Rachel Stovall

Is literacy a right? Some Detroit students believe that it is. Their class-action suit claimed that the state had blocked them from achieving literacy.

Their suit — painted an accurate picture showing lack of basic resources like books and pencils. Conditions like substandard buildings, overcrowded classrooms, insects/animal vermin contributed to terrible test scores in reading. The underperforming schools left their students ill prepared for the workforce.

Despite the glaring problems, the judge dismissed the lawsuit. You could tell that that he sympathized with the students when he said,

“Plainly, literacy — and the opportunity to obtain it — is of incalculable importance. As Plaintiffs point out, voting, participating meaningfully in civic life, and accessing justice require some measure of literacy. Applying for a job, securing a place to live, and applying for government benefits routinely require the completion of written forms. Simply finding one’s way through many aspects of ordinary life stands as an obstacle to one who cannot read.”

I think that we all agree that literacy is important. But is it a right? My answer may surprise you.

Literacy is not a right. Inalienable rights as expressed in our Constitution are freedoms that our citizens have that should not be interfered with by government. Examples include the right to practice religion, equal protection of laws and the freedom of speech.

When the founders wrote the Constitution, 60 percent of the populace in some states were illiterate. So, within our Constitutional framework, literacy simply wasn’t considered. Likely this can only be addressed with a Constitutional Amendment. The judge ruled with that in mind.

I’m sure this was a crushing blow to the Detroit students. It’s sad. Literacy may not be an inalienable right, but it is a certainly a responsibility of all of us. Society has failed those students.

But this story is not limited to Detroit. It is a sad story for some Colorado students as well.

In Harrison District 2, we have students experiencing substandard learning environments. Due to the age of the buildings, there are indoor climate problems as well as problems with pipes and other infrastructure on top of the significant wear and tear to desks, floors, roofs and the like. With a high influx of people into the district, overcrowded classrooms are often the order of the day.

Buildings function, but sometimes on a wing and a prayer. One specific building has been identified as a danger. That building can not be renovated, it must be rebuilt because of issues with the foundation. It is not fair to expose any Colorado students to such conditions.

State funding cuts have removed $90 million out of budgets in Harrison District 2. These are budgets that needed more money — not less. This is yet another stumbling block for these specific children — who around 75 percent of the time, need good education as a path into the middle class.

Despite all this, the beleaguered school system has been improving testing scores among its 11,000 students. Some schools are winning awards. Like all systems they have both successes and failures in service but believe that an infusion of working capital can help them increase successes.

To raise money Harrison District 2 officials have asked for a bond proposal to be placed on the November ballot. The proposal would raise property taxes. For the average homeowner in D-2, that amounts to about $15 monthly.

“Stepping inside the schools, it’s obvious they need to do some restorations,” said campaign manager Anthony Carlson, “D-2 needs to get to a place where they can keep up with maintenance — aging mechanical systems, bringing classrooms up to date and facilities in general.”

I know that Coloradans dislike tax increases. But I wish for us to consider the words of the judge during his ruling. “The conditions and outcomes of the Plaintiffs’ schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury — and so does society.”

This is a bipartisan issue. In Colorado, we should support the literacy of all children with our dollars, whether literacy is a right or not.

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