their education" the statement said.
      The Detroit Public Schools Foundation will hold those funds in a trust for the seven students.
      Michigan will also pay $2.72 million to fund literacy-related "supports" in the school district, the statement said.