Legislation declares Mich. students have fundamental right to literacy
LANSING — State Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township) introduced an amendment to the Michigan Constitution on Thursday morning that would ensure students’ fundamental right to read in the state of Michigan. Camilleri made the announcement at a press conference kicking off March is Reading Month.
“The ability to read is a critical skill that forms the foundation of nearly every aspect of our lives,” Camilleri, a former high school social studies teacher, said during the press conference announcing House Joint Resolution H. “Literacy is fundamental in pursuing an education, finding a job, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and engaging in civic dialogue. This amendment puts into law what families and teachers already believe students deserve: the right to read.”
The legislation is a response to conversations Camilleri has had with teachers and families, during which they expressed concern about the state not defending their children’s right to read. Joined by House colleagues, parent and student advocates, and representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union, Camilleri described the state of literacy across Downriver communities and the state.
“There’s significant inequality when it comes to literacy in Michigan,” Camilleri said. “Across Downriver, less than half of third-, fifth- and eighth-graders meet literacy standards for their grade level. And in other areas, students face even more significant obstacles despite the dedication of teachers and families to their education.”
State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) also spoke in support of the amendment. “For almost all students in Detroit, literacy is not a right. From teacher shortages that force reading specialists out of their specialization to inadequate funding that cuts libraries and other literacy programs, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to providing literacy as a right for all students in this state,” Gay-Dagnogo said.
Greta Trice, a former Lansing educator and current Executive Director of the Resolution Services Center of Central Michigan, also voiced her support of the amendment. “Students often face unwarranted ridicule and embarrassment if they struggle in reading. To commit to our students’ right to read is to also improve school culture more generally by reducing the disengagement, acting out and absenteeism that is often a cover for a student’s self-doubt,” Trice said.
Ron Tracy, a resident of Camilleri’s district and an English teacher at the Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody High School, also backs the amendment. “As the father of two public school students and as an English teacher in Detroit for 24 years, I can attest that reading is the foundation of success in school,” Tracy said. “Early literacy development is crucial for social and academic achievement starting in preschool. Nothing will more powerfully support students’ academic success than a school system that provides a right to read.”
Camilleri encouraged his House colleagues to make the most of their school visits during March is Reading Month. “I’m planning to visit more than 30 schools in my district in March, and I hope my colleagues will maximize their experience during school visits to learn about the barriers that exist for student achievement in reading,” Camilleri said.