Michigan Court Rules That State Has No Obligation To Provide Children With Education

Many days, it seems that all the advances our country has made are being dismantled one court decision at a time. A recent decision in Michigan, which has largely flown under the radar, should it hold up on a national level, could mean that poor children will have no access to education.

On November 7, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that one poverty-stricken school district didn’t have to provide a quality education to children.

A 2-1 decision reversed an earlier circuit court ruling that there is a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.” The appellate court said the state has no constitutional requirement to ensure schoolchildren actually learn fundamental skills such as reading — but rather is obligated only to establish and finance a public education system, regardless of quality. Waving off decades of historic judicial impact on educational reform, the majority opinion also contends that “judges are not equipped to decide educational policy.”

“This ruling should outrage anyone who cares about our public education system,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Michigan. “The court washes its hands and absolves the state of any responsibility in a district that has failed and continues to fail its children.”

Source: Michigan Citizen.com

It might surprise many people to know that there is no constitutional right to an education, but free education for children is as old as the country itself. It’s always been assumed to fall under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which grants Congress the power of taxation and to provide for the general welfare of the people.

On the other hand, education has always more or less been left up to the states, but with a big helping hand from the feds.

During the first century of our new nation, Congress granted more than 77 million acres of the public domain as an endowment for the support of public schools through tracts ceded to the states.  In 1841, Congress passed an act that granted 500,000 acres to eight states and later increased land grants to a total of 19 states. The federal government also granted money, such as distributions of surplus federal revenue and reimbursements for war expenses, to states. Though Congress rarely prescribed that such funds be used only for schools, education continued to be one of the largest expenses of state and local governments so the states used federal funds whenever possible for education.

Source: League of Women Voters

One shouldn’t have to be a liberal to believe that an educated populace is good for the welfare of the country. It will be educated people who eventually cure Ebola or send humans to Mars. It is educated people who keep building better and more fuel efficient cars.

More and more, however, our country is becoming a nation of service employees. With that in mind, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the company most in need of under-educated employees, Walmart, is behind much of the effort to destroy, or as they say, reform, our school systems.

Since 2000, members of the Walton family have spent at least $24 million dollars funding politicians, political action committees, and ballot issues at the state and local level that favor their corporate approach to school reform. At local levels of government,  where fundraising totals are smaller than those at the federal level, Walton largesse can go a very long way toward shaping public policy.

Walmart admits that the reason they are so interested in education is that they are having trouble finding qualified entry level employees. If these words came from NASA or Apple or Microsoft, these words might be encouraging. But for Walmart, an educated workforce can negatively impact their bottom line. Educated employees tend to expect more money and better benefits than most entry level employees at Walmart earn.

The Waltons and the Walton Family Foundation have gargantuan financial resources and can exert undue influence on politicians and public policy issues of their choosing. No matter where people come down on the issues of education reform or school choice, we can all agree it is unfair that the Walton family gets to dictate the future of public education because of the amount of money at its disposal, and to do so in a way that is unaccountable to the public.

Remember, too, that the Waltons—white, rural, and mind-bogglingly wealthy—pursue their education reform goals in low-income, urban communities where the student populations consist largely of children of color. When a profoundly privileged family seeks to engage in philanthropy in historically marginalized communities that they are not part of, the lack of accountability is even more troubling.

The Waltons and their foundation have reaped billions and billions of dollars from a ruthless business model that relies on Walmart jobs being insecure and unstable jobs, with low wages, skimpy benefits, and little respect in the workplace. Their company has helped create a world where parents have to work two or more jobs, with unstable hours to make ends meet.  They’ve helped create a world where parents struggle with choices like paying rent, putting food on the table or taking a sick child to the doctor. And now the Waltons want to tell us how to fix our schools? The Walmart model has made its impact on much of the world. But, for many, the Walmartization of our schools is one step too far.

And now, with Michigan ruling that the state has no business guaranteeing a quality education, be prepared for Walmart or the Koch brothers to be writing Michigan’s curriculum.