I waited a while on this story because I thought surely, surely, there would be more to it, and it couldn't be this simple.
But no-- a November 7th ruling of the Michigan Court of Appeals says that the state need not do jack about actually educating students.
A lower court rules that there was a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.” No, the appellate court said-- the state just had an obligation to spend some money on something called education. It did not matter whether the state bought a guernsey cow, a goose that laid golden eggs, or a handful of magic beans. As long as the state can show a store receipt proving, "Hey, we totally bought ten pounds of high grade education," the state has no obligation to check and see whether packaging contains excellent education or just packing peanuts.
The specific case involved was a lawsuit bought "on behalf of" eight students (because we now live in a world where lawyers just go ahead and sue whoever, whenever, and then round up some cardboard cutouts to take with them to court) who wanted to spank the state of Michigan and the only-sort-of-public schools of Highland Park because they (the students, not the state and schools) can't read at grade level.
I'm not a big fan of the sort of legal maneuver that this lawsuit exemplifies, but the court's response seems to be the legal equivalent of settling a dispute about living room drapes by burning down the house. And I have a hard time seeing the ruling as anything but bad news for everyone.
This means that the state now has no obligation to either give enough funding to public schools or to make sure that charters they bring in know what the heck they're doing. But it also undercuts their legal foundation for closing a public school and replacing it with Big Al's House O' Education ("we have an obligation to rescue students from failing public schools").
But it's mostly bad news for education in Michigan, because it's a pretty clear ruling. Michigan only has to fund something called education-- it doesn't have to be any good. And the courts bailed on all future education cases by declaring that they were not able to distinguish a good education from a bad one, a ruling so broad that they might as well put a sign over the court door in big bold easily-read letters saying, "Don't ask us to decide anything about education ever again." It's an interesting stance for a court to take, and I/m wondering if we can also expect the court to rule themselves incompetent to decide cases involving psychology or ballistics or law enforcement.
I suppose the ruling means all future education issues must be settled by streetfights or arm wrestling matches or by TP-ing important buildings in the capitol. Unfortunately, it also means that the state of Michigan has been absolved of any responsibility to provide decent schools for its children, which would seem to mean that the state government can slash its education budget to $1.98 for a single workbook for every school to pass around to its students and the courts are totally cool with that.
I wonder what would happen if the state decided that it also had no obligation to provide a decent court system and told the Court of Appeals that they had to hold court in a tent and the judges had to take turns playing bailiff.