Andrew Cuomo has made no secret of his disdain for public school teachers. He sees himself as a disruptive force in public education, using a Silicon Valley term supposedly describing innovation. For Cuomo and many neoliberal Democrats attempting to privatize public education, charter schools are a key form of this disruption.
Back in March, he told John Castimatidis during a radio interview that public schools “have their lobbyists and they have their little public relations teams, and they have their front groups and their advocates, and this [charter schools] is disruptive to that entire system.”
Last week, Cuomo lashed out at public schools again. During an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board, he said he would “break what is … one of the only remaining public monopolies.”
It is part of an increasing trend nationwide to turn public schools from a public good to capital-producing machines. Recent studies have shown charter schools in other major cities to be no more effective than public schools. But perhaps effectiveness is not what most concerns Cuomo.
It is easy to see why Cuomo would put public schools in the crosshairs so close to an election where he has a 20-point lead over his Republican opponent Rob Astorino. Throughout his tenure as governor, Cuomo has been an unabashed support of charter schools. Many of his largest campaign contributors are connected and stand to profit from the expansion of charter schools.
The most visible of these supporters is Eva Moskowitz. For the 2012 election cycle, her PAC, the Great Public Schools, contributed over $60,000 to Cuomo’s campaign. Moskowitz is also the CEO and founder of Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City, the largest — and growing — charter school operator in New York City. In October, the State University of New York (SUNY) committee charged with overseeing charter schools authorized 17 more charters in New York, 14 of which would be Success Academy schools.
It’s not just PACs. According to the New York Post, Success Academy board members, which include hedge fund managers, attorneys and public relations professionals, have also donated over $375,000 to Cuomo’s reelection campaign.
The chairman of the SUNY committee, Joseph Belluck, was called out in by Hofstra University education professor Alan Singer earlier this month because of his contributions to the governor while chairman of the committee.
It’s clear where Cuomo’s allegiance lies, but teachers in New York have not backed down quietly. In August, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) made a point of not endorsing Cuomo or any other gubernatorial candidate this election cycle. This is a hostile neutrality, and an indicator of a larger rift, because teachers unions have traditionally been bastion of support for the Democratic Party.
Other teachers associations have not been so neutral. Progressive Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins, a Teamster from Syracuse, has amassed endorsements from a number of the state’s teachers unions. Trailing a distant third, Hawkins is still likely to strengthen the Green Party’s position in New York. His 2010 campaign brought it back to prominence after having been off the ballot for a number of years.
Cuomo’s antipathy for teachers is clearly mutual, and it’s not just because of his support for charters. New York has adopted the nationwide Common Core standards that were adopted in 43 states. The standards are widely criticized by all sides of the political spectrum for a variety of reasons: too difficult, poorly planned, too much government interference. Earlier this year, even Cuomo had to admit Common Core was having a negative impact on students’ test scores, but still wants to see teacher evaluations tied to tests in the future.
Cuomo is likely to be reelected tomorrow. The extent to which he will be able to dismantle public education in New York during his next term in office is uncertain. But one thing is clear: Cuomo is going to try his hardest.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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