Is learning to read a right in the US?

Nothing in the US Constitution talks about a right to read.  A right to speak, a right to worship, a right not to be locked up and forgotten, but no right to read.  So, by default, a right to read—if it exists—must be the responsibility of the states to protect.

If so, then why these?

–Parents, teachers and students filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court in December claiming students in three California schools are not learning how to read.  The lawsuit said literacy experts hired by the state had reported a “critical need” for better teaching in certain schools and among certain student groups.  But the state, said the lawsuit, had ignored the experts and failed those students.

This lawsuit claims to be the first to say students have a constitutional right to literacy.

In one of those schools, La Salle Elementary, 171 out of 179 students were not proficient in reading, meaning 96% of the students failed to meet minimum reading requirements set by the state.  At another school, Van Buren, 94% of students were not proficient in reading.  At another school, Children of Promise, 89% of students were not proficient in reading.

–Then, less than a month ago, a federal judge in Michigan dismissed a class action lawsuit brought by students in Detroit.  The students’ lawsuit claimed they have been denied “access to literacy” because of underfunding by the state, mismanagement of their schools by the state and school district, and discrimination.  The students said their schools were overcrowded, lacked teachers, books, pencils and paper, and were not heated properly in winter nor cooled in hot months.  All this has led to terrible test scores, including in reading.

The judge, in dismissing this lawsuit, said that “access to literacy,” or as he defined it, “a minimally adequate education,” is not a fundamental right of Americans.  The judge said giving students the right to read was “of incalculable importance,” and state officials are partly responsible for that.

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

So is learning to read a right in the US?  Guess not.  Our Constitution guarantees a right to an attorney to the lowest scum arrested by the police. Think Al Capone.  Think Ted Bundy.  Think Charles Manson.  But our Constitution does not guarantee a reading teacher to a first grader.

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