Backlash Over Cuomo ‘Monopoly’ Remarks Intensifies

Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Right) sits alongside Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt at a panel touting his proposed Smart Schools Bond Act at Mineola Middle School Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. (Jaime Franchi / Long Island Press)

A firestorm ignited between several state public education advocacy groups and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo over remarks he made to the New York Daily News editorial board published Monday—in which he threatened to “break” what he deemed “one of the only remaining public monopolies,” New York’s public school system—grew hotter Wednesday, with more groups joining in his criticism.

Cuomo vowed to offer competition to public schools in order to raise the bar on the current education system via an expansion of charter schools and punitive teacher evaluation systems if re-elected. He dismissed educators’ and parents’ concerns about tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores—a practice that has come under enormous scrutiny since the botched roll-out of the Common Core curriculum two years ago.

Despite the initial backlash, Cuomo reiterated the controversial statements later that day during a tour of Mineola Middle School intended to showcase his Smart Schools Act proposal, which would provide up to $2 billion in tech funding for schools throughout the state if approved by public referendum on Nov. 4.

“As governor, I’ve probably spent more of my time trying to change the education system than anything else,” Cuomo told reporters after a briefing on the funding plan. “Why? It is very hard to change the education system. When you think about it, it’s probably the single, largest public monopoly in the United States of America.”

Airing their gripes across social media sites and online message boards ranging from Facebook and Twitter to blogs and website postings, at least four major organizations, collectively representing more than 600,000 members have now publicly criticized the governor for his statements, even creating a hashtag to further circulate their vitriol: #CuoMonopoly.

Issuing statements to media outlets Wednesday, the presidents of both the New York Working Families Party (WFP) and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) union joined the New York State Badass Teachers Association (BAT) and New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) in condemning the snipe, the latter two groups claiming on social media networks that the governor’s statements can be interpreted as a “declaration of war against teachers.”

“Governor Cuomo is wrong on this one,” slammed WFP State Director Bill Lipton. “His proposed policies on public education will weaken, not strengthen, our public education system, and they would represent a step away from the principle of high-quality public education for all students. High-stakes testing and competition are not the answer. Investment in the future is the answer, and that means progressive taxation and adequate resources for our schools.”

“Public education is for the public good,” blasts NYUT President Karen Magee. “It is not a monopoly. It is the centerpiece of our democracy and what makes our nation great.”

The NY BATs, a group consisting of more than 2,000 educators, issued a press release in response to Cuomo’s comments, stating:

“We have already endured a roll-out of evaluations Cuomo himself has called ‘a disaster.’ Its byzantine algorithms fraught with inaccuracy and called ‘arbitrary and capricious’ are in a legal challenge announced this week. Even more absurdly, the current evaluations actually attribute student test scores in Math and English Language Arts to teachers of other subjects, such as music, art, gym, foreign language, and others.

“Schools that struggle with high poverty rates have been hit hardest under Cuomo’s education agenda. This needs to be investigated fully as a civil rights violation mandated by Cuomo towards our children that attend these struggling schools.”

The BATs question Cuomo’s understanding of the term “monopoly” as it relates to public versus private enterprise.

“To call public education a monopoly is to presume that education is a marketplace,” blasted NYC public school teacher and BAT member Matt Steiniger. “The implication here is that there is profit to be gained. Education is a public good. The only people who should be allowed to exploit education for personal gain are the students.”

Lisa Rudley, a Westchester public school parent and education director of the national nonprofit Autism Action Network, agrees.

“In his rant, Governor Cuomo calls public educators ‘the only remaining public monopoly,’” she says. “Would the governor consider firefighters and police officers a monopoly? Will he call for competition and sanctions based upon unreliable metrics for health-care workers and other public service professionals? If so, it appears that his real goal is to dismantle our public schools to garner more support from his financial backers.”

NYSAPE, an organization made up of more than 50 parent and educator advocacy groups across New York State, found Cuomo’s statements both “infuriating” and “condescending,” according to a press release issued by the group.

Eric Mihelbergel, Erie County Public School parent and founding member of NYSAPE, believes Cuomo’s statements confirm that “the governor has no respect for our public schools, parents or teachers. He is a bully, plain and simple.”

A request for comment from Team Cuomo was not returned as of press time.